Is Bike Riding Cardio: Why is bike riding good for you?


Many people start out on their fitness journey wondering whether different sports are cardio-based on strength-based. As a previous GP and keen cyclist, this is a question that often came up in my consulting rooms. I thought I would be well placed to make a clear resource showing you once and for all if riding a bike is cardio?

Bike riding counts as cardio as it burns calories and exercises your whole body. Cycling will help you to lose weight and increase your fitness. Sports like running are more efficient forms of cardio, however, you can ride a bike for longer than you can run, so you may do more cardio when riding than running.

So, we’ve established that cycling is a form of cardio, but what actually is the difference between cardio and anaerobic exercise? Also is running better than cycling for cardio? I take a look into these, as well as the benefits of cycling in the rest of the article.

Is bike riding cardio?

What is cardio?

Before we can decide if riding a bike counts as cardio, we need to make sure we all know what cardio is.

Generally, exercise can be split into two main categories, cardio (also called aerobic exercise) and strength training (also called anaerobic exercise)

Cardio exercise is any exercise that increases your heart rate. Generally, cardio exercise is better for weight loss and general fitness than strength training is. However, it is less effective at building muscle (which strenth training is much better at).

Examples of cardio include running, swimming, or rowing. A good test of whether or not an exercise is a cardio or strength training exercise is whether or not the activity is making you out of breath. Cardio tends to get you out of breath whereas strength training tends to make your muscles ache.

Does riding a bike count as cardio?

Now we know that cardio is any exercise that increases your heart rate, it is easy to see that cycling will count as a cardio exercise. The average cyclist’s heart rate will increase by 70% to 85% as they ride a bike, increasing their fitness and burning calories.

In fact, many cyclists will link their exercise or training plans to how much their heart rate is increasing during their cycle.

Type of cyclingHow out of breath are you?Percentage of maximum heart rate
Easy CyclingChatting normally60%-65%
Steady CyclingSpeaking in 1 sentence at a time65%-75%
Brisk CyclingSpeaking a few words at a time75%-82%
Hard CyclingSpeaking 1 word at a time82%-89%
Very Hard CyclingUnable to speak, breathing heavilyOver 89%

Why does it matter if cycling is cardio?

Most people care about whether or not a specific exercise counts as cardio for the purpose of losing weight. Cardio exercise is the best type of exercise for burning calories and thus losing weight.

As you cycle, you burn around 400 calories an hour (obviously this will depend on how hard you are cycling).

One pound of body fat is equal to around 3500 calories. This means that 9 hours of cycling will lose you roughly 1 pound (0.5kg).

Why is bike riding good for you?

Not only is bike riding a good exercise for losing weight, but it is very good for your health overall. Cardio exercise works the heart muscle. This is because as your exercise, the heart needs to pump blood around your body, supplying all your muscles with the energy you need to ride your bike.

Your heart is a muscle, and so over time, as you cycle or do other forms of cardio, your heart will grow and become more efficient (just like your biceps would grow if you did weights at the gym). As your heart gets more efficient at pumping blood around your body, you will find that you can cycle further or run faster.

What are the benefits of cycling?
Reduces your risk of health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, or high blood pressure
Can be a social activity
As an outside sport, it increases your exposure to the sun and thus increases levels of vitamin D
Good for your mental health
Can help you to lose weight
Can help to reduce your travel costs if you cycle instead of driving or getting public transport
Reduces air pollution if you cycle instead of driving

Can riding a bike get you in shape?

Cycling is a great choice for getting in shape. This is because it can get you fitter, helps you to lose weight and also helps to work out many of your lower body muscles as well as your core muscles.

While it is a popular belief, fat loss does not occur in the area you are exercising. For example, if you want to lose belly fat, you do not need to do lots of sit-ups. The area you lose fat from first will be dependent on your sex and your genetics, not the type of exercise you are doing.

For example, women tend to put more fat on their bum and thighs, whereas men tend to put more fat on their stomachs. This means that the best exercise for losing fat is the exercise that burns the most calories. Cycling is great for this as it burns a high amount of calories while being low impact, allowing you to do it for a long period of time and very frequently.

If you want to look into this topic in a bit more detail, take a look at my article on how much cycling you need to do to lose 10kg which can be found here.

Is bike riding a good exercise?

As a keen cyclist, I’m sure that I am biased as to whether or not cycling is a good exercise, but there are many advantages to taking up riding a bike as a regular sport.

Advantages of cyclingDisadvantages of cycling
Low ongoing costsHigh upfront cost
Most people know how to ride a bikeNot as fun in wet or cold weather
Low barrier to entryMany people do not have a space to cycle if they live in an inner-city
Good all-body workoutRisk of accidents
Low impact sport – Good for your joints
Able to tailor the difficulty to your needs
Good exercise while recovering from an injury

Is riding a bike better than running for cardio?

Many people wonder whether cycling or running is better for cardio. The answer is actually a bit more complicated than you might expect.

In general, running is more work and burns more calories per hour than cycling does. This means that for each hour of exercise you do, running will be better for cardio than cycling will. However, cycling is much easier to do for a prolonged period of time than running is. This means you may well end up doing more cycling per session than you would running, and overall burning more calories and doing more cardio.

If you want to take a more detailed look into the differences between running and cycling, you can take a look at my article here where I help you to decide which is better. If you’re thinking about walking instead of running, I have an article on that as well!

Is 30 minutes of cycling a day enough?

Taking a look at the UK National Health Service guidelines on physical activity, it is clear that 30 minutes a day of cycling is more than enough to keep you fit, active, and healthy.

In general, they advise that the average person should be doing some form of moderate exercise for 150 minutes each week. Cycling is counted as a form of moderate exercise on their list and so cycling 30 minutes every day would be 210 minutes of moderate exercise, far more than the suggested minimum.

It is important to remember that this 150-minute goal is not to be taken in isolation. For example, this 150 minutes of moderate activity is meant to be taken as part of an active lifestyle with a healthy diet. Doing 30 minutes of riding does not mean you can be sedentary for the rest of the day and do no more steps or movement.

Overall

As you can see, bike riding is definitely a form of cardio and a very good one at that. Riding a bike is a great way to burn fat, and calories and get fitter.

Mark Holmes

30-year-old doctor with an interest in cycling, bikepacking, and statistics.

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