Is Outdoor Bike Riding Good For Weight Loss? Experts Weigh In Time for a little two-wheelin’. By Ashley Martens Jul 5, 2021
Hop on a bike and feel the wind in your (ahem, bike helmet-capped!) hair: Biking outdoors can make you feel free—and pretty darn sweaty and good. And while there are so many benefits to simply doing physical activity that you enjoy, if you’re choosing to lose weight, you probably want to know: Is bike riding good for weight loss?
Short answer? Yes. Absolutely. Totally. Do it. Outdoor biking can be an important part of your weight loss journey. Whether you’re hitting the local bike trails, cruising around the neighborhood with friends, or zipping around your town to tick off your to-dos, you know you’re getting in a good heart-pumping, muscle-building, metabolism-revving, and de-stressing workout that supports a healthy weight. Let’s get into it.
Bike riding is an aerobic activity, and depending on how fast you pedal, it may be considered moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise. For instance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), biking slower than 10 miles per hour (mph) on flat terrain is “moderate intensity,” that will increase your breathing rate but still allow you to chat with a pal if you’re biking together. Bike 10 mph or faster on a route with hills (with more labored breathing) and you’re getting into vigorous intensity territory.
What’s really great about it, though is how accessible biking is for so may people. “Riding a bike is a low-impact, high-cardio exercise that’s inclusive of all fitness levels,” says Sara Fruendt, certified personal trainer and a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) at Sweat Fitness Studios in Chicago. “Bike riding is also easier on your joints and great for athletes recovering from injuries,” she adds.
Indoor bike rides are everything right now, but it’s worth it to hop off your stationary bike and head outside for a ride, too.
If you’re biking outdoors, your body to make adjustments during each bike ride, which recruits your core for stability on the saddle, says Fruendt. “Indoor biking allows you to see your markers such as miles, time, and resistance, but requires you to independently change these settings versus outdoors where you ride with the natural terrain and are exposed to different inclines,” she says. “Both increase cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone, and strength, but outdoor biking focuses more on your core as you are dealing with different terrain versus indoor, which is focused more on the lower-body.”
Also key: There are so many ways to ride a bike outdoors. You can set out for a ride on your local bike path. And outdoor biking is also great for “active commuting.” That might be commuting to work, if you live close enough and have a safe path to bike, but it can also mean running errands locally on your bike or riding your bike to meet up with a friend for lunch or brunch. Research shows that cycling to work is associated with less weight gain over time, as well as weight loss and a lower BMI. Ultimately, though, all your activity during the day adds up.
Calculating how many calories does riding a bike burn depends on a variety of factors including the distance and time traveled, intensity, speed, and the weight of the bike rider, just to name a few. Fruendt says, “On average, a moderate pace outdoors for an average adult for 30 minutes would burn around 300 calories.”
Specifically, according to Harvard Medical School, a 155-pound person who bikes for 30 minutes at 12 to 13.9 mph burns 288 calories. Weigh 125? You’ll burn about 240 calories. Weigh more? You’ll burn about 336 calories. (Crank up the speed? Your calorie burn will be higher.) The CDC recommends adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week. Since bike riding is considered aerobic exercise (aka cardio) that means if you are looking to take up bike riding for weight loss, consider dividing and conquering those 150 minutes in multiple bike riding sessions each week.
Outdoor bike riding provides that sweet-spot combo of cardio and strength. “Bike riding outside is beneficial for weight loss. You’re able to get cardio while building muscle. More muscle mass means a higher resting metabolic rate, which translates into more calories burned throughout the day,” says Jessica Dennis, a certified personal trainer in Chicago (also at Sweat Fitness Studios).
Population research published in Obesity Facts in 2018 found that, for women, cycling more than 1.5 hours per week was associated with weighing three pounds less, having about 2 percent less body fat, and having nearly a one-inch smaller waist circumference compared to those who rode less than 1.5 hours per week.
That said, what’s critical for losing weight is to be in a calorie deficit, adds Fruendt. So, you’ll also likely need to make changes to your diet to see results. “Additional calories burned from riding a bike contribute to weight loss,” she says.
One of the major perks of exercise in general is that regular physical activity can help you sleep better and manage stress (especially if you find the time outside zipping through the streets restorative). Good sleep helps regulate hunger hormones, while using stress-reducing strategies can help prevent you from turning to food every time you’re feeling overwhelmed.
“Fresh air and a change of scenery are good for mental health,” says Fruendt. “Bike riding can] decrease stress levels by increasing endorphins and outdoor bike riding provides a daily dose of vitamin D,” she adds. Go get yourself some.