Is Bike Riding Good Exercise?

Benefits of Bike Riding

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Biking is an excellent cardiovascular workout that burns calories and targets your lower body muscles. It’s versatile, fun, and makes a convenient and affordable mode of transportation. And because it is low-impact, bike riding is also gentle on the joints. 

As a form of exercise, you can choose to ride outside on a road bike or mountain bike or cycle indoors on a recumbent bike or upright bike. Hop on a bike and ride for 30 to 60 minutes at least three to five days a week to meet your weekly exercise goals while also enjoying the many benefits of riding a bike. 

If you’re able to ride a bike outside, you’ll get the extra benefits of interacting with the environment and the challenge of riding on different terrains. But if you need to stay indoors, you can still benefit from a workout on a recumbent or upright bike. 

Outdoor vs. Indoor Cycling

Bike riding can take many forms, including outdoor bike riding on a road bike or mountain bike and indoor cycling. Purists will tell you that cycling is best done outdoors - whether that’s clipping in and hitting the road or heading to the nearest mountain bike trail. 

Riding outdoors allows you to interact with the environment. You’ll also ride varying terrains, which makes the workout more interesting and challenging.

Plus, riding outside requires more of your core and upper body than indoor cycling, so you’ll get a more complete, full-body workout.

However, indoor cycling has its benefits too. You never have to contend with rain, wind, or snow. There’s no heavy pollution or traffic. And, you can cycle in a class for extra motivation. Plus, if you’re recovering from an injury or need to keep the ride gentle, cycling indoors is a safer option. 

That said, if you stay indoors, make sure to change the resistance and vary the speed. Also, alternating standing and pedaling in the saddle makes the workout more challenging. 

Bike Riding Improves Cardiovascular Functioning 

Regular aerobic exercise, like bicycling, decreases your risk of developing severe heart disease and vascular disease. More specifically, aerobic activity improves overall cardiac function, which means you can pump more blood with each heartbeat. It also reduces blood pressure, improves overall vascular function, and helps prevent atherosclerosis.

Results from a review of studies found that indoor cycling may improve aerobic capacity, blood pressure, lipid profile, and body composition.

What's more, the studies reviewed found that indoor cycling may be effective for enhancing VO2max, HDL, and lean body mass levels, while reducing body fat mass, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, LDL, and triglycerides.

Theses same studies also show a positive relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and youths who cycle, making bike riding a form of exercise that benefits people of all ages.

Bike Riding Burns Calories

Like any form of cardiovascular exercise, biking indoor and outdoor burns calories. However, the amount you burn depends on factors like the intensity, terrain, your weight, and duration. 

For example, a 155-pound person can burn 260 calories in 30 minutes of cycling at a moderate pace on a stationary bike. Increase the intensity to vigorous, and this same person can burn 391 calories in 30-minutes.

Outdoor bicycling at 12 to 13.9 mph can burn about 298 calories in 30-minutes. Increase the speed to 14 to 15.9 mph, and you’ll burn 372 calories. If you really get pedaling at 16-19 mph, you can burn approximately 446 calories in 30 minutes.

Bike Riding Is a Low Impact Exercise

Low impact exercise is any type of physical activity that requires you to always keep one foot in contact with the ground. Minimal impact is a better option for people with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that causes wear and tear on the joints causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. It happens most often in the knees, hands, and hips.

People with osteoarthritis should minimize high-impact exercise since it can cause excessive pain in the joints. This is why outdoor bike riding and indoor cycling is an effective and safe way to exercise. 

Low impact exercise such as bike riding is also a good option if you’re just starting a workout routine or getting back into one after a break. 

Bike Riding Strengthens Your Lower Body Muscles

Biking is a total body workout. But your lower body—glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves—definitely work the hardest. Although the lower body muscles are always engaged when riding a bike, certain groups fire more during the different pedaling phases or pushing a harder gear.

For example, if you are riding up a hill, you'll use more quad and glute-strength for the pushing phase and hamstring and calf muscle strength for the pulling phase.

Bike Riding Is a Form of Transportation 

Depending on where you live, a bicycle can serve as exercise and a form of transportation. If your commute is possible without a car, consider tuning-up your bike and riding to work a few days each week.

Commuting to work by bike is linked to a lower risk of various cancers and cardiovascular disease, according to one study that followed more than 263,000 people for 5 years.

If you decide to ride to work, make sure the route is safe, you’re wearing a helmet, and you have the proper cycling gear, including reflectors. 

Bike Riding Improves Cognitive Functioning 

Participating in regular physical activity is critical for overall health, especially in older adults. Bike riding not only contributes to your weekly exercise minutes but it may also boost cognitive functioning.

Results from one study found that adults, ages 50 to 83, who rode a bike for at least 30 minutes three times a week for eight weeks showed an improvement in cognitive function and overall health.

One group cycled on a regular pedal bike, and another cycled on an e-bike. Interestingly, both groups showed an improvement, which suggests that being outdoors and fostering independence and mobility can boost cognitive functioning.

A Word From Verywell

Bike riding is an excellent form of exercise for all fitness levels. Whether you’re indoors on a spin bike or outdoors riding the trails, you’ll get a low-impact cardiovascular workout that improves heart health, strengthens your legs and glutes, and boosts your overall health. 

If you are recovering from an injury or have a medical condition, make sure to get clearance from your doctor before riding. Also, if you’re new to outdoor biking, consider working with a cycling coach or bike specialist who can set you up on the right bike, teach you how to use it properly, and discuss your nutrition and hydration needs.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Oja P, Titze S, Bauman A, et al. Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21(4):496-509.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Osteoarthritis

  5. National Institute on Aging. Exercising with Chronic Conditions.

  6. Celis-Morales CA, Lyall DM, Welsh P, et al. Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2017;357:j1456.

  7. Leyland L-A, Spencer B, Beale N, Jones T, Reekum CM van. The effect of cycling on cognitive function and well-being in older adults. PLOS ONE. 2019;14(2):e0211779.

By Sara Lindberg
Sara Lindberg, M.Ed., is a freelance writer focusing on health, fitness, nutrition, parenting, and mental health.