Cycling For Fitness and Weight Loss

Cyclists in Oxford by Tejvan Pettinger
Cyclists in Oxford

As far as healthy outdoor pursuits go, cycling is one of the healthiest and most social pastimes that you can enjoy. Cycling has many benefits over other forms of exercise, for example, once you have purchased your bike there are very few ongoing costs, unlike with gym memberships. Cycling is a low impact form of exercise and is easy on your joints, unlike running which can cause knee, ankle and hip problems in some people. Cycling is excellent for weight loss. Most people can cycle for much longer at a high intensity than they can run or swim, and therefore burn more calories. You can develop well toned thigh muscles if you perform sprint intervals. Sprints build the fast twitch muscles which are larger and more powerful, and therefore give your legs a sprinters shape.

Efficiency of Motion

In terms of transport bicycles are extremely efficient, especially when ridden on a good quality road surface. On a bike you can cycle 3 times faster than you can walk while using the same amount of energy. More impressive is that you can cycle around 650 miles on the same energy in 1 liter of gasoline, which would drive a car about 12 miles. So on a bike you can travel 3 times faster than you can walk, and cycle over 50 times further than you can drive, without using any additional energy and they do not pollute.

Burn Calories Not Gasoline!

Many people ask, is cycling good for weight loss? Well, the answer is absolutely! On a stationary exercise bike you burn around 600 Calories per hour. On the road the figure is going to be less as you spend a more time stopping and starting, and cycling carefully rather than trying to go as fast as possible. However, in an average 30 minute cycle you will burn around 240 Calories. If you cycle for 30 minutes to and from work you will burn an additional 480 Calories a day, which could contribute to around 11 kg (24 pounds) fat loss a year.

Know Your Bike

Bicycle diagram
Standard Mountain Bike Design

It is important to get to know your bike. Unlike a car you will probably be more involved in repairs and replacements and understanding how your bike works means that you can ride safer and cheaper. The above diagram is of a standard modern mountain bike, however all bicycles are built on the same basic design. The main differences are in the gear systems, brakes, handlebars and size of wheels and type of tires.

Ensure A Safe Ride Bike

Getting Started

So, what do you need to get started cycling? Well, the most important thing is of course a bike! There are really only two types of bike on the mainstream market for adults now – mountain bikes and hybrid bikes.

Hybrid bikes may sound modern and technical, but really they are just traditional bikes which perform well on the road and can also be taken over easy ground, such as gravel and grass. Hybrid bikes are not built to withstand mountain biking conditions though.

Racing bikes are now out of fashion so prices tend to be much higher than they were 20 years ago. However, if you plan to only ride on the road and you wish to go fast, a racing bike is the best option.


Safety is very important so ensure that your bike has reflectors, lights, good brakes and is generally well maintained. Service your bike every year, and if you cycle in wet conditions clean your bike weekly. Everybody should wear a protective helmet at least – what’s the point in looking after your heart if you neglect your head?

Also consider wearing reflective clothing. It is not very popular, but it can save your life. Gloves are a good option too. Not only will they protect your hands if you fall from the bike, they can help to improve your grip and also keep the cold out. Good cycling gloves should be very close fitting and allow full finger extension.

Always check gloves before buying for comfort and test pulling the breaks in an emergency. Always check your tires before a long cycle – check for cuts and worn tires. Also keep your tires well pumped. Always carry a spare inner tube and the tools needed to replace it. If you get a puncture when 20 miles from home it may be a long walk back.


You can of course cycle in any clothing, however, clothes which have been specifically designed for cycling have several advantages.

Cycle tops are breathable and tight fitting and will have some reflective material included. Breathable tops can make long summer cycles a much more pleasant experience.

Cycle shorts, either tight fitting lycra shorts or baggy shorts, should both have a fitted “seat”, i.e. a padded bottom. This not only provides additional comfort when cycling long distances but also helps to prevent chaffing. As you cycle your backside will move from side to side slightly on the seat and over time this, especially when combined with sweat, can cause the skin to become very sore.

Cycling shoes can make a huge difference on long cycles. Cycle shoes have stiff soles to make them more efficient – force is not wasted through compression or flexing. Cycle shoes can be walked in (although pro racing shoes are hard to walk in). Of course, if your main aim of cycling is for fitness and rather than winning competitions, increasing efficiency is not essential.

Clipless pedals are the safest types of pedals / shoes as they have a simple quick release mechanism – you just twist your foot out of the pedal. The most practical shoes are “walkable shoes” as the clip is embedded within the sole of the shoe.

Sunglasses / goggles can also help, if you do not already wear glasses. Eye protection is useful to keep.

Mud Guards

Many bikes are now sold without mudguards. Some bright spark thought that they slow a bike down so people stopped using them. However, if you plan to cycle in wet conditions you absolutely need them. Not only will you look silly with mud and water sprayed all up your back, it will distract you, weigh you down and make cycling very unpleasant. So please, get some mud guards.

Good Cycling Position

How you sit on your bike largely depends on the type of bike you are riding and what your goals are. For the greatest speed and efficiency you need to sit with your hips high, back almost flat. What is most important is comfort though, not everybody finds cycling on a racing bike with a flat back comfortable. Hips should be high as this helps to prevent them moving from side to side when pedaling fast. The lateral movement wastes energy and contributes to chaffing. Also a highest seated position makes it easier to shift from a seated to standing position for those hill climbs.

If you use clipless shoes you will be forced to place your feet in the best position. If not, then take care to position your foot correctly for best performance. Your foot should sit on the pedal with the widest part of the foot (where the ball of the big toe is) sitting across the axle of the pedal. This ensures that the energy from your legs is driven through the pedals. Keep your elbows slightly bent when cycling, never lock them out.

As you become more accustomed to cycling the elbows are used to help steer through gentle bends by dropping the elbow slightly – this gives you more control than if you think about turning the handlebars. It is important to keep your upper body relaxed when cycling. One tips is to keep moving your hand position as this helps to prevent the muscles in your arm become tense. Once you start to become tense energy is wasted and your cycling suffers.

Cycling Around World

Bicycles are extremely popular in some countries. The following statistics are from the European Union (2002) and the US Department of Transport (2003) and show the average distance cycled per day for an inhabitant of each of the following countries – note, the USA is joint bottom! Daily cyling distance by country

Warming Up Before The Workout

As with any exercise it is often advisable to warm up before you start the more intensive exercise. On a bike this comes very naturally – you start out at a slow, easy pace and then start to increase your speed and power as after your muscles have “warmed up”, i.e. the blood is flowing well and providing your muscles with a steady flow of oxygen and fuel. Warm muscles are also more elastic and less likely to tear under stress.

The current advice is to warm up until your heart rate is around 80% of the maximum beats per minute (bpm). Your max heart rate is calculated as follows:

Max Heart Rate (bpm) = 220 – Your Age

So a 40 year-old will have a max heart rate (suggested maximum) of 180 bmp, so your warm-up heart rate should be around 144 bpm. Once you reach this heart rate you should stop and perform some gentle, dynamic stretches: lunges, squats, high-knees and leg swings.

After stretching cycle again for about 5 minutes, maintain a heart rate of about 144 bpm. You are now ready for the more intensive part of your workout.

Cool Down and Recovery

Also important is the cool down, which should aid the recovery process. During the cool down you should aim to lower your heart rate at a steady pace, rather than just letting it drop rapidly. This helps to flush lactic acids out too, which speeds muscle recovery. To cool down just maintain a slow and steady cycling pace and monitor your heart rate, and allow it to drop to a comfortable level (does not have to be resting heart rate).

After your heart rate has calmed a little you should then perform some stretches to aid recovery.

Cycling Workouts on an Exercise Bike

There are several ways to perform a cycling workout. Here is a brief guide which will help you to get started:

  • Steady Cycling – the simplest and most common way people cycle for weight loss. Simply start cycling at a steady pace and maintain that pace for 45-60 minutes. This mimics a normal bike ride in a relative flat area.
  • Interval Training – this can be either a little more intensive, or much more intensive than steady pace cycling. Set your intervals in advance and perform sprints throughout your workout. You could cycle steady for 2 minutes and sprint for 20 seconds, or cycle steady for 5-10 minutes and then sprint for 60-120 seconds, or perform another mixture of sprint times and recovery cycles.
  • Speed Training – In speed training you cycle at your top possible speed for around 10 seconds. Similar to interval training, but you are focusing on speed rather than high intensity cycling. Recovery cycling will tend to be longer as you want to be completely recovered before the next sprint.
  • Hill Climbs – Hill climbs are now installed on most exercise bikes. With hill climbs the resistance of the exercise bike increases close to max. You will need to be up on your feet rather than seated to push your way up the hill – get your full bodyweight behind each pedal is the only way to keep the bike moving, your thighs alone are not strong enough. Hill climbs build strength and endurance.

Spinning Classes

A relatively new way to exercise on a bike is in a Spinning Class. Spinning classes are done to music with a fitness instructor telling you what to do. However, Spinning bikes are not normal exercise bikes.

Spinning bikes vary their resistance based on speed of pedaling – when you slow down, resistance increases. There is also a dial to control the resistance – these dials are not calibrated though, so you increase the resistance based on your needs in the workout, not based on an abstract number.

The major difference in a Spinning workout is that you alternate between being seated and sprinting, and standing up on the pedals for hill climbs. The mechanism in the bike means that when you slow down and stand up on the pedals the resistance automatically increases and this creates a hill climb effect. One of the exercises is called “Jumps”, and this involves repeatedly moving from standing to seated position.

Spinning classes usually last for around 45 minutes. There will be a moderate 5 minute warm up and then the next 30-35 minutes is intensive hill climbs and sprints with rest intervals – and by rest, we mean that you sit and pedal slowly, you do not stop!

Spinning was developed Johnny G, a pro cyclist who wanted a better way to train in the off-season.

“I was training for the Race Across America (RAAM), which requires mega training miles. My wife was pregnant and to compromise, I built a prototype spinning bike in my kitchen to maintain my fitness. Soon, my buddies were coming over to ride it and the concept took off from there.”

One man’s invention has become a fitness hit with Spinning classes hosted all over the world.

Does Spinning get you fit? Yes it does! Does it help you to lose weight? Yes it does!

Spinning is a great way to incorporate cycling into your fitness regime without having to head out on the road or have the monotony of an normal exercise bike.

Johnny G’s Weekly Cycling Routine

If you have been inspired by Johnny G’s Spinning invention, then maybe you should take the next step and train like him. Here is one of his weekly workouts:

  • Monday: recovery day, 2 hours easy
  • Tuesday: hills, 12 hours
  • Wednesday: 3 hours, rollers indoors
  • Thursday: desert ride, 12 hours
  • Friday: rest
  • Weekend: 24 hour ride, beginning at 6am on Saturday and finishing 6am Sunday

Weekly Total: 53 hours cycling, averaging 7 1/2 hours a day.

Maybe just stick to Spinning …..

Cycling Workouts and Training

Cycling Outdoors

Cycling around town in OxfordUsing an exercise bike puts you fully in control of your workout. However, for many people the real pleasure in cycling for fitness is cycling outside. This can be done on the roads or on public rights of way, mountain tracks and on dedicated cycling tracks.

There are greater safety considerations when cycling on the road, as accidents do happen. And it seems that accidents are more likely in communities where cycling is not normal (drivers pay less attention to who else is using the road).

It is advisable to avoid using headphones when cycling outdoors, for your own safety when on the road, and for the safety of other cyclists, walkers and joggers when out in the countryside.

Cycling is a fantastic way to stay active and get in shape. It is an efficient way to travel, it is cheap and environmentally friendly. But most of all, it can help you to lose weight and be healthy.

Some Famous People Who Cycle

Did you know that Jennifer Aniston was a bike courier before shame found fame in television, and still cycles to stay in great shape? She is certainly not the only female celeb to get on a bike, as the likes of Pamela Anderson, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, Anna Kournikova (triathlons), Jennifer Lopez, Kate Beckinsale, BeyonceMadonna and Jessica Biel all enjoy cycling.

Famous women are joined by the guys too, with Robin William (has raced) Hugh JackmanJake Gyllenhaal, Harrison Ford, Matthew McConaughey, Tobey Maquire, Barak Obama (maybe less now), Brad Pitt and of course, British eccentric politician, Boris Johnson, who has been helping improve London for cyclists. Finally, one of the greatest minds to ever have thought cycled –  Albert Einstein preferred to get around on a bike even though he could have afforded a car.

Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoys cycling and used to cycle a lot in California. Even pro bodybuilders need to do some cardio, and cycling is a great way for a bodybuilder to control their fat levels.

Sir Alan Sugar (best known for Amstrad and Apprentice) is a more serious amateur cyclist, often seen cycling racing bikes in all the gear. Sir Alan started cycling to lose weight, and lost around 40 pounds by cycling. He only chooses the best bikes and clothes for cycling too, riding a £7,000 limited edition ‘Prince of Spain’ Pinarello.



  • Mountain bike image by (Creative Commons licence)
  • Cycling Oxford by Tejvan Pettinger (tejvanphotos) on Flickr (Creative Commons licence)

One Comment on “Cycling For Fitness and Weight Loss”

  1. My friends are inviting me to go cycling and we are scheduled to do it this weekend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *