Biking Fitness 2021: Is Burning Calories The Only Benefit To Bicycle Commuters?


A week ago, Veloria, author of the gorgeous blog Lovely Bicycle!, wrote a post asking the pointed question, “Does biking really keep your weight down?” Her answer: yes and no. It certainly touched off a large round of comments, which echoed her findings.

An unspoken question within this topic is, “Why do you bike?” For fun? To stay in shape? As a cheap way to get from place to place? To reduce fossil-fuel dependency? To live more simply? All of the bikers I know have different answers, but they all admit that getting a shot of exercise is part of the motivation.

Here’s what I know from my own biking and weight loss adventures. If you’re looking for the most efficient calorie burn per minute, biking ain’t it, unless you’re talking about racing or high-intensity mountain biking, which aren’t really entry-level activities.

Commuter biking is a whole different game. You’re biking at slower speeds in order to negotiate traffic and stop signs (fewer calories burned), but you’re also usually hauling a heavier bike (more calories burned). There’s no denying that this kind of biking still raises your heart rate and makes your muscles work. Most commuter bikers talk about having to adjust their layers so they stay warm, but don’t end up in a puddle of sweat when they reach their destination.  There’s also no denying that biking expends far more calories than sitting behind a steering wheel.

I think the key to biking fitness on the entry or commuter level is to change up your route. Our amazing bodies adapt so quickly to any fitness routine, so if it never varies, the body doesn’t see it as exercise anymore–it’s just part of everyday life. Even adding a hill a couple of times a week is enough to keep the body in “burn calories” mode instead of ho-hum complacency.

I started biking after a running (um, more like moseying) injury put me on the sidelines, and I needed a workout that didn’t subject my knees to pounding. I had a basic bike and a friend who liked to bike, so I started with that. Soon after, I was totally hooked. The calories burned really didn’t matter to me because I was having such a great time and I wanted push my body so I could fly.

Since I’m home with my three kids, my biking tends to be more for working out than for commuting, though I do get to run some errands by myself on two wheels on occasion. Yes, even in winter. I was really hesitant to try, but once I stated reading Dottie and Tricia’s blog, Let’s Go Ride a Bike, I decided that I really didn’t have an excuse not to try. Dottie was biking in Chicago, for crying out loud, and I know what those winters can be like.

What I can say after months of trying different types of exercise is that I think biking is a fantastic activity for the average person. It’s easy on the body, simple to do, doesn’t require a lot of complicated equipment (really and truly), and is undeniably fun. Because I’m more fit from biking, it makes the rest of my life that much more sweet.

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