When you hop on a bike, you're doing more than just working those leg muscles — the calories burned biking is something to consider. But your bike ride, whether stationary or on the street, is bound to be different from your workout buddy's bike ride.
This distance of the ride is far from the whole story, though. On your biking journey, various factors affect how much of a burn your body experiences. Exploring different calorie burn estimates that encompass a wide range of those variables, from normal biking speeds to various body weights, will help you get the most out of your cycling experience.
Speed, duration and body size all affect the number of calories you burn on a bike ride, but you can expect to torch about 50 to 60 calories per mile, as a rough average.
Factors That Affect Calorie Burn
Calorie burn is not a one-size-fits-all equation. For each individual, the number of calories burned during a workout — or during any type of physical activity, or even just at rest — varies widely based on several physiological factors.
This range is largely due to the differences in metabolic rate among different people. The metabolic rate determines how the body converts food into energy during exercise (remember that calories are a measure of energy expenditure) and how many calories it uses to perform activities like breathing and circulating blood when you're at rest.
Your metabolic rate depends on your size and weight, as larger body types burn more calories, even when at rest. Gender also plays a role, with men typically burning more calories than women due to a physical tendency toward more muscle mass and heavier bodies. Because muscle mass often decreases in tandem with increased body fat percentage as the years go on, your age factors in your calorie expenditure as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American woman weighs 170.5 pounds, while the average American man weighs 197.8 pounds. These figures are useful in getting an estimate for how much an "average" person burns while biking a mile, but keep in mind — it's not the be-all and end-all. When it comes down to a specific exercise or activity, intensity and duration also exert a significant influence on the number of calories you burn.
Breaking Down a Mile
In the prolific bicycling city of Copenhagen, Denmark, the city government in association with the Cycling Embassy of Denmark has regularly reported on average biking speeds, dating back to the year 2004.
In this city, about 45 percent of the population bikes to and from work or school, collectively covering about 830,000 miles every year. From 2004 to 2014, the average reported speed for cyclists was between 15.3 to 16.4 kilometers per hour, which comes to about 9.5 to 10.2 miles per hour.
With those figures in mind, an overall average cycling speed would come out to 9.85 miles per hour, including speeds across cycle tracks, cycle lanes and the city's Green Cycle Routes and Cycle Super Highways. At that speed — which, it's important to note, is a fairly leisurely pedestrian pace compared to what you might be doing in a gym or cycling class — it'll take you about six minutes to bike one mile.
One Mile's Worth of Calories
Now that you've got some reliable ideas on average weight, speeds and travel times, you're equipped to explore some estimates of the number of calories burned biking one mile. These estimates come from ExRx.net, via its Exercise Calories Burned Calculator.
Cycling at a speed of 10 miles per hour (very close to the overall average biking speed for pedestrians) for 6 minutes, a 170-pound person burns about 51 calories, while a 198-pound person burns 59 calories. Of course, changes in pace also result in a change in the amount of time spent on the bike per mile, as well as changes in how many calories you burn.
For instance, cranking that speed up to 13 miles per hour, it'll only take you about 4.6 minutes to cover a mile. At this rate, a 170-pound person burns 56 calories while a 198-pound person goes through 65 calories. Ratcheting up to a racing speed (about 16 to 19 miles per hour, according to the American Council on Exercise), it takes a tight 3.15 to 3.75 minutes to burn through a mile. If you weigh 170 pounds, you're torching about 42 to 50 calories in that short time, or roughly 48 to 58 if you weigh 198 pounds.
One of the key appeals of biking is its low-impact accessibility, so don't forget about the possibility of a more leisurely pace. At 5.5 miles per hour, or a roughly 11-minute mile, a 170-pound bike rider burns about 50 calories. That's 58 calories for a 198-pound person. All across these weight, speed and time ranges, a calorie burn of about 50 to 60 calories per mile makes for a pretty safe ballpark estimate.
Calories Burned Biking: Cycling Class
Leaving that one-calorie-burn figure mile behind for a bit, you may find yourself asking: But what about calories burned in cycling class? With the average cycling class lasting about 30 to 45 minutes and focusing on pedaling at various speeds to the beat of the music, it's safe to assume a moderate but above-average overall pace of about 13 miles per hour in this situation.
A 170-pound person cycling at that speed for 30 minutes burns through about 362 calories, or 543 calories in 45 minutes, per ExRx.net estimates. For a 198-pound person, calorie expenditure figures are closer to 422 and 633 calories for 30- and 45-minute sessions, respectively.
You already know that a13 miles per hour speed covers a single mile in about 4.6 minutes. That means that in a 30-minute cycling class, you're biking about 6.5 miles. Even better, in a 45-minute class at that speed, you've trekked about 9.8 miles. even if you haven't really left the gym.
Cycling in Your Routine
For adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for "substantial health benefits." If you spend that time on a bike, you could burn between 900 to upward of 2,000 calories every week. Not bad, considering it takes about 3,500 calories to shed a pound. Over the course of that time, you'll cover about 15 to more than 30 miles.
It's also worth considering that it's very common for people to spend more than 4.6 minutes — the time it takes to cover one mile at 13 mph — pedaling, especially for exercise purposes.
Reflecting the ExRx.net estimates, Harvard Health Publishing says that a 155-pound person burns 260 calories over 30 minutes on a stationary bike at a moderate speed, or 391 calories at a vigorous speed. That compares very favorably to 30 minutes of other exercise activities for 125-pound, 155-pound and 185-pound people, listed respectively:
- Basketball: 240, 298, 355 calories
- Circuit training: 240, 298, 355 calories
- Elliptical trainer: 270, 335, 400 calories
- Hatha yoga: 120, 149, 178 calories
- Rowing: 210, 260, 311 calories
- Running (5.2 mph): 270, 335, 400 calories
- Ski machine: 285, 353, 422 calories
- Soccer: 210, 260, 311 calories
- Stairstep machine: 180, 223, 266
- Swimming: 180, 223, 266 calories
- Tai chi: 120, 149, 178 calories
- Tennis: 210, 260, 311 calories
- Volleyball: 90, 112, 133 calories
- Walking (3.5 mph): 120, 149, 178 calories
- Water aerobics: 120, 149, 178 calories
- Weight lifting (general): 90, 112, 133 calories
- Weight lifting (vigorous): 180, 223, 266 calories
Read more: 11 Amazing Benefits of Biking
Maximize Your Miles
According to guidelines from the CDC and the American College of Sports Medicine, bicycling at a speed of 5 to 9 miles per hour on level terrain or terrain with a few hills is considered "moderate activity."
To bump it up to "vigorous activity" — which, in turn, can increase your calorie burn — you'll need to bike at over 10 miles per hour or take on steep uphill terrain. You can replicate this increased intensity on a stationary bike with settings that simulate riding uphill, or simply by pedaling more vigorously.
You may have noticed that the sampling of calorie burn estimates for a one-mile session across weight groups, speeds and biking duration don't show a huge variance, indicating that intensity is perhaps the more important determinant in overall calorie burn when cycling. At least one study reflects this notion.
A 16-week small study of 24 bicyclists published in the August 2017 issue of the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation compared the results of general biking — like the kind you might do on your commute to work — with guided stationary biking, like you might do at the gym under a trainer's instruction. The latter typically encourages more intense pedaling at a faster tempo and often engages muscles in the upper body as well as the lower.
Researchers have found that the latter form of cycling not only has the potential to burn twice as many calories as regular biking, but the increased aerobic intensity was overall "more beneficial for physical development and fitness." While body weight changes were consistent among both groups, body mass index and body fat percentage saw significant decreases in the higher-intensity group.
Make no mistake, though — both types of biking had positive results, including improved physique, better overall physical fitness, improved blood lipid index and better antioxidant function, so your miles will never go to waste.
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and Weight Loss: You You Burn Calories"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Body Measurements"
- City of Copenhagen: "Copenhagen City of Cyclists"
- ExRx.net: "Exercise Calories Burned Calculator"
- American Council on Exercise: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "General Physical Activities Defined by Level of Intensity"
- NCBI: Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation: "Effects of 16-Week Spinning and Bicycle Exercise on Body Composition, Physical Fitness and Blood Variables of Middle School Students"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"