Cycling is a fun and low-intensity form of exercise that you can do indoors or outdoors. The number of calories burned biking for 20 minutes ranges between 140 and 498, depending on the intensity of your session and your body weight.
When riding outdoors for 20 minutes, you can burn between 160 and 489 calories. When riding a stationary bike, you can torch 140 to 311 calories. The heavier you are and the greater the intensity of your workout, the more calories you will burn.
How Long Should You Cycle?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week.
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You can determine the intensity of your exercise using a perceived exertion method. Rate how hard you feel you are exercising from 0 to 10, with 0 being at rest and 10 being the most you can push yourself.
If you're exercising at a level of 5 or 6, you are working out at a moderate intensity. Starting at a 7 or 8, you are training at a vigorous intensity.
By meeting this exercise goal, you will improve your overall quality of life and see numerous health benefits, including:
- Reduced risk of developing some types of cancer, including bladder, breast and colon cancers
- Lower risk of developing type II diabetes
- Improved sleep
- Enhanced cognition
- Decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease
- Lower risk of depression and anxiety
- Improved muscle tone
- Increased strength and endurance
Regular physical activity will also help you lose fat and maintain your weight. If you're trying to get leaner, you may want to exceed the minimum exercise recommendations.
Cycling is one activity that you can do to to get more exercise into your routine. If you cycle for 20 minutes at a moderate intensity seven days per week, you will just fall short of this recommendation, getting 140 minutes of exercise.
To meet the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes, you can increase the time you spend biking or supplement your cycling session with another form of exercise, such as swimming or running. Alternatively, you may increase workout intensity to meet the recommended 75 to 150 minutes of exercise.
If you're just starting a workout routine or returning from an injury, be sure to start slowly and increase the time and intensity of your workout over time. To stay safe, consult a doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Cycling for Weight Loss
If one of your goals is to lose weight, it's important to understand how many calories you will need to burn to meet your goals. To lose 1 pound of body weight, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit. Aim to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week to stay healthy and have the best chance of keeping the weight off.
To achieve 1 pound of weight loss, aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day. You can burn some of these calories by cycling for 20 minutes, but for the best results, you'll also want to adjust your diet. Focus on eating a healthy diet consisting of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and good fats. Avoid trans fats and added sugars.
Start with some simple substitutes in your diet to make this transition easier. For example, you can try the following:
- Order a side salad instead of fries when eating out
- Use low-fat milk instead of whole milk
- Drink water instead of soda or juice
- Steam vegetables instead of frying them
Calories Burned Biking
The number of calories you will burn in a 20-minute exercise session is based on how fast you bike and how much you currently weigh. The greater your body weight, the more calories you burn cycling. So how many calories can you torch during a 20-minute bike ride?
Harvard Health estimates that in 20 minutes, a 185-pound individual will burn the following number of calories based on how fast they are riding:
- 12 to 13.9 miles per hour: 236 calories
- 14 to 15.9 miles per hour: 296 calories
- 16 to 19 miles per hour: 355 calories
- Greater than 20 miles per hour: 488 calories
A 155-pound person will burn:
- 12 to 13.9 miles per hour: 198 calories
- 14 to 15.9 miles per hour: 248 calories
- 16 to 19 miles per hour: 297 calories
- Greater than 20 miles per hour: 409 calories
In 20 minutes, a 125-pound individual will burn:
- 12 to 13.9 miles per hour: 160 calories
- 14 to 15.9 miles per hour: 200 calories
- 16 to 19 miles per hour: 240 calories
- Greater than 20 miles per hour: 330 calories
Consider biking to work or school for some additional time cycling. You'll help the environment and get in some extra exercise.
If you prefer to get off the roads and hit the trails, you'll still burn plenty of calories on your mountain bike. Here is what you can expect during a 20-minute ride:
- A 125-pound individual will burn 170 calories.
155-pound individual will burn 210 calories.
- A 185-pound individual will burn 251 calories.
Cycling Safety Considerations
The most important thing you can do to stay safe while riding a bicycle is to wear a helmet. This will help protect you from head injuries in the case of a fall or a crash. Make sure your bike is the appropriate size for your body. If it's too big or improperly adjusted, it may be difficult to control.
Wear comfortable clothing in bright, visible colors. If you are riding at night, wear reflective gear and make sure your bike is equipped with working lights. Make sure your clothing is not loose or hanging, as it may get caught in the wheels or gears.
Know the rules of the road and trails in your community. In general, bikes are subject to the same rules of the road as vehicles, which means you must obey traffic signals and use hand signals to communicate your intention to turn or stop. If you are riding by parked cars, remember to watch for car doors, as many drivers may not see you.
Avoid distractions, such as phone calls, and remain focused on cycling safely while on the road. In a large-scale study published in the April 2018 issue of PeerJ, researchers found that distractions while cycling play a significant role in traffic crashes, which may result in serious injury or even death.
Biking Indoors Burns Calories Too
Whether the weather is poor outside or you just prefer to get your workouts done at the gym, riding a stationary bike offers many of the same benefits as cycling outdoors, including burning plenty of calories.
In a small study conducted on 12 sedentary women and published in the April 2018 issue of the Journal of Education and Training Studies, researchers found that participating in spinning cycling classes for six weeks led to significant weight loss among subjects who have overweight and obesity.
You can create your own workout by adjusting the resistance on the bike manually, or you can use a pre-programmed workout found on many stationary bikes.
If you're concerned about the safety of bicycling outdoors, stationary bikes are a good alternative. Riding a stationary bike eliminates the risk of falls, as well as hazards found on the road, such as vehicles and pedestrian traffic.
When cycling at a moderate intensity, a 125-pound individual burns approximately 140 calories in a 20-minute session, points out Harvard Health Publishing. A 155-pound individual burns 173 calories, while a 185-pound individual burns 207 calories in the same 20-minute session.
The number of calories burned in a cycling class or another vigorous-intensity session is:
- A 125-pound individual will burn 210 calories.
- A 155-pound individual will burn 260 calories.
- A 185-pound individual will burn 310 calories.
For a more precise estimate of the number of calories you burn cycling, try the Exercise Calories Burned Calculator from ExRx.net. Simply enter your weight, the time you spent working out and the type of activity.
Avoid Cycling Injuries
To avoid injuries or speed up your recovery, start each workout with a warm-up and end it with a cool down. The warm-up will get your blood flowing and can be as simple as cycling for five or 10 minutes at a slow and easy pace. The cool down at the end of your workout will gradually lower your heart rate with another five to 10 minutes of slow cycling.
Maintain good posture and a strong core while cycling to avoid neck and back pain. Keep your torso angled forward with your pelvis in a neutral position, advises the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Keep your abs engaged and your neck long. You should have minimal weight on your hands and your shoulder blades should be flat against your back.
Good posture starts when you are off of your bike. Focus on maintaining good posture as you move throughout your day, whether you are sitting at your desk or walking to the store.
Supplement your cycling with strength training to help your rides. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends targeting each of the major muscle groups at least two times per week. You can include some exercises specific to cycling, including those suggested by the International Sports Sciences Association.
For example, strengthen your core with plank and boat pose exercises. This will help you maintain good posture and boost your overall physical performance. You will also want to have strong and balanced glutes, quads and hamstrings to pedal effectively. Try glute bridges, hamstring curls and lunges to target these muscles.
If you have neck pain from riding, take time to stretch out your neck. Consider rolling out the knots with a lacrosse ball. Cycling may also cause tight hip flexors, especially if you spend much of your day sitting at a desk. Stretch the hip flexors with a lunge stretch and roll them out with a foam roller. Perform these exercise regularly to fully reap the benefits.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- ExRx.net: "Exercise Calories Burned Calculator"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Participant Guide, Burn More Calories Than You Take In"
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: "Bicycle Safety"
- United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee: "Posture-Perfect Exercises for a Strong Cyclist"
- International Sports Sciences Association: "Top Corrective Exercises for Cyclists"
- Journal of Education and Training Studies: "Effect of Spinning Cycling Training on Body Composition in Women"
- PeerJ: "Distraction of Cyclists: How Does It Influence Their Risky Behaviors and Traffic Crashes?"