Calories Burned While Riding a Bicycle

Written by chad anderson
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Calories Burned While Riding a Bicycle
(Tricolour by Adam Baker)

The number of calories burnt from cycling varies because of several factors, including rider weight, speed and duration of activity. Explained here is one easy way to estimate the calories burnt during a ride along with one more complex and accurate method.

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Considerations

The calories expended during cycling vary dramatically depending on rider weight and effort put forth. Situational factors such as wind resistance, drafting another rider or terrain cause even more variation. Factor in metabolic rate or the bicycle itself and quickly the calorie question becomes a more complex equation. Approximate numbers can however be of use and much research has been done to calculate a usable estimate.

Expert Insight

Fitness expert Dr. Edward Coyle from the Human Performance Lab at the University of Texas in Austin has worked with dozens of professional athletes, including Lance Armstrong, to determine the physiological factors that affect human performance. His work in cycling provides us with accurate numbers to use as a base for caloric consumption while riding on a level surface at varying speeds. All of Coyle's data are collected and based on the average-sized adult (70.3 Kilogram) so the results will vary depending on the actual weight of the rider. A large cyclist would burn more calories due to increased resistance while a smaller cyclist would theoretically burn fewer calories.

The Simple Data

As the chart below shows, the average cyclist travelling at 20mph for 20 miles will burn 760 calories by the end of the ride. While this rough estimate is great for calculating a mean across an entire ride it is far from accurate, and actual caloric consumption can vary 100 calories or more depending on conditions.

MPH/Calories Burned Per Mile 10/26 15/31 20/38 25/47 30/59

The Complex Equation

To get even closer to the exact answer to the caloric question there is a complex equation to follow that requires breaking a ride into several sections dependent on the grade of the road then comparing them with the time spent on each grade. Adding the results together will yield the best answer available without hiring a professional. The equation is as follows:

Calories/Hr = [VW(.0053 + %G/100) + .0083(V^3)]7.2

Where V is the rate of speed in MPH, W is the combined weight of both rider and bicycle, and %G is the percent grade of the road. The other two factors (.0053 and .0083) stand for friction and wind resistance and are not exact for each situation but this equation provides a more accurate estimate with variations dropping significantly.

Misconceptions

There are many calculators on the Internet that claim to show the number of calories lost during fitness activities. It is important to remember that each of these should be taken as a very rough estimate because so many factors affect how the human body burns calories. Therefore the simpler the calculator the less accurate the actual reading. One of the best free calculators on the Internet can be found at CaloriesPerHour.com.

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