Is biking good for exercise? Of course it is, there’s more than enough evidence to promote cycling as a pretty awesome form of exercise! Maybe you’ve seen bikes on your travels or maybe images of cyclists in the media and thought, I could do that too? Maybe you’ve been imagining the sense of freedom and liberty in the outdoors riding? Can you picture yourself riding a bike and feeling healthy and invigorated? Great! You definitely will if you use a bike – your bike – for exercise. I’m glad you’re here, Dear Reader and happy you’re asking the question. You want to know what bike is best for exercise. Okay let’s get into this while you’re enthusiasm is high!
Q: What type of bike is best for exercise?
A: Without going big on the perfunctory answers, honestly, any bike is beneficial for exercise. So could it be the question that yields a neater answer might be: what type of bike is best for me if I want to exercise? Good question, I was hoping you’d ask that! To get to the answer, I’m going to circumvent some of the conventional wisdom in bike choice and just ask you a simple question that we can expand out from. Q#1: Rough terrain or smooth terrain? That’s it. Simple! But of course there’s more to it. Don’t worry though if it’s not entirely clear, it will be!
I’m an advocate of cycling in any form. I’m all about encouraging you to just get out on your bike. To exercise? Sure, but mostly to just have fun! So, in my experience at least, when choosing a bike, it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you’re setting out to do on that bike. Why? Because all bikes can provide all kinds of exercise when utilized specifically for that purpose. Are some types more appropriate to getting certain kinds of exercise than other types? I really don’t believe so. Just crack open any top road or off-road cyclist. While the shape of their fitness diagrams may differ, they both have high base levels of cardio fitness, stamina, endurance, strength and balance. So what does that tell us? Well, just that any kind of exercise can be had on any kind of bike.
Q: So bike choice isn’t even important then?
A: It’s a factor, of course. But what I’m saying is I don’t want you to worry needlessly over a wrong type of bike. There aren’t really wrong decisions here. That’s all. But there’s still a best type out there for you. That’s what we’re after here. And we’ll get there before the end of this article!
I’m guessing though by asking this question that it’s general fitness you’re after rather than anatomically or physiologically specific enhancement, right? 🙂 So while I believe any kind of bike can offer cardio fitness, endurance, stamina and strength when used with those goals in mind, we want to know what’s best for you in your circumstances.
First, some article assumptions!
I’ve thought about who you are likely to be, Dear Reader to be asking this question. I’ve made a few assumptions based on where you might be on the scale of attributes relevant to answering out question. Not meant as a pigeonholing exercise. We’re all far too unique for that. Just to reduce a huge range of possible bike types into a simpler, more manageable list. That then gives you a better start point to your own research. So… I guess the upshot of that is, if you’re not in any of these assumed categories, damn, my crystal ball needs a polishin’ and this article may go wide of the mark! 😮
So the assumptions… Ooh I’m sensing your name begins with a J, no, an M? Haha, no, I’m going to assume:
- You’re a cycling beginner. If not, and you already ride a bike, you’re probably not currently riding it for exercise in particular. That’s relevant because it means that bikes specified as upgrade or next-step bikes can be ruled out and we can stick to bikes that are specified with you, a beginner cycling exerciser in mind 🙂
- You have a modest level of fitness. And why’s that relevant to this question? It means you’re possibly more likely to want to gain fitness or build base fitness as opposed to being currently one step from being picked for the olympic squad. And that translates into certain bikes and not others. For example, we don’t need super lightweight machines because we’re not trying to compete against the best or win any trophies. At least at the time of making our choice of bike.
- Your budget for a bike is commensurate with a potential cyclist satisfying the above two criteria.
All good? Or have I completely alienated you? Yikes! I truly hope not. I’m convinced at the very least you understand there’s a methodology here rather than clutching at straws 🙂 Okay, well fair enough, so where from here?
First, a visualisation exercise…
Oh no! I’m gonna have to close my eyes and feel what it’s like to be part of whatever constitutes oneness. No! I’ll leave that for your guru 😛 Just a simple visualization this. Why? Because if all types of bike are ruled in, we want to know that whatever type of bike decided upon feels like the kind of bike you want to be riding; that you look forward to riding. I’m sure that makes sense, right?
My guess is that if you’re considering this question, you’ve pictured yourself already riding a bike. I’d be surprised if you hadn’t since we think in pictures and you’ve at least thought about this enough to come here and ask. But either way, picture that now for me will you? Picture the you that’s asking this question having fun riding the bike that we’re going to help you choose, getting your exercise. Picture riding all the places you’d like to ride, feeling healthy and fitter than ever as you do so. Picture a you confident in your riding and in yourself, a you that just feels happy about cycling all the places you’d love to cycle. Just take a moment and freely and clearly picture it. Think in particular about where you’re riding that’s making you happy, and leaving you feeling energized and alive.
Is it working? Cool 🙂 Hey maybe by envisioning that scene you’ve already discovered what bike you’re riding. If so, yay, I can go have a coffee now 🙂
But otherwise, in relation to that image in your imagination, wherebouts are you in that picture when you’re riding for exercise? In particular what terrain have you been cycling in that visual? If you’ve conjured a clear image in your mind then you can answer the question that we posed above…
Q#1: Rough terrain or smooth terrain?
This doesn’t need be an either-or answer. Since most bikes lend themselves to riding different terrain – usually with a simple swapout of tires, it’s more of a sliding scale of preferences for where you’d be riding. So in that image of you riding your bicycle, what was the terrain like? Hint: it might have been one of these or more than one.
- Bike trails and cross country, forest paths with rough ruts and roots, or through mucky grass and undergrowth
- Kinds of hardpacked dirt, hardpacked gravel or hardpacked forest paths, rolling over loose gravel and small stones, maybe across leafy or rough cycleways and cycle paths, maybe along a river path
- Maintained or unmaintained cycleways and park paths designed for bikes, possibly shared with pedestrians, joggers, also beach paths or neighborhood streets.
- Purely out on the open roads and smooth asphalt (or smooth-ish if you live near me!), likely out of town, possibly in the hills or over rolling terrain.
Have you got a sense from your imagined picture of cycling-for-exercise you and where you’ve been riding? Keep your preferred or envisioned option from the above in mind.
Eliminating a few things for expediency
I’m going to rule out riding on sand, snow, thick sticky mud, hard rocks and high roots, and fast downhill mountain biking. Why? Because bikes needed for those conditions are fatbikes and/or full suspension mountain bikes. If our three assumptions above are true for you, I wouldn’t recommend fatbikes and full-sus MTBs as a place to start your cycling for exercise. Decent versions are generally higher up the price ranges and the bikes themselves are designed for specific kinds of riding. That doesn’t mean you can’t. As I’ve said, I’m an advocate for doing whatever makes you happy on a bike. But objectively speaking, I think these options are best reserved for the future, when you’ve matured into your cycling exercise 🙂
I’m also ruling out cruiser bikes. As I’ve said, exercise on a bike is somewhat independent of the type of bike. Cruisers though, tend to be heavy and designed for a relaxed, spread out position. Doesn’t mean you can’t exercise on them. Just means they’re not the most conducive bikes to exercising given the choice – which I assume we have here 🙂
And Now Ladies and Gentlemen…
The Great Oracle that is the <<< CyclingQuestions Decision Matrix >>> will now read your mind and help you decide! 😛
Aha, well, not really, just relate your preferred option(s) that you pictured in the little exercise from the four above. how did the terrain you pictured yourself riding correspond to the options above? If you pictured yourself riding…
- #1 on its own, or mostly #1 with a little bit of #2,#3 or #4 – your personal best bike for exercising is behind door A
- Mostly #1 with up to fifty percent #2, #3 and/or #4 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door A
- #2 on its own, or mostly #2 with a little bit of the #3 or #4 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door B
- Mostly #2 with up to fifty percent #1 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door A
- Mostly #2 with up to fifty percent #3 and/or #4 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door B
- #3 on its own, or mostly #3 with a little bit of #4 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door C
- Mostly #3 with up to fifty percent #1 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door A
- Mostly #3 with up to fifty percent #2 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door B
- Mostly #3 with up to fifty percent #4 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door C
- #4 on its own – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door D
- Mostly #1 with up to fifty percent #4 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door A
- Mostly #4 with up to fifty percent #2 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door B
- Mostly #4 with up to fifty percent #3 – your personal best bike for exercise is behind door C
Your personal choice of bike for exercising awaits…
What’s behind Door A? It’s a Hardtail, Front Suspension Mountain Bike
Yay! Now, what’s the deal with this? Hardtail, front suspension mountain bikes (MTB) are probably the most versatile bikes around. While they’re designed to take you off-road, they can go anywhere (see my article on riding MTB on asphalt). In terms of exercise, the drawback – and it could be a benefit depending on your mindset – is the bike’s weight. Much of that weight comes from those factors giving the hardtail, front suspension mountain bike it’s versatility, ie. the fat tires and the front suspension forks.
But it’s not about ultimate speed here, it’s about what you pictured when you saw yourself in your mind’s eye having fun on the off-road trails, getting out there in among the rocks and ruts exercising on the bike. This bike will take you anywhere, stand up to the bumps and be your faithful steed for more!
The “hardtail” refers to the bike having a frame without rear spring/damper suspension, those being termed full-suspension bikes. As a novice cyclist for exercise, I think we can agree it’d be unlikely we’d want to be riding extreme rocky trails and jumps that put full-sus bikes to the test. At least for now! But the hardtail, front-sus MTB with its ability to cover almost all offroad trails promises a full-body muscle and cardio workout when pushed. Even taking things easy gives great outdoor exercising laughs.
The good news too is that these variant mountain bikes are generally the most common and usually the most affordable in a brand’s lineup.
Just fyi: if you’re not au fait with good bike brands, you might be interested in checking my Road Bike Brands for Beginners article (websites listed). While it concerns road bikes, most if not all the brands listed produce hardtail, front suspension mountain bikes, sometimes known as trail bikes.
Having a quick browse around what’s currently available at time of writing, I’d be thinking along the lines of a Trek Roscoe6 to give you an idea, or for something a bit different maybe, Orbea MX30 I9 available in men’s and women’s versions. But there are myriad options out there depending on your budget and taste. See my article above for brand websites and info, and take your research from there 🙂
What’s behind Door B? It’s a Gravel / Adventure Bike
Yay! Now, what’s the deal with this? These drop-handlebar bikes look like traditional road bikes but have more clearance for beefier tires, usually have disc brakes and are geared for mechanical simplicity often with 1-by drivetrains. If you’re unfamiliar with gearing systems, you might be interested in my bicycle gearing 101 article. While gravel/Adventure bikes might not have the hardcore off-road credentials of a hardtail MTB, they have the ability to tackle stony, grassy or gravelly terrain with ease and in comfort. All guaranteeing a balance-sharpening, high-intensity way to exercise on the bike. If you pictured yourself on reasonably well surfaced off-road tracks and paths, the gravel/adventure bike could well be right for you!
Prices do tend to be on the higher end of the budget from the hardtail MTB. But there ought still to be plenty to suit.
Just fyi: if you’re not au fait with good bike brands, you might be interested in checking my Road Bike Brands for Beginners article (websites listed). While it concerns road bikes, most if not all the brands listed produce gravel/adventure bikes as it’s a currently popular cycling fashion at time of writing.
Having a quick browse around to see what’s available, I’d be thinking along the lines of Specialized Diverge E5, available in men’s or women’s, or for something a bit different, Mango Bikes Point AR (mangobikes.com)
What’s behind Door C? It’s a Flat-handlebar Road / City / Fitness Bike
Yay! Now, what’s the deal with this? Flatbar road bikes are basically rigid road bikes (rigid having no suspension either front or rear). Frame designs afford you a more upright position than a drop-handlebar road bike. As the name suggests, the handlebars are single-hand-position, grips at the ends. This gives easy access to gear shifters – usually underbar thumb shifters and makes grabbing brakes straightforward too. These bikes won’t have quite the beefy tires that the gravel/adventure bikes, limiting the terrain we can ride on them somewhat – though remember I said at the start that any bike can swap tires to increase its abilities! Although similar in appearance, these do differ from what are known as hybrid bikes because those tend to have front suspension, a less sporty aspect and are usually heavier and slower, or should I say more leisurely!
What the flatbar road/city/fitness bike loses in terrain-covering ability, it can make up for in lighter weight and therefore, speed and stealth. All of which can give a fast, high energy workout. With a bunch of gears you can take it up over rolling terrain too, or just go easy and cruise the beach paths effortlessly.
Prices are generally more reasonable than equivalent gravel/adventure bikes.
Just fyi: if you’re not au fait with good bike brands, you might be interested in checking my Road Bike Brands for Beginners article (websites listed). While it concerns road bikes, most if not all the brands listed produce flatbar road / fitness / urban / city bikes – they go by many names depending on manufacturer.
Having a quick browse around to see what’s available, I’d be thinking along the lines of the Kona Dew Plus or Cannondale Quick 5, available in men’s or women’s variants.
What’s behind Door D? It’s an Endurance Road Bike
Yay! Now, what’s the deal with this? Endurance road bikes are meant to cover distance and to do it as fast, light and efficiently as possible. While they’re not purebred racing machines, they’re all but that bar the high price. Endurance road bikes with drop handlebars, 20-24 gears are made for asphalt with tires for all weathers and conditions on tarmac. They’re light but not necessarily flimsy. Most will cope with anything rough roads have to offer. No other bike can cover the distance like the road bike. One with frames designed for endurance will be more comfortable for longer than those designed purely for racing and events. With these bikes you can climb as long and high as your lungs allow. If you pictured really getting away, like far away on your exercising rides, then you probably put yourself on a road bike. Nothing can touch the speed and efficiency of an endurance road bike.
Prices do vary, but even the lowliest models will be anything up to 5kg (11lbs) lighter than the equivalent hardtail MTB.
Just fyi: if you’re not au fait with good bike brands, you might be interested in checking my Road Bike Brands for Beginners article (websites listed). Have a quick browse around that article to see what’s available, I’d be pointing out to you bikes along the lines of Specialized Allez (men’s) or Dolce (women’s) or for something different, Boardman SLR 8.6 available in men’s and women’s also.
So as ever, none of this is meant to be prescriptive. It’s not about the right or wrong choice, it’s just about you getting out there and getting some wonderful exercise and having a hoot while you’re doing it! I’m hopeful this will at least have given you a place to start your own research. I’d love to hear your experiences. Meantime, all the very best, ride safe and have fun, David.