Why cycling outdoors is a perfect exercise for beginners

Man riding an electric bike
(Image credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

Many of us are trying to set a new goal for 2023 around getting fit or staying active. But the activities we choose to help us meet these goals can be the very thing that sees them unravel. Suddenly diving right into a high-impact activity you're not used to, like running, can quickly lead to burnout or even injuries. It's one of the reasons you shouldn't exercise too hard in 2023, or you could risk quitting your new routine.

Cycling, whether with the best electric bike or a conventional push-bike, offers a uniquely low-impact way to exercise and stay active, and its ability to tackle commutes even makes it convenient to work into more parts of your life.

Lots of conventional sporting exercises that involve running or jumping are high-impact. Your legs will get worked, certainly, but the joints will also absorb a lot of shocks. In contact, cycling sees your feet and joints work smoothly, spinning away at the cranks. The only jolts you’ll get are from bumps in the road, and even those can be reduced with suspension or cushioning on the bike.

Of course, any good exercise needs effort. Cycling can be about as hard or as easy as you want to make it, though. Part of the equation will be how heavy you are, but then how much work you do riding will be largely a matter of how far and how fast you go (and then some if you’re dealing with wind or hills). You can modulate your effort by simply pedaling faster or slower, or you can use your bike’s gears to adjust your difficulty.

Man collapsing a folding bike

(Image credit: Odua Images/Shutterstock)

Benefits of cycling for first-timers

Once you’re out of the house and hitting the open road, you can start seeing the burned calories mount quickly. Healthline estimates a 155-pound rider will burn 298 calories in 30 minutes of moderate riding at 12-13.9mph. That figure can jump up if you weigh more or go faster, too. To get a clearer picture of how many calories you might burn on a ride, you can use this calculator at Calories Burned HQ.

Part of the beauty of cycling is that it can almost be a passive exercise. While you may be picturing hardcore cyclists sporting lycra outfits and hunched over an ultra-light road bike, cycling doesn’t have to be anything like that to get you a good workout. In fact, it can blend seamlessly into your day if you use your bike as a way to get around.

Say you want to visit some friends who live five miles away on the weekend. Instead of driving over, you can simply hop on your bike and burn a few hundred calories along the way. While you might worry about showing up drenched in sweat if you tried running to commute, the ability to modulate your effort cycling, especially if you used the assistance of an electric motor, makes it easier to get from A to B without breaking the same sweat. 

People riding Pure Free City and Pure Free Step e-bikes

(Image credit: Pure Electric)

If you start working those little bike rides into other things, like your commute to and from work, the calories you’re burning will really start to stack up. I’ll use myself as an example: I weigh 230 pounds and ride casually between 14 and 16mph. I’ll take my bike to a rock climbing gym and back a couple of times a week, and I’ll visit people twice a week, riding my bike to get there and back. 

Most of these rides are about 5 miles away. None of that riding feels like I’m going for a workout, but I’ll have burned nearly 3,000 calories by the end of the week.

While some of us might be able to just hop onto a bike in the new year and work cycling into our everyday life with ease, those of us feeling especially out of athletic shape can still get started with a little extra help. There’s no shortage of cheap e-bikes geared up for beginner cyclists. 

With a bit of motor power to tap into, you’ll have even more flexibility for deciding how much effort you put into each ride, so you can always work at a comfortable level. If you tire out before the end of a ride, some e-bikes will allow you to ride with a throttle so you can still reach your destination. And, as you get stronger and are able to push harder, you have the option to lean less on the motor for support or you can continue to use the motor to simply ride that much faster. 

E-bike conversion kits can even let you electrify a bike you already own, so you don’t need to get an entirely new ride if you already have a great bike you’d like to keep. The best folding e-bikes, or folding push-bikes come to that, can overcome the challenge of small storage spaces.

In the new year, you might find cycling is just what you need to bring your fitness goals within reach. You might also find all the joy there is in cycling, as you get to cruise around, feel the breeze, and explore your surroundings in ways a regular trip to the gym would never allow.

Mark Knapp

Over the last several years, Mark has been tasked as a writer, an editor, and a manager, interacting with published content from all angles. He is intimately familiar with the editorial process from the inception of an article idea, through the iterative process, past publishing, and down the road into performance analysis.