If you’re wondering how far you need to ride your bike in order to get fit, maybe consider re-framing the question. Instead of thinking about distance, think about time.
Riding 30km on lovely smooth, flat surface is going to be considerably easier than riding 30km up a 10% average gradient hill. Comparing these two rides only on distance is entirely unfair on you.
Instead, I would suggest you think more about how long to cycle in order to get fit?
Can you set aside 30 minutes three or four times a week? Great! That’s a perfect amount of time for a beginner to cycling to start building your fitness. And remember, even 10 minutes per day on your bike is 10 minutes more exercise than you might have otherwise done.
How far to cycle to lose weight?
You may be cycling to “get fit”, or you may be cycling to lose weight. In many ways, losing weight is a better goal than “getting fit”, as losing weight can be easily monitored and measured, whilst getting fit is more subjective.
If your primary goal with your cycling is to lose weight, the very first thing you need to do is keep an accurate measurement of your current weight.
When weighing yourself, try to weigh yourself at the same time each day. Also, in my opinion you should be nude, or at most, in your underwear when weighing yourself. Clothes weigh quite a lot, and can seriously skew your readings.
Once you know your starting weight, you can begin tracking your weight and watching as it, hopefully, decreases over time. Weight loss is best viewed over weeks or months, as daily fluctuations will be more easy to average out and a upwards, sideways, or (ideally) downwards trend should become more obvious as time goes on.
How ambitious your weight loss targets are, and how much free time you have to cycle will play a big part in determining how much time you can spend cycling in order to meet your weight targets.
Personally, when I first started cycling, I aimed to ride for between 25 and 30 minutes each day, four days a week. I would usually take Monday, Friday, and Saturday as rest days. This still gave me 2 hours of exercise per week, which was 2 more than I had been doing.
How far I could cycle in two hours was entirely dependant on the route / course I had chosen. If you really want to base your cycling weight loss on how far you can or need to cycle, much like how you should aim to weigh yourself at the same time each day, be sure to cycle the same route / course to set a standard or baseline to compare against.
Whatever form of exercise you choose, cycling, running, swimming, or anything else, it’s better to do smaller amounts more frequently than it is to do one large effort and then do nothing for the rest of the week.
Getting fit cycling for beginners
As a beginner, if you haven’t done any exercise since your high school P.E. class, the best way to get fit is to… just start.
Get on your bike. Pick a fairly flat route around your local area, nothing too far from home, and get going. Don’t overthink it. Don’t set any goals, other than riding the route and getting back home safely.
As a beginner the very best way to get fit is simply to ride. Ride as much as you can. Rest days are equally as important, and actually help your body get stronger and build (and rebuild) your muscles.
Rather than setting a target such as “I will ride 20km today”, think about riding for 30 minutes. Some routes are vastly more hilly than others, and 20km of hills is considerably more difficult than 20km of flats. But on paper they sound the same.
With a time goal, you always have the same amount of time but as your fitness increases, your speed and stamina will allow you to travel further, and faster in the same amount of time. Whereas one week you might manage 10km in 30 minutes, a few weeks later you may be able to hit 11km, 12km, or greater, all within that same 30 minutes. That alone is a true sign of an increase in fitness.
In order to measure your fitness, whether as a beginner or as you progress, you need tangible things to measure against. Maybe it’s your body fat percentage, or a time / distance thing like above, or maybe it’s being able to get back into those jeans you used to be able to wear with ease a few years back. If you can see it, or touch it, it’s so much easier to focus on and achieve.
How far do you cycle to keep fit?
Personally I try to cycle between 4 and 5 times per week, each time for at least 30 minutes, and typically at most 60 minutes. I like to have one longer ride per week, between 1.5 to 2 hours in length.
I used to wonder whether road cyclists were always “on”, or whether out of a 60 minute ride, most of the ride was taken at a lower intensity, with some smaller harder efforts thrown in. I can tell you, within a typical 60 minute ride, I will do between 20 and 30 minutes of harder activity, with the remainder being recovery and fairly easy pedalling.
I try to aim for 30km within my 60 minute rides. This doesn’t always work, for reasons discussed above.
For reference I’ve been regularly cycling now for about a year and half. When I started, I would aim to do between 25 to 45 minutes riding per day, 3 to 4 times per week. Distance was always secondary. I would aim to ride 100km per week, and I still aim for that now.