QUESTION: What’s the average cycling distance for beginners? I’m 42 years old, out of shape and overweight. I have a hybrid bike in the garage and I want to start riding it for exercise. How far should I be going on rides? What’s a good distance to aim for? – Jacob B
RBR REPLIES: First of all, we’re glad to hear that you’re getting the bike out of the garage and getting back on the road! If you haven’t ridden it in several years, it might be worth taking it in for a tune up at your local bike shop to make sure your tires and tubes are still in good shape and everything is working properly. It wouldn’t be any fun to have mechanical problems on your first ride.
When I started cycling during my freshman year in college, my first ride was only about five miles. I was not yet an athlete and definitely not fit, so that seemed like a pretty long distance! After a couple of months, my roommate in the dorm and I were riding an out-and-back route that was about 18 miles and we were on the road to fitness.
Instead of thinking about it in terms of miles, it might be more helpful to think in terms of how much time you’re spending on the bike.
For the first few rides, you might aim for half an hour on the bike. If you average around 10 mph, that would be about five miles. If you’re riding based on time, you’d just turn around and head back to the starting point after the first 15 minutes or so. This helps prevent you from choosing an arbitrary distance that might be too far in the beginning, with the potential of leaving you exhausted and still far from home.
There are lots of good phone apps like Strava and Ride With GPS that you can use to see your distance and average speed and keep track of your riding time if you don’t have a bicycle computer. The apps are also good for keeping track of your rides over time. You’ll probably find that you’re riding further in half an hour than you were at the beginning, as your average speed increases with your fitness levels.
Once you’re comfortable with a 30 minute ride, try riding 45 minutes, and then an hour. This will keep you riding a distance that’s still reasonable for a beginner. If you’re riding anywhere from 10 to 15 miles in an hour, that’s a very good start. But even if the distance you are riding in an hour is less than that, don’t worry about it! Fitness takes time, and consistency is the key.