Biking vs. Running #I’dRatherBeRunning

I keep getting questions about the biking so I after a week with the bike and 4 bike rides under my belt, I thought it was time to write a post about it.

Here’s the thing. I put off getting a bike for the longest time because I was afraid I’d get hurt (it’s been 30 years, yo!) and I was afraid of riding in traffic on our narrow country roads with no shoulders, and I didn’t want to have to drive somewhere to exercise, and because I knew that I’d have to bike twice as long as I would have to run to burn the same amount of calories and I’m all about efficiency. I had 110 reasons why I didn’t want to replace running with biking as my primary means of exercise.

But I finally caved and got a bike because it was my last ditch effort at finding a fitness activity that I can enjoy enough to actually do it on a regular basis.

And you know what? Every single one of the reasons I put off getting a bike? Was totally valid. 

I avoid biking many days simply because I’m afraid I will a) fall and get terribly hurt or b) get hit by a car and die. (Running seems much safer than biking; I have no statistical evidence, but I feel MUCH safer as a runner on the roads.) And because I don’t feel like spending 60 minutes to burn 300 calories when I can do that much more safely in half the time.

But I do like biking. It just isn’t running.

I don’t get the same high that I get when I’m running, or the same sense of accomplishment. And I can’t totally lose myself in my music because I’m much too busy thinking about the car coming up behind me and if the driver will see me, and coaching myself to jump forward and THEN put my feet down when I need to get off the bike (rather than my instinctive habit, which is to just put my feet down — and that hurts. To say nothing of the fact that it is a fall waiting to happen.)

I am anticipating with great fear and trepidation that first fall. I know it’s coming. I just hope it’s not too horrible when it happens.

If you think I’m being dramatic, may I remind you that I took a terrible fall running that left me with a nasty scar on my knee and a thumbnail that has yet to grow back in normally two years later. If I can hurt myself that badly running, I shudder to think what damage I can do to my person on a bicycle. On narrow roads with lots of cars and no shoulder.

I tried to go out early this morning (6:30 AM) when I thought there would be fewer cars, but evidently the old nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past. It’s broad daylight at 6:30, and the cards are whizzing past like they do at 8:30 during the school year. The best time to bike is around 10am when everyone is safely at work, but by then the sun is blazing hot. Or first thing on a Sunday morning, which is apparently the only day of the week that people sleep in anymore.

It also occurred to me that while a perk to biking in warm weather is that you create your own breeze and lower the “real feel temperature” by about 10 degrees, biking in cold weather must be dreadful for the same reason. Therefore, I am sure I will not be able to continue biking on a regular basis during the wintertime, while running in the wintertime is doable with the proper gear. Bike addicts, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine biking when it’s super frigid and windy outside, and then having the bike-wind-chill factor to contend with.

And then there’s the whole race culture that is a part of running that I miss terribly. That sense of being part of something bigger and having goals to strive for kept me going. I miss it like I would miss a friend who moved away. In fact, I think I miss it more. Friends have moved, and I’ve moved away from friends, and frankly, I’ve never missed one like I miss running.

I thought I’d get over it. In fact, my worst fear when I stopped running was that I’d lose my desire to be in shape and this whole passion for exercise and fitness would just be a short stage of life that I’d look back on and laugh about. But that isn’t the case at all. I miss it dreadfully.

I’m still lifting weights, so there’s that at least. I feel strong. But it’s not the same strong as when I was running regularly and training for a race. And then there’s this 40-year-old metabolism that isn’t very forgiving. I need regular cardio becuase otherwise everything I eat seems to go right to my middle, and it ain’t pretty. #thankgodforspanx

Oh crap, there I am whining again. This post was not supposed to be about The Whining.

Seriously, this is supposed to be my answer to everyone who asks (and at least one person a day asks) how the biking is going and if they should get one.

So if you’re considering a bike because you can’t run, and you want advice, my advice is this. GET A BIKE. Seriously, I tell you everything I’ve said in the interest of full disclosure and in order to manage your expectations, but please don’t let it dissuade you if getting a bike is something you’ve been wanting to do. Because it is fun, and it is exercise, and it challenges your body in a totally new way, and it’s a great activity to share with friends and family. And at the end of the day, it beats being a couch potato, and that’s the goal, right??

But don’t expect it to replace running in your heart (or on MyFitnessPal.) At least not right away.

I am not sorry I got the bike. Not at all. I do want to explore some trails and go on longer rides. I am looking forward to riding with friends who are in the same boat as I am and looking for a form of exercise that our tired old bodies can tolerate. It’s just that life is so busy and it’s hard to fit it in. It’s not as simple as running. But nothing is.

You definitely have to ride longer than you’d have to run to burn the same calories, and it doesn’t give you the physical benefits of a weight-bearing activity like running. But on the other hand, it doesn’t abuse your body in the way that running can. It’s not as convenient (for me, because of where I live) and it’s definitely a financial investment at first, but I’m thankful for biking because it gives me a physical activity to do outside (which is where I love to be) and it’s a great family activity.

I’m hoping that in time I can work out some of these kinks and feel like I’m getting more out of cycling and that it’s more convenient than it seems right now. But if not, at least it gives me something active to do with the family. That alone is worth it.

Oh and as for what kind of bike I got, it’s a Trek 7200 Hybrid. I have several friends who bike, and they all recommended a hybrid so I can take it on the trail or the road. Trek is a reputable brand, and this is one of their “lower end” models. Still an investment, but not outrageous for a bike that will probably last 20 years.

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23 Responses

  1. I think you just love running, and that’s all there is too it 🙂 I’m on the opposite side of that fence — I tried running in my 20s for about 9 months, but it was just so boring! I thoroughly enjoy the fun of biking, of zipping past landmarks and waving at friends.
    And there are just as many biking enthusiasts, groups, and races as there are for running. Also, I did a little brief online checking, and I’m not sure your stats about calorie burning are quite accurate. A couple of websites I looked at indicated the two activities are pretty comparable, if the energy level is comparable — brisk running with vigorous cycling. Definitely not a 1/3 better rate for running, though, from what I read. The traumatic injury rate for cycling is very high compared to other sports. It doesn’t sound like you have a very good place to bike, though, and the stress of biking while cars whizz past you is awful! I think it’s important to bike on safe roads with slow MPH, and bike lanes if possible.
    But in the end, you love running. I do think the injury risk for running is high in a different way; the trauma to joints and muscles over time is significant. Biking, on the other hand, is very gentle on the joints and muscles … as long as they don’t hit the pavement!

    1. Are there no biking trails nearby?

      Incidentally my sister was hit by a car while jogging. With so many texting and driving, they both seem dangerous.

    2. Okay, for the sake of argument, I changed it to 1/2 🙂 but I have had quite a few people verify that it’s at least that. Of course it depends on the terrain and how fast you’re going. I am not going real fast right now, still trying to get comfy on it. But yeah, you know me, and I do just love running, plain and simple. I didn’t expect this to replace running, but I was hoping to fall in love with it in a different way. Maybe I still will. 🙂

  2. If you are so scared of being on the road, why didn’t you get a stationary bike instead? I love my stationary, recumbent bike. I could ride it all day…. We’ll maybe not really, but the time does fly by.

    1. I detest a stationary bike. I want to get outside and go somewhere! I have tried the bikes at the gym. Hate them. Same with a treadmill. It’s like watching paint dry. While pushing yourself to your physical limits. NO thanks! LOL 🙂

  3. I like riding my bike, but nothing compares to running, so you have my total sympathy. Running is as much a mental and emotional release as it is good physical exercise. Nothing beats that high. But age catches up, and my right IT band and my bunions and my stiff left ankle appreciate a break from pounding the pavement, and I breathe just as heavily pedaling up and down the hills where I live as I do running them, and my quads scream even louder on the bike. It’s great cross-training. At 45, I’m glad I am still active in one form or another!

    1. Oh yes, my quads are screaming. I don’t enjoy that it’s so focused on one specific area, but I also feel it in my abs, which I love because I can use all the help I can get there!

      1. Does your gym offer any spin classes? I am a Body Pump Instructor 9yrs. Les Mills have awesome routines. I have added spin to my work outs and can’t believe the difference it has made in the muscle tone of my legs. I am 54…. Spin is safe and can do it all year long routine changes so no boredom sets in have others in class that enjoy it too. I would suggest spin shoes to get maximum benefits from the work out.

        1. I believe they do; it’s not called spinning but it’s the same idea. I really HATE the gym. But I may have to break down and go. I’ve been meaning to try spinning, actually. My issue is, I just want to walk out the door, exercise, be done, and move on about my day. If I have to go to the gym, I’m much less likely to be consistent. The only reason I’m still lifting weights is that I hired a trainer and I have appointments and lose money if I don’t go, lol. AND it is in her house, 10 min away. So easy.

  4. Oh Jo-Lynne….I do NOT envy you having to ride on a rode that does not have a shoulder to ride on. Even when I’m driving and I come upon a biker where they are not on a shoulder, I cringe hoping for their safety. I know that I COULD NOT ride where I know there are cars coming behind me and “they” have to get over to the other side for me. There are so many distractions with “technology” these days that I would be afraid they were paying more attention to that then to the road or even elderly driving and hoping they see me. We live in the country and I’m in nervous when i hear a car or truck or semi coming behind me hoping that they see me but I get as close to the ditch as I can when I hear someone coming. I don’t enjoy biking either as much as I do walking, but i do it just to surprise my body with different muscles being used. I wish i was dedicated to lifting as you are as that’s where I’m really lacking and at my age, I REALLY need to incorporate weights but that’s what I find boring….LOL Be safe out there Jo-Lynne and hopefully it will become more fun for you.

    1. it is really NOT safe at all. I will have to start finding trails. I think at best biking will always be a cross training activity for me. If I can’t get back to running, I’m hoping I can at least walk.

      And the lifting… I ONLY keep up with it b/c I work with a trainer who has become a good friend. It’s like therapy + exercise. If I ever have to give her up, I will seriously cry.

      1. I have to drive so far to work with a trainer and I seriously think that is the only way that I would keep a “routine” of doing weights faithfully. You are lucky to have someone close by to work with. I know it’s a hassle to load your bike, but I think maybe you would enjoy it more IF you weren’t so worried about being hit from behind. That might just open your eyes to a whole new enjoyment of “biking” 🙂

        1. Yes, I agree, I did a trail once and it is definitely less stressful. But it was too flat and I didn’t get the exercise I’m looking for. There are others, just not as close as that one. But I will go… I just know that it will be 1x a week, not the 4x that I need cardio. 🙁

  5. You should consider trying a Crossfit class. I’m 47 and love it. When the workouts involve running, you can use a rowing machine instead.

  6. I hear there’s nothing quite like the runners high. I’ve never been able to run. My lungs can never handle it. It’s strange. I don’t have a diagnosed issue with my lungs. And I’ve tried to run, a lot, but the most I could do is a short burst of jogging. Biking on the other hand I can do. I plan to do more when we move to Savannah – flat roads! lol

  7. I, too, have been biking more. I injured my feet just about 2 years ago and they will probably never be the same. I can run about 1-2 miles now but mostly intervals and I have to take a couple of extra days off every couple of weeks. So, I am biking more. I agree with you on all your points though. I can rarely get my heart rate up as high unless it is on hills and then it is too high. I find it difficult to find someplace that I can ride fast enough without stopping to maintain an appropriately high heart rate (about 152bpm for me). Loading the rack (heavy) and my bike is a bit of a workout.

    A plus is that my husband and I committed to riding at least 8 miles as a family every week this summer and so far so good. The kids (the ages of your younger 2) are big enough that we don’t have to ride really slow for them. Yesterday, I took them on a 12 mile ride. It was hot and humid and I was pretty pooped at the end, almost like when I would run for an hour. It probably took us 2+ hours to bike it because of several road crossings.

    Head into a bike shop and ask about trails and areas to ride. Not riding with cars is such a huge relief. Fortunately for me, there is only a about 1 half mile that is treacherous, no shoulder, hills, 45 mph speed limit.

    I have tried spinning and while I don’t mind the riding, I don’t like group workouts. I want to workout when I get there, I want to pick the music and I want to go for as long as I need. My gym does not allow riding the spinning bikes outside of class.

    Good luck and I hope you find some joy in riding. Trails are the best.

    1. YES you totally get it. All of it. You worded it better than I did. I think I insult ppl when I suggest biking isn’t a good workout. OF COURSE it’s a workout, but it’s not as efficient or beneficial. I definitely have to get on the trails and just suck it up and realize it will take a whole lot longer to do a bike workout than a typical running workout. And that’s okay b/c it’s something fun and different. I really wish I could go to a trail during the week but the kids are all at home and I hate to leave them, and they don’t necessarily want to come with me or ride at my speed. It’s so complicated. Bleh.

  8. I love variety and have had a lot of fun with changing up my cardio routines by using the Exercise TV channel and Popsugar fitness channel on YouTube. Have you tried any HIIT workouts? Efficient and fun–at least for me!

  9. Jo-Lynne, I’ve been following your blog for about a year now, and I really enjoy it. I completely identify with your posts about how much you miss running. I “discovered” running a couple of years ago at age 39, and it was wonderful. I was never an athletic person, but something just clicked for me with running. I felt strong, and the runner’s high was addictive. I loved that I could just step out the door and be in my own world. It felt like it was my own thing, and I was proud of what I could do.

    About 6 months ago, I started having a lot of pain in my knees and in my hips. After many sessions of physical therapy to strengthen my leg muscles, I finally gave up. On a hunch, I saw a podiatrist and was diagnosed with hallux limitus (limited mobility of the big toe). The problem with my feet was causing pain in my knees and hips when I would run. My Dr. Said that she wouldn’t discourage me from running because there are many health benefits, but she said that it would eventually lead to more damage in my feet. At age 41, I had to make a decision to stop running because I didn’t want to do any more damage. That was when I decided to try biking, but I also have a difficult time using it as a replacement for running. It is nice that I can ride with my 9 year old son, but it doesn’t feel like a real “workout” when I’m with my kids. Also, why do bike seats need to be so uncomfortable? I feel like I need to take a couple of days off after each ride because it hurts to sit down – LOL! I did manage to get something similar to a runner’s high when I was riding a long stretch of road with a very gradual incline. I was able to get into a zone, and it felt good. But for me, I find it difficult to replace the rhythm that made running so great.

    I know this May not help your situation, but I wanted you to know that you’re not alone, and that I appreciate you sharing your story. Sometimes I look around at people my age and older, who are exercising, and I wonder how they are able to keep at it. I’m only 41, but it does feel like things are slowly starting to break down. I truly miss the running, but I am trying to be kind to my body.

    1. heather, thanks for this. i know what you mean…. i look around and so many people can do it with (seemingly) no issues and i wonder what the heck is wrong with me. and yeah, it does help to know that I’m not alone, but it also stinks to have realized a certain level of fitness that i’d once only dreamed of, only to have it be yanked out from under me. it just stinks. but anyway, thank you so much for your kind words of understanding. and I did have a pretty great bike ride today. since it’s sunday, the traffic was minimal. it was a tough ride, 45 minutes, of course my run keeper said i only burned 280 calories…. I can’t help but compare EVERYTHING to running. I’d have burned 400 at least if I’d run that course. but I need to get past that. i’m going to give this injection a try, but I’m not expecting much. beyond that, I guess I just need to start biking the trails where it’s safer, even if it takes a chunk of time out of my day, at least it’s exercise, and it’s outdoors, and it’s fun. not sure WHAT I’ll do come winter tho…. 🙁

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