The transition from running to cycling is different for everyone, but some things remain the same.

person cycling

Wait, don’t all injured runners turn to cycling? Well, that’s what I did – and I’m sure many of you can relate.

Things were going great – I started training with a new coach, I crushed my 5k personal best, and I was on a roll. 

Until I wasn’t. 

I picked up an injury, and I haven’t run competitively in over three years—que the transition to cycling.

I’m still not back to running, but last year I invested in my very first road bike. A way to get back into endurance sports, accepting that I might never run again and hungry to get back out on the road, this time on two wheels, dressed head to toe in lycra and clipped to my bike. 

What could possibly go wrong?

This blog post will discuss the transition from running to cycling, drawing on personal experiences and answering a few common questions along the way.

Why do runners start cycling?

If you’re reading this article, then you’ve either made the transition from running to cycling yourself, or it’s one you’re debating.

Or maybe you’re thinking of adding cycling to your training to complement your running?

Well, many runners begin cycling due to injury – cycling is easier on the joints and is a non-weight-bearing activity.

It’s why the Arthritis Foundation [1] recommends cycling for those with arthritis – it might actually improve joint movement and function.

There are obviously other reasons aside from injury for transitioning from running to cycling, including:

  • A change of pace and a mix of scenery 
  • Wanting to improve leg strength (quads, glutes, and hamstrings)
  • It’s low impact and non-weight-bearing 

Each runner has their own story, but chances are, it’s similar to one of the above points.

The transition from running to cycling is different for everyone

First things first, if you’ve also traded in your Garmin GPS watch for a Wahoo bike computer, you likely have some expectations. 

Besides, it’s not uncommon for runners to begin cycling with high aspirations – we’re a confident bunch.

Here comes the burning question: my fitness will transfer over, right?

Well, kind of. 

More likely than not, you’ll have a pretty good aerobic system, but you’ll lack leg strength and power.

For me, I’ve still got the lungs but my legs burn out much sooner – it’s an area I’m working on, but it’s not what I expected at all. And that’s coming from someone who used to enjoy running up hills weekly.

Does running fitness transfer to cycling?

Aerobic fitness transfers to cycling quite well, from my own experience and talking to others who made the same transition from running to cycling.

The science also agrees – a 2009 review [2] investigating the physiological differences between cycling and running suggests running fitness to transfer more effectively to cycling than vice versa. That’s good news for us runners – physiologically, we’re not starting from scratch.

But the same study also mentions how muscles adapt to a given exercise overtime. So, if you’ve been running for the last five years, your body will need to adapt to cycling to make you a better cyclist – you won’t instantly be great.

The transformation won’t happen overnight – you’ll need to train new muscle groups if you want to see a similar level of fitness between the two sports.

Put a runner and a cyclist next to each other, and you’ll see notable differences.

Typically, we runners are a little more scrawny, whereas cyclists have bulging quads, massive glutes, and much more dominant legs.

This isn’t always the case, but unless you follow an in-depth weekly strength training program, then, like me, you’ll have some catching up to do. 

But relax – this isn’t the end of the world. It’s an opportunity to become a stronger all-round athlete.

The same training principles apply to cycling

Coming from a running background, I’d avoid junk miles like the plague.

Every weekly mile was planned, consisting of a timed long run, interval session, tempo run, and a few easy runs thrown into the mix to speed up recovery.

Guess what? You should apply the same principles to cycling.

Adding structure to your training is a must – while it’s fun to head out and “ride” from time to time, the more structure you add to your training, the faster and longer you can ride.

The workouts are a little different, but harder efforts, longer rides, and recovery spins are all great places to start.

Want to learn more about cycling training? Check out our simple video guide below to get started.

How many hours of cycling is equal to running?

When comparing cycling to running, the 1:3 formula is often used – for every one mile you cycle, it equals approximately three miles of running.

There’s obviously some give or take and a large debate surrounding the numbers, but it’s a good starting point.

So, that ten-mile run you used to do every Sunday? Turn that into a thirty-mile bike ride. But the joy of cycling is the little to no impact – so you can go further without getting tired quite as easily.

If you live in a hilly area, use time instead of distance – otherwise, you’ll be out there for longer than intended. So, this could be a three-hour ride instead of a one-hour run.

Can cycling replace running?

Many runners turn to cycling because of injury. 

And why not? It’s easier on the joints, it’s the next best thing to lacing up a pair of running shoes, and it seems somewhat familiar.

But there’s something you need to know: cycling is not running. Let that sink in for a moment.

If you’re recovering from an injury and you’re cycling to maintain fitness, that’s a different story. But if you want to replace running with cycling, then don’t expect it to be the same, because it’s not.

Cycling has its own ups and downs – like when you want to go for a ride but need to fix something on your bike, or perhaps you’re not yet used to eating while going full gas. As I say, it comes with its own set of challenges.

The bottom line

The transition from running to cycling looks different for every runner.

Whether you’re doing it for fitness, you fancy a change in routine, or injury forces you onto two wheels; it’s a whole new world with a lot to learn.

But it’s extremely fun and super rewarding, or at least I think so!

There’s extra satisfaction not only from putting power through the pedals but from fixing your first flat tire to venturing out further than you’ve ever been on two feet – all powered by your own two legs.

References

  1. Arthritis Foundation. 2022. Biking is Great For Your Joints – Living With Arthritis. [online] Available at: <http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/biking-exercise-for-arthritis/> [Accessed 28 July 2022].
  2. Millet, G.P., Vleck, V.E. and Bentley, D.J., 2009. Physiological differences between cycling and running. Sports Medicine39(3), pp.179-206.