There's a lot to love about running. It's cheap to get started, great for torching calories, and works well with nearly any cross-training regimen you may have. But in the ongoing bar bet of which sport is best, we believe cycling is still the overall winner. (And, we think we can prove it.) Here's why.
Get Fit & Build Endurance
True running burns more calories per mile, but most people can’t run as many miles as they can ride, especially if you’re a little out of shape or have some weight to lose. Blame gravity. When you run you need to lift your body weight up off the earth to propel yourself forward. Then you have to come back down, striking the ground and absorbing those impact forces. Both of those things make it considerably harder to run five miles than to ride twice or even three or four times as long. Running is also less forgiving of extra pounds with every excess pound slowing you down. Excess weight makes hills harder on a bike, but on the flats? Because gravity isn’t really a factor, you can motor along with the skinniest of ‘em. (Ready to take your riding to the next level? Our Big Book of Training is full of plans to get you going.)
Running beats you up more than cycling, even if you’re hammering super hard. One study that compared trained, competitive cyclists and runners exercising 2 ½ hours a day for three days found that the long distance runners had substantially more muscle damage (between 133% and 404% more), inflammation levels (up to 256% higher) and muscle soreness (87% more) in the following 38 hour recovery period than the cyclists. “We knew running places more stress on the body, but how much more damage and inflammation there was was surprising and greater than anticipated,” says study author David Nieman, MPH, professor of public health at Appalachian State University. “There’s just a lot more muscle trauma involved with running. It’s harder for the immune system to handle the damage.”
The ability to ride for multiple hours means you can cover a lot of ground and see some amazing sites in a relatively short period of time. You don’t see many running tours of California wine country or through the Italian Dolomites. But there are literally hundreds of amazing bike tours you can take all over the world. You also can carry far more things far more easily on a bike than you can on foot. You not only can stuff your jersey pockets to the gills, but also wear a messenger bag or backpack and even add carrying capacity to your bike. That frees you to use your bike for commuting, day tripping, bikepacking and as everyday Earth-friendly transportation.
Tame Your Hunger
This one’s actually a tie. But it’s important to note because researchers once believed that running was more effective than cycling for suppressing a key hunger hormone called acylated ghrelin. Not so. In back-to-back comparisons of the appetite suppressing powers of either an hour of vigorous running or an hour of vigorous cycling, a team of British researchers found that both activities suppressed the hunger hormone nearly equally. And again, it’s easier to hammer out an hour on the bike than it is to run hard for the same amount of time.
Not even close. Sure you can buy some pretty snazzy kicks, but please…between bikes, helmets, glasses, socks, shoes kits, caps, stem caps, saddlebags, arm warmers, gloves, jackets, vests, and an endless assortment of components, cycling is a sport that allows the fullest expression of personal style.
Cycling lets you feel like you’re flying because of the amazing ability to use the forces of the universe to coast—sometimes at insanely fast speeds—and enjoy the wind through your hair (even with a helmet on) as a reward for all your hard pedaling work. Coasting when you run is called standing, which doesn’t really get you anywhere. And running down a hill is actually harder than running up the thing.
Growing Old Together
“Cycling is something you can enjoy no matter what your age. It is truly as close as we can get to a lifelong sport,” says internationally known athletic trainer Andy Pruitt, EdD, founder of the University of Colorado Sports Medicine and Performance Center always says, “Even if you can’t walk or hobble, you can still ride a bike.” And to that we say, amen.