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Home » Cycling » How Rigorous is a 10 mph (16 km/h) Bike Ride? In Context, That’s not the Right Question…

How Rigorous is a 10 mph (16 km/h) Bike Ride? In Context, That’s not the Right Question…


June 2014

The question, “How rigorous is a 10 mph (16 km/h) bike ride?” popped up on my stats page the other day so I thought I’d take a minute to answer it honestly but put in proper context, because in this case, context is everything.

10 mph is rigorous on many dedicated mountain biking trails, depending on the difficulty.  I’m in fantastic shape and I can think of two trails right off the top of my head, that if I can average 10 mph on I’m covered in sweat, head to the tips of my toes.  On the other hand, 10 mph on a dedicated race bike on the road is hardly enough to raise the pulse.

I think too often the question is not “is x mph good”, the question is how fast do I have to go to call it a workout – and this is a very difficult question to answer…  Honestly.  Actually, it’s probably harder to hear the honest answer, so let’s tap-dance around this one more time.

First we have to look at what a person is riding.  Leisure bike, beach cruiser or mountain bike?  Those are the slowest bikes.  Then you’ve got the hybrids followed by the road and time trial bikes.

Next is weight.  If you’re overweight by 100 pounds or more, I’m sure 10 mph, even on paved roads, could be considered rigorous.  The trick is it shouldn’t be rigorous for long.  Once you shed some of that weight by eating less and cycling more, your speed will increase.  The idea is to get a good sweat on and to always remember:  Stagnation is just as good as moving backwards.  I started out, humorously enough, at the exact same weight I am today (only with MUCH smaller legs and more gut), pushing 15 mph on a mountain bike that was way too small for me.  For a week or two that was about the best I could do, but then something miraculous happened:  That four miles wasn’t the same workout it had been just two weeks earlier.  I was becoming fitter.  I added on a couple of miles to my route and started throwing in a ten-mile ride on Saturday.  A few weeks later and I was up to eight to ten miles a day and a 21 miler on Saturday.  A month after that and I was up to ten a day and a 30 miler on the weekend.  Then I bought a road bike and my distances a pace jumped again.  13 miles a day and a 40 miler on the weekend.  I bumped my mileage again:  16 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 35 on Tuesday, 70-120 miles over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday)…  You get the picture.

SO, ask me the same question and substitute 15 mph instead:  How rigorous is a 15 mph bike ride?  Three years ago it was exceptionally rigorous.  Today I can ride 16.5 mph without my pulse rising above 80 beats per minute (that’s slightly above the average resting heart rate by the way).  I’ll hardly break a sweat unless we’re talking about temps over, say 83 degrees.  The question relies on how many miles someone has on that saddle or how fit one is.

With that out of the way, here’s what we’re really trying to get at, and let’s take speed out of it for a second – here’s the context:  Does a bike ride meet my standard for “rigorous”?

The whole discussion is designed to fail from the beginning – asking anyone “how rigorous” a ride might be is to ask a person to make a judgment.  When that answer doesn’t meet another’s standards, that person accuses the other of being judgmental, humorously enough.  And around we go.

So, would I consider a 10 mph bike ride rigorous, for me?  Never.  Nor would I consider taking the dog for a walk rigorous.

The answer that everyone wants to hear is this:  Whatever the best you can do is, that’s rigorous.  This way someone who goes for a three-mile walk and takes an hour and a half to do it can feel just as happy as someone who runs that 5k in 22 minutes.  Well I can tell you very easily which one is rigorous and which one isn’t.  In fact, as a nod to the absurdity of the discussion, rigorous isn’t even the right word (leave it to Government Standards to pick a word that would lead to confusion and argument).  Vigorous is the right word.

Rigorous:  “adhering strictly or inflexibly to a belief” or “extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate”

Vigorous:  Strong, Forceful, Strenuous.

Now, is walking the dog “strong, forceful or strenuous?  How about a nice little 10 mile an hour ride around the block?  Probably not, if you’re honest.  Now, are one of those be the best someone can do at a given time?  Absolutely.  For example – and let me use something closer to home, I write quite a bit about my Tuesday night ride.  I ride with several guys who are a lot faster than I am.  I can go out for a 35 mile bike ride and average 20 mph, completing the ride in an hour and 45 minutes.  To me, that’s rigorous.  To one of the guys on Tuesday night, that’s hardly enough to get excited about.  I am honest though, so I can say that a 20 mph workout is vigorous (and rigorous) even though, for a small percentage of the population, that equates to little more than a walk in the park.

Vigorous is not a nice bike ride in the park.  Vigorous is a workout and I’m not about to try to pontificate from on high about what anyone should consider a workout.  I know what a workout is for me and you know what a workout is for you.  The question is really whether a person has the capacity to be honest with themselves about what is vigorous or not.  That is the question.  Once we’ve determined what is vigorous, if we’re not there we set that as the goal and work toward it.

Next up, and just for fun, let’s discuss why your definition of vigorous is wrong.  That should be a hoot.




  1. PedalWORKS says:

    Good post. The way I look at it, every bike ride is an opportunity for a workout no matter which of the bikes I chose. Speed is relative and not the key factor.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Indeed, though I have to admit, I still have a tough time on the mountain bike – as hard as I can push, it just feels slow.

    • fastk9dad says:

      Agreed, everything is relative. I had some rides where I worked to just break a 13mph average. I don’t think I can pedal slow enough on a flat to go 13mph, but it’s those long climbs where you are struggling to barely do 10mph which brings down your overall average. Plus if I want to get social and slow pedal and chat for a bit your average will again drop. I don’t think one should solely look at average speed for a gauge of “fitness”. Instead it’s more how I feel after a ride or how “easily” I’m able to do certain climbs. And by “easily” I don’t mean I’m showboating but how much less I have to work and still beat my previous best.

      • bgddyjim says:

        I agree but I was trying to write this post so a noob could get it… They won’t know about climbing, averages, wind speed and such. Average speed, when those are factored in, becomes almost useless. I went for a 3-1/2 mile ride two years ago that took almost 20 minutes… Of course it was an 8-10% climb and it only took five minutes to get back. 🙂

  2. FatSlowTri says:

    I have had mountain bike rides where I thought I was flying only to see at the end I averaged 8 mph. Felt like I had ridden 35 miles on the road bike though. As you said, it’s all relative. As someone who is 65 pounds over weight (not going into what the “ideal” weight is), I have had 15 mph road bike rides where I thought my heart was beating out of my chest, especially here in Tampa recently where it is 97 degrees at 6:00 PM.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Exactly, as you wrote. With all of the different factors, the context of the question of what’s rigorous or not is too loaded. It’s impossible to answer without the proper context. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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