How far you should commute by bike is a subjective question. “Too far” for some is just a warm-up ride for others. The length of your commute should match your level of fitness and experience.
Most bike commuters consider a commute of more than 10 miles to be too far for most people. This is because it can take too much time out of the day. However, commuting long distances by bike gets easier and faster after just a few weeks of daily commuting. The distance you choose to commute by bike is determined by:
- Your level of fitness
- The route’s terrain
- How long it takes
The distance of a bike commute needs to factor in many variables besides mileage. Read on to learn more about these factors to determine an appropriate length for a bike commute!
How far is too far?
I began biking to my job in NYC from New Jersey back in 2016. The distance was 13 miles one-way, and the riding to NYC was rather tiring and lengthy at times. However, after just two weeks of biking daily for 26 miles (round trip), it became easier and easier. After about a month of riding every weekday, the commute became much more enjoyable than the alternative options of taking the bus or train.
In fact, in my case, taking the bike was actually faster than taking the bus!
An appropriate distance for a bike commute for you depends on several factors. In general, commutes longer than 10 miles are considered too long because they may take too much time. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Bike commutes longer than ten miles one-way may consume more than an hour per ride for the average person. So, if you are commuting longer distances to work and back, you may spend upwards of three hours on your bike round-trip, depending on your fitness level and terrain. This may not be a problem for some people, but others may not have the time to invest in bike commuting.
If you want to make longer commutes by bike, perhaps you should consider biking to work only two or three times a week. This will be enough to give you the exercise you need without eating into the time that could be spent on other activities.
A huge caveat to these estimates is that you WILL get faster and fitter in a rather short period of time. The thing about biking is that it’s fun and energy-giving, rather than energy-consuming. Meaning, you will gain more energy over time that will support you throughout the day.
What is a reasonable distance to commute by bike?
5 to 10 miles is considered the perfect distance for a bike commute. A commute of this length will require 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, which is sufficient to meet the Department of Health’s recommended daily dose of exercise. In addition, it’s not too strenuous as to arrive at work already too exhausted from a lengthy bike ride.
The following factors will determine how far too far is for you. But remember that any distance will become easier over time.
1. Fitness determines distance
If you are just getting into cycling, you may not have the endurance for a 10-mile ride. Even 5 miles may be too much for some. You may need to begin by cycling shorter distances in your off hours to build up your muscle strength before attempting a commute.
You can also decide to ride periodically during the week, such as twice or three times per week.
Of course, the more you ride, the higher your endurance will become. You will be able to ride longer and longer distances as you increase your fitness level. Always try to beat your best time to cover longer distances in shorter times. Eventually, you will ride a 10-mile commute with no problem!
In my case, doing a 13-mile trip to my office in NYC was rather tiring for the first 2 weeks. But I maintained the habit because I did it slowly. For the first week, I rode just 3 times that week, then 4 times the next week. After about a month, I was able to ride daily with ease. After that, it just became something I looked forward to, and even challenged myself to ride faster and harder to beat my personal best every time.
2. Your route determines distance
Even if your route to work isn’t that long, it may be more challenging to ride due to other factors:
- Rough or hilly terrain will slow you down. The effort required to traverse this type of terrain will deplete your energy faster.
- A strong headwind will slow you down. If you’re commuting by a river or an open body of water, there’s a good chance there will always be a light or strong wind that is either working for you or against you.
- Stop-and-go traffic will slow you down. If you’re in a city, then stoplights and traffic will slow you down. On the other hand, if you’re in a big city, chances are biking is actually much faster than driving or taking public transportation.
3. How much time do you have?
Getting anywhere by bike generally takes longer than driving, unless you’re commuting in a city. Bike commuting may require you to start your day a little earlier.
But the time added to your commute more than worth it considering you are getting excellent exercise. Not to mention, biking can be super enjoyable if you really make it a hobby.
Whether your commute is practical by bike depends on how quickly you need to be home after work. If you have no responsibilities at home and want to de-stress with a bike ride after work, go for it. But if you need to cook dinner and help the kids with homework, it might not be practical to make your bike commute too long.
In addition, if you work longer hours, like 12-hour shifts, even a ten-mile commute may be too long to make by bike every day. The amount of time required to bike those ten miles cuts down on the number of hours you get to sleep before work the next day.
Remember that commuting by bike requires getting up earlier than if you were driving or taking public transport. If bike commuting is eating into your sleep, then the long-term benefits of biking start to diminish. Just make sure you’re able to get 8 hours of sleep, and you’ll be fine!
4. Other factors that impact your bike commute
Other factors that should be considered include:
- Your type of work
If you live in an area where the weather is temperamental, you may need to check the forecast each morning before deciding your mode of transportation. Else you could find yourself biking home from work in a thunderstorm (I’ve done that).
If your type of work is primarily physical and you’re on your feet all day, commuting by bike will be a bit more challenging at first. But don’t let that scare you off! I would argue that biking will actually give you more stamina and energy to perform at your work if you do it consistently.
As the weather reaches its coldest temperatures, you’ll need to consider your winter setup (which I outline in this article for you).
What is the average bike commute?
3 to 7 miles is the average bike commute. Typically, this length of commute takes 20 to 45 minutes one way. If the terrain is relatively flat, you can bike this distance without tiring yourself out.
At a leisurely pace, you won’t work up too much of a sweat, so a quick splash-off in the bathroom sink may be enough to freshen you up for work. Of course, even this may not be practical in extreme temperatures unless you have a shower at work where you can clean up.
3 to 7 miles gives you enough of a ride to clear your head and get your blood pumping so that you’re energized for the day. But it’s not so long that you are already exhausted before reaching your destination. Nor is it long enough to make you dread pedaling home at the end of the day.
How long does it take to bike 5, 10, 15, 20 miles?
Biking is rewarding, but it can be a considerable time commitment. How long a ride takes depends on several factors, but here are some general guidelines:
|15||1 hour, 23 minutes|
|20||1 hour, 48 minutes|
These times may vary depending on the terrain and your bike. In addition, if you take rest stops along the ride, you will need to factor in more time.
Also, remember that these estimates are not round-trip estimates. You will need the same amount of time for the return ride.
Keep it short and simple
How far you go is up to you. If you have a relatively short workday and can spare the time, why not commute 15 miles to work? If you work long hours or have more responsibilities at home, you probably want to keep your commutes at 10 miles or less.