Woman cycles at home on Peloton Bike.

How Long Should You Cycle for an Effective Workout?

It’s not as long as you think.

By Pam MooreNovember 30, 2023


When it comes to figuring out your optimum bike ride length, there’s a lot of information out there—and a lot of it conflicts. If you’re ready to clear up the confusion and figure out how long your bike ride should be based on your goals and your history, keep reading. We talked to Peloton Instructor Chrisine D’Ercole to find out what you need to think about to determine your optimum ride time. 

How Long to Ride a Bike for

If you want to know how long to ride a bike for, the truth is, it depends. Why? “Everybody is different,” says Christine. To figure out what’s right for you, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What’s my current fitness level? 

  • What are my goals? 

  • How much time do I have available to train? 

First take an honest assessment of your current fitness level. If you’re a beginner—meaning you’re not regularly doing any form of exercise on a regular basis—your goal should be to get comfortable on the bike. Once you check that off the list, you can refine your goals according to your personal priorities. 

If you’re an intermediate cyclist (you regularly ride for at least 45 minutes, two to four times a week) or an advanced cyclist (you could easily ride for an hour three to four times a week and you regularly go for 90 minutes or longer), your goals can vary quite a bit. Consider what you want to achieve, how far out your goal race or event is, and how much time you have to train. But whatever you do, make your goals “SMART” (more on that below). 

No matter your goal, it’s important that your workouts fit into your lifestyle. If you have plenty of time to train and you’re preparing for a long ride or a week-long cycling tour, it might make sense to ride for two to three hours every week. But if you have the same goal—plus a demanding job, a commute, and caregiving responsibilities, you’d be better off focusing on shorter, more intense rides, and start extending them a few months out from your target event. 

Advice for Beginners 

As a beginner you need to get comfortable on the bike before you commit to an event or a performance target. And by building gradually, you decrease your risk of injury and burnout. Here’s Christine’s “ramp up plan.” 

Weeks 1 to 3: Start with a 10- to 20-minute Beginner Peloton Ride two to three times a week with a goal of simply getting used to the workout (both mentally and physically.)  

Weeks 4 to 6: Add a five-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool down to each of your Beginner workouts. “At this point you’re looking for a basic understanding of Perceived Exertion (e.g. effort on a scale of one to 10), the relationship between cadence and resistance and how they generate power output as well as the concepts of intervals and recovery,” says Christine.

Weeks 6 to 8: Continue riding two to three times a week and choose 20-30 minute Low Impact rides. Each ride should be flanked by a five-minute warm-up and cool down. Meanwhile, remember to adjust your effort level according to how you feel. “It is very important to remember that YOU are in control of the ride,” says Christine. 

Week 8 and Beyond: Ride for at least 30 minutes two to three times per week, making sure to keep your workouts varied. Ideally, you’d do one 30-, 45-, and 60-minute ride per week, with each focusing on a different goal. According to Christine, “One could be intense intervals (30 min), one could be a steady endurance/climb based ride (45 min or 60 min), and one could be a low Impact or recovery focused ride (45 min or 60 min).” Whatever you do, don’t go as hard as possible in every single session. 

Is 30 Minutes on a Bike Enough?

Is it really worth getting changed and getting sweaty for a half-hour ride? The answer is simple: Yes. “Any riding is better than no riding,” says Christine. 

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Activity Guidelines, adults should get in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity every week. Doing so has been shown to improve health and longevity in a number of ways, including lowering the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and improving mental health. 

Your ride doesn’t need to be long to provide an instant mood lift and improve your sleep. A study published in Health Psychology found that participants who rode a stationary bike at a steady pace at 60 percent of their maximum heart rate (Endurance pace) for just 10 minutes experienced improvements in mood, fatigue, and vigor. What’s more, those improvements didn’t increase when the ride time extended to 30 minutes—so more isn’t necessarily better. Meanwhile, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 30 minutes of moderate exercise can improve the quality of your sleep. 

Measuring Your Effort and Intensity

If you’re pressed for time but you want to optimize your fitness, shoot for two 40 to 60-minute hard interval workouts a couple of times per week. Generally, unless you’re doing an easy recovery ride, the shorter your workout, the harder it should be.

But what does it mean to go hard? There are a number of ways to measure your effort level. 

Heart Rate (HR)

This is a measure of how many times your heart beats per minute. If you train with a heart rate monitor regularly, you’ll develop an intuitive sense of how you feel at different heart rate zones. If your heart rate is higher than it would normally be at a certain effort or you can’t get it to rise, you might be under stress, getting sick, or overtraining, says Christine. 


Also known as Revolutions per Minute (RPM), this is a measure of how many times your pedal turns over per minute. While the body is capable of producing the same watts (within a limited range) at a range of cadences, there are some cadences that are more efficient for producing that output than others,” says Christine. 


Think of your resistance dial as a way to instantly change the “terrain” you’re riding and/or gearing. Dial it up and you’re simulating a climb (or shifting into a harder gear). Take it down, and it feels like you’re downshifting, or even pedaling downhill, depending on how light you make it. 


Wattage is a measure of power, and is determined by a combination of your cadence (or revolutions per minute) and the gear you’re in (or your resistance). A higher gear and faster cadence translate to higher power output, or wattage. 

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

RPE isn’t something you’ll find on your touchscreen but it’s arguably the most important metric, says Christine. Peloton utilizes an RPE scale of one to 10. Focusing on RPE “teaches you to be in touch with the physiological sensations of what happens in the body as you move from aerobic (oxygen based) work to anaerobic (without oxygen) based work,” says Christine. 

Man rides Peloton Bike at home.

What Does It Mean to Have an Effective Workout? 

“The effectiveness of a workout is based on the goal of the rider,” says Christine. If you’re trying to improve your health and fitness, you’re going to have a very different workout than the person who is preparing to compete in a triathlon, she explains. 

“The workout is effective if it's part of a larger process that moves you towards your goals. This is what the Power Zone (PZ) programs do. Workouts are most effective when part of an organized periodized program,” says Christine. “This encourages adherence and commitment to the process.” 

And it’s important to trust that process. “Overshooting specific metrics goals during a ride however is unproductive because it ignores the specific benefits the workout was designed for,” she explains. 

At the same time, you might not meet the “carrot” your instructor presents—but that doesn’t mean the workout wasn’t effective. Christine gives the example of asking riders to put out 1500 watts on a sprint. While that’s not reasonable for most mortals, attempting it helps you develop neuromuscular power while pushing your body to the point of failure. According to Christine, In that case, if you’re totally spent at the end of the interval or the workout, you’ve still met your goal, regardless of how close you came to hitting the desired wattage. 

Setting and Understanding Goals for Bike Workouts

When determining your goals, it helps to keep them “SMART.” That means they should be: 

  • Specific 

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

For a cyclist who typically rides for 45 minutes three days a week, a goal like “Complete my first 90-minute ride within four weeks” is perfectly SMART. You know exactly what your target is, it’s easy to measure, it’s reasonable given your current fitness level, and you’ve given yourself a deadline.

“Goals can be to simply stay active and mobile, and reap mental, physical and social benefits,” says Christine. But they can also allow you to tap into your competitive side, “whether against yourself or in Peloton challenges like the Power Zone Pack Challenges, Build your PZ or Peak your PZ programs or an outdoor goal like a century (100-mile ride),” says Christine. 

How to Level Up Your Workouts

If you want to turn the heat up at your next workout, there are plenty of variables to play with—and ride duration is just one of them. Here are some ways you can add some intensity without necessarily making your workout longer: 

  • Maintain the same resistance and increase your cadence

  • Maintain the same cadence and increase your resistance 

  • Decrease the duration of your recovery spin between intervals 

  • Increase the duration of your intervals 

  • Complete a lower body strength workout before your bike workout 

Tips for Riding a Bike

Riding a bike is as easy as… riding a bike. Or is it? While riding a bike comes naturally to many of us (especially when you don’t have to worry about keeping yourself upright on two wheels), there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to get the most out of your workouts. 

Warm up

You might be tempted to dive headfirst into the workout, but spending at least five minutes warming up is key. “Warm-ups increase core temperature and mobility, preparing the muscles and joints to accept loads. Going into intense efforts cold puts one at risk for injury,” says Christine. 

Set resistance

If you’re familiar with your Peloton, you know your instructor will give you a resistance range to target during each interval. One thing you might not know is that you shouldn’t feel pressure to ride within that range. Instead, focus on your instructor’s RPE cues, and adjust your cadence and resistance to meet that, suggests Christine. 

Maintain Proper Form

Proper form is vital to riding comfortably and injury-free and optimizing your performance. First, you’ll need to adjust your seat height, the fore/aft position of your saddle, your handlebar height and reach, and your cleat position to achieve the optimum position for your body. To dial in your fit, you can take advantage of Peloton’s bike fitting services or take a DIY approach by following instructional Peloton videos

Once your bike is set up appropriately, remember to keep your pelvis stable, your low back flat, and avoid caving your chest in while you’re riding. 

Indoor Classes to Try 


Sam Yo’s 30-minute Low Impact Ride features tunes from Aretha Franklin, Four Tops, and Marvin Gaye. With three solid climbs flanked by a few short intervals and a cool down, you’ll be done before you know it. 


If you’re ready to have some fun in the saddle, check out Jen Sherman’s 60-minute My Mixtape Ride. With jogging, intervals, flat roads, and spicy climbs set to a backdrop of Eminem, Queen, and Kenny Loggins, you won’t be bored.  


To build your aerobic fitness, in a smart, systematic way, check out this 90-minute Power Zone Endurance Ride with Christine D’Ercole, featuring hits from P!nk, U2, and Halsey. 


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