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Cyclists all over the world are consumed by one question, and it’s not about speed or safety

A man on a bike leads a dog across a pedestrian crossing in the Roppongi district in central Tokyo
Reuters/Thomas Peter
Serious commuting.
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

City-dwellers know: Urban biking is having a moment. The lycra-clad are multiplying, forming bright rush-hour herds that charge past often-slower traffic. Bike-share schemes are springing up to inspire quick, two-wheeled forays by suited businessmen, or hapless tourists. Your colleagues are arriving at work exuding a haze of health, mingled with self-satisfaction (if you’re lucky) and cooling sweat (if you’re not.)

But what’s inspiring these masses of city bike-commuters, and what are their hopes and fears? According to Google Trends data for 2005 to 2016, a clear concern unites cyclists from the Pacific to the Nordic: weight loss.

The data examined how much people are searching for cycling in various global cities, and what search terms they’re using. It returned a clear pattern which had nothing to do with queries about safety or life-expectancy, which might be expected to interest cyclists.

“How many calories does cycling burn?” or a variation about weight loss was the top query in seven of the 12 capitals we looked at closely: London, New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen. Search terms containing “exercise” were top in Beijing and Shanghai.

Two cities didn’t have top ten search terms connected to weight loss. In Rio de Janeiro, Googlers asked mainly technical question, like how to improve hill-climbing.

Paris, meanwhile, was more pre-occupied with one question than any other: ”Why do cyclists shave their legs?” was the top search term for the French capital. An interest in professional cycling pervaded the questions in the home of the Tour de France.

People from Dublin were the most interested capital city-dwellers when it came to searchers for cycling overall. London came second. (Google Trends data is normalized, for example, for population differences.)

But while calorie-counting was king, cities betrayed their concerns in other, more individual ways, lower down the search-term rankings. “Pollution” only made it into the top ten search terms in Beijing. Only Berliners asked questions about cycling with children, and cycling while pregnant.

So…how many calories does cycling burn? The short answer is that it depends on your body weight, the terrain, and how fast you cycle. Here’s a table. Normal road cycling isn’t the highest-intensity exercise, meanwhile, but it does have some advantages: you can commute while exercising, and it’s much lower impact on joints than other forms of exercise, like running. But is it good for weight loss? Ultimately it depends on what you eat. Here’s one cyclist’s detailed diet plan for inspiration.

And if you’re thinking of cycling to work—for whatever reason—here’s a guide.

CityTop cycling-related search question
LondonHow many calories does cycling burn?
New YorkHow many calories does biking burn?
San FranciscoHow many calories does biking burn?
AmsterdamHow many calories does cycling burn?
BerlinHow many calories does cycling burn?
CopenhagenHow many calories does cycling burn?
ParisWhy do cyclists shave their legs?
Rio de JaneiroWhat is bicycle touring?
TokyoCycling time
MoscowBicycle equipment
BeijingBicycle exercise
ShanghaiBicycle exercise
Data: Google Trends | Tokyo, Moscow, Shanghai, and Beijing based on related searches

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