Due to a house move I am soon to become a road bike commuter with approx. 18 miles to cover. I could do with loosing a few kgs but am worried about developing the emaciated physique so apparent in many of the road bikers I see. How can one avoid this? Is it simply a product of the high endurance aspects of road cycling over longer distances, or a combination of that and excessive dieting? I have been a mountain biker for over 10 years and have found that it helps one build muscle mass in the upper thigh and arms and shoulders. Any advice on how to avoid the skinny road biker look would be greatly appreciated.

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    Professional road bikers ride way more than 36 miles a day, and they do not ride at commuting pace. They also have a complete working out routine and diet, so I'd not worry too much. If you balance the extra calorie expenditure in your daily diet, you should not loose any weight. If your concerns are really that much, consult with a qualified nutritionist and complement your exercise with arms, shoulders and upper core specific routines.
    – Jahaziel
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 17:28
  • 1
    Just eat a lot. Commented May 30, 2017 at 22:32
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    Eviscerated is a bit harsh, no? Unless someone has just been through a particularly bad crash. Perhaps you meant emaciated?
    – Marius
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 23:36
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    After 3 years solid road commuting (5000-8000 km/year) the most significant changes have been an increase in lung capacity, and an increase in calf muscles, and a loss of ~50mm off the waistline. Not enough to notice, but a good gentle improvement to overall health. In short, you're overthinking this
    – Criggie
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 23:45
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    If cycling displaces weights, you'll have to spend your remaining weights time on stuff that doesn't overlap too much with cycling. You can also consider your options for top-up sessions when you get off the bike press-ups and chin-ups are obvious examples requiring little equipment, you'll know better than me what fits your training routine. I actually improved my upper body strength (never thought too much about physique) when I had a longer bike commute, because I seem to respond well to little-and-often training, and spent 20-40 minutes in the gym every day between my ride and my shower.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 9:00

4 Answers 4


Roughly, your muscles are made up of two types of muscle fibers: fast and slow.

Slow muscle fibers are relatively weak, but they have very high endurance. Long rides at moderate effort level will burn fat and develop your slow muscle fibers.

Fast fibers are... well, much faster, much stronger, but they have much lower endurance. These are the ones you use when sprinting, or doing reps/lifting weights. They also have more bulk, so they're the ones usually associated with the "muscle look".

If you don't work the fast fibers, you'll look like a climber cyclist or a marathon runner (and you'll suck at sprints). If you only work the fast ones, you'll look like a track sprinter with huge thighs. It is good to develop both, aim somewhere in-between. Basically look at pro cyclists, there is not an extra gram of useless body mass on these guys, so pick one you like, check if he's a climber or a sprinter, and train accordingly.

A nice way to do this on a bike is to sprint between traffic lights. This is basically HIIT. It's fun, too. Makes you sweat a lot, so do it on the way home! Pull on the handlebars to work your arms too...

but if you don't want the "cyclist arms", you gonna have to either lift a bit or do some rough MTB, which is a good workout.


This would be a great problem to have for most of us roadies. Simply eat more if you find yourself losing more weight than you care to lose.

You can alternatively balance with more strength based exercises like lifts, pulls, rows at the gym or elsewhere.

Or cake.

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    or beer, lots of beer. A staple of Mountain biker's rigorous diets :P
    – Nate W
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 18:57
  • True, it was more that I was concerned about it being an inevitable side effect of road biking. I already train quite a bit so hopefully this should offset any muscle loss. And good point about the beer!
    – Adam893
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:25
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    Careful with that beer, good way to become one of those "old guys who get fat in winter" Commented May 31, 2017 at 14:06
  • Cider is better - its at least vaguly fruit-based.
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 21:30
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    @CardMechanic so don't be a fair-weather cyclist, then you can drink all year round
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 8:54

Elite cyclists work very, very hard for that emaciated physique! It's not exactly natural -- they're working to drop as much unnecessary weight as possible in order to climb faster. While I think bike commuting should help make you leaner, you won't look anything like Bradley Wiggins unless you're also restricting your diet and training very hard. Don't worry!

  • Saying that I do see an awful lot of Wiggins look alikes on my daily commute!
    – Adam893
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 7:00

+1 on the weight work. I read of a report that demonstrated reduced bone density in professional cyclists, attributed to the very smooth loading/unloading of stress on the leg bones in the pedaling cycle. Google for it. My wife's doctor recommended to her impact exercise (weights, running, etc.) because she's under 115lbs and normal walking doesn't stress her bones enough to delay/offset/combat osteopenia. FWIW I'm 63, 5'-7", 145lbs, upper body like Gimondi. :)

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