I am a 28-year-old female weighing 13 stone [approximately 180 lbs] (overweight, I know, as I am only 5'1"). I've recently bought a mountain bike to ride to and from work (about 2 miles each way), but I'm struggling to actually do the whole journey on the bike, as I have to get off and walk. I also want to be able to do this journey in 15 minutes. I am asthmatic, but since I started riding a week ago, I'm finding I'm not as out of breath already (good start).

I'm just wondering how to build up strength, stamina and speed, as I am currently struggling on the smallest of inclines.

  • 2
    If your mountain bike has knobby tires (i.e., bits of rubber stick out) switching to slick tires can make the task much easier. – Rider_X Jul 21 '17 at 21:25
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    Log your rides on a website like Strava so that you can note the progress you make in time, speed and distance. – Carel Jul 22 '17 at 7:55
  • It might be worth editing your question to mention how much of a hill you have to climb, i.e. altitude difference and/or gradient and that 5'1" is 1.55m. In any case it is really promising that you already feel better. – PJTraill Jul 25 '17 at 15:18

You're doing it already. Time on the bike is what counts the most.

In the early days you will find yourself pushing up a lot of hills but in a few weeks you'll be surprised at how much better you're doing. When you feel like a ride is going OK, try to get a little further than before on the uphill bits - maybe an extra lamp post. That might be on a Monday after a weekend rest (or it might not). If you're feeling tired, don't stress,walk when you have to .

You'll build cycling muscles, which will make you more efficient as well as stronger. And your lung capacity will improve - it sounds like this is considerably more exercise than you used to do. Then, all else being equal, the weight will start to come down a little. I suggest you measure your progress - plenty of decent bike computer apps are free (assuming you've got a smartphone).

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    thank you, its proving difficult as i cant even ride up my own road with out getting out of breath even the slightest of hills i cant do currently, working in the care industry getting 2 days off together doesnt really happen, its more annoying as some one who rides from other end of town to work is doing it quicker than me according to google maps i should do it in 15 max but currently taking 25 mins if not longer – anne2806 Jul 21 '17 at 18:02
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    Take your time and stick with it, it will get better but it doesn't happen over night. Good for you for making a positive life choice though! Stick with it! – Nate W Jul 21 '17 at 18:46
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    From the little I know of your industry, the working days are pretty tough too, so good on you. When I started bike commuting I didn't do every day for the first few weeks - if shift patterns work, maybe you've got options for an easier commute sometimes for a recovery day. – Chris H Jul 21 '17 at 21:20
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    When I first started cycling I could barely walk for two days every time I rode. Eventually I built up the muscles for cycling and now it is a lot easier, even when I haven't ridden in a while. Stick with it and take your time. – stannius Jul 21 '17 at 23:41
  • @anne2806 It's absolutely okay to be slower than Google Maps says at the beginning! When I started commuting by bike, I took 3,5 times longer than Google Maps says. After 5 years of doing it daily, I was down to 0.8 times the Google Maps time. It takes time, progress might not be noticeable on a day to day basis, but once you are a couple of months in, there will be considerable improvement. – Nobody Jul 22 '17 at 19:21

At this level, just simply riding the bike regularly will increase your fitness, stamina and speed. You may want to took for advice on going from no exercise to regular moderate exercise to avoid injury.

There may be a few things you can do to make things a little easier for you.

1) Make sure your seat height is set correctly. This has a big impact on efficiency. If you bought your bike at a store they should have set this up for you. Here's an article that you can check out.

2) Make sure your tires are pressurized correctly. You will probably want to inflate your tires to the maximum specified (it's written on the side of each tire) for lowest rolling resistance when riding on paved surfaces.

3) Use your gears. Proper use of gears can make things substantially easier. You may find yourself going slower, but at a level of effort you can sustain for longer. There are numerous 'gears for beginners' articles and videos available such as this.

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    +1 for the gears point. A 2 miles trip should be easy and doable for anybody on a short gear, even if it's uphill. However, leaving the longer gears is a common beginner mistake that can make the trip impossible - and a nightmare. – Pere Jul 22 '17 at 19:03

First of all, GREAT JOB so far!

You are doing a great thing for yourself. I've recently started commuting as well and am doing 4.7mi one way. I wear a 20lb backpack as well. Hills are a tough thing for anyone, especially when starting out.

The best thing for you to do is to continue to get time on the bike. Don't worry about going fast. Try to maintain a steady cadence of 80-100 RPMs at whatever speed you feel comfortable. This will be the most efficient speed to pedal and also transfer power to the wheel. If you must downshift to maintain that cadence while going up a hill then do it. You'll find that over time you'll get much faster and won't run out of breath anymore either.

Also, the best way to improve on hills is to ride more hills. It'll hurt your thighs for sure but you'll get faster and stronger the more you do it.

Use your smartphone. There is a free app called Strava that will measure your stats. Average speed is a great indicator of improvement. You can also "race" yourself and others on segments of road/path and try to beat your best times. That is motivational too.

Keep up the good work.

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    +1 for measuring your progress. One trick is to change the preferences in strava to show "your results" first, to make it more personal and less competitive. – Criggie Jul 22 '17 at 0:51
  • +1 for using a lower gear on hills in order to keep your cadence above 60 RPM. – ChrisW Jul 22 '17 at 16:28
  • I do not believe you need to hurt your thighs to build up basic fitness. – PJTraill Jul 25 '17 at 15:21
  • @PJTraill, "hurting your thighs" is called lactic acid. That's what happens when you exert yourself, such as on hills. This is a normal part of training. If you read the context I mentioned that you get faster and stronger the more you ride the hills. This is an answer to the poster's question. – mhelf17 Jul 26 '17 at 18:22
  • Fair enough, my point is that if you stick to basic fitness you can take it more gently and still get good results. – PJTraill Jul 27 '17 at 7:40

"I'm not as out of breath already" which means you can already see the progress.

Just remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with stopping for a breather, or walking for a bit.

The main trick for improvement is to keep riding. Set yourself a goal of "at least four days a week out of five" commuting by bike, and if you get to Friday with only 3 days, then make yourself ride especially if you don't really want to.

Speed will come after stamina, so don't focus on speed.

Commuting gets a bit boring after a while - you can also mix up your route for variety and interest. A boring ride is less interesting.

Now and again, consider pushing yourself in terms of distance. You can do 2 miles every day for a week, so do a nice slow 4 mile ride to somewhere else in the weekend... go visiting someone.

Get your bike checked over too - even personally I've not noticed gradual deterioration, and then when its fixed its like a personal tail wind!

  • tyres properly inflated
  • chain lubed and clean
  • wheels spinning freely (no brake rub)
  • saddle at correct height.

I don't know about your weather, but for me leaving home slightly cold works, because I warm up with the exercise. Overheating is no fun.


Recently I made two lifestyle changes. About five months ago I stopped eating anything that has added sugar, and I started cycling three months ago (my workplace sponsors a team for the MS150 ride, and I decided to get trained for next year).

This week, at my regular check-up at the doctor's office, my blood work showed that all of the numbers that should be lower had gone down since my last visit, and all the numbers that should be higher were up since the last visit. I had also lost eight pounds (about 3.6 kg) and my blood pressure had dropped to 122/74.

So in addition to keeping on with the cycling, seriously consider cutting back on added sugar. Natural sugars like in fresh fruit (really fresh, not that stuff packed in syrup) are fine, but avoid added sugars.

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    Good points - reducing bread intake helps too. – Criggie Jul 22 '17 at 4:05
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    I'd like to add that I'm 51. It's never too late to start. Now if only I could get my wife into cycling. – EvilSnack Jul 23 '17 at 17:34

2 miles each way in 15 minutes is 8 mph which you should be able to achieve.

I would say lower gearing but a mountain bike should have some very low gears. Are you in the lowest gear before you have to walk?

If it has knobby tires then street tires will be more efficient. Get like 35 mm.

General maintenance like tire air pressure and lube the chain.

Check your bike fit. How your body fits to the bike.

On the incline get in a low gear early. Don't let your cadence get to low as you want to spin up the hill. Check your form. You can get out of the saddle when it gets to hard.

Keep riding and it should get easier week by week.

  • do you mean low gear as in gear 1 ( hardest gear pushing peddles wise) or gear 5 ( peddles go easily) i have 18 gears only really fathomed out the ones that have numbers on them cant fathom other ones yet – anne2806 Jul 25 '17 at 2:11
  • Do you think it would be better to climb in an easy gear or a hard gear? – paparazzo Jul 25 '17 at 13:54
  • @anne2806: Working out the gears is the first thing to do; it will make all the difference in the world if you have not got into the really low gears yet. Just go back to the shop and get them to show you, or have a really good look at at the manual. P.S. I am surprised first gear is hardest to pedal; it is usually the other way round! – PJTraill Jul 25 '17 at 15:24
  • Yeah, the gears are usually numbered like a car: smaller numbers mean you go slower but the engine (you) doens't have to work as hard. – David Richerby Feb 25 '18 at 19:22

thank you for all your comments they have all made me feel a bit better i am going to go to Halfords on tuesday when im next off to check everything is right height etc the gears im struggling with currently but im sure ill find the right ones soon....hoping eventually i can get to work in around 15 mins i have started making sure i drink water about 500ml about 30 mins before i ride and start stretching my legs im determind to conquer the hills going to and from work setting my self goals as i go up them

  • Do not be discouraged by this answer being downvoted, which means you have slightly misunderstood the site (but the downvoter(s) should have given their reasons in comments too!). You could actually add these remarks to the end of your question, flagged as Edit; just make sure you do not change the sense of the question. – PJTraill Jul 25 '17 at 15:33
  • What @PJTraill didn't explicitly state is that this is not a typical forum. The responses are meant to be answers to the original question. Instead something like this update could be added as a comment to your original question, or added to your initial question (although that is probably a little frowned upon). The point about these "exchange" sites, is allow people to easily identify questions and answers, and not be bogged down by other comments. Anyway, keep up your work. I am so happy for you! You'll make it. – Brett Jul 27 '17 at 19:29
  • Rather than going to Halfords, try going to a specialist bike shop. They'll be super-friendly and they love to help cyclists. (And, if they're not, then they're crap; go to a different one!) – David Richerby Feb 25 '18 at 19:23

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