Something that has always confused me about working out on a bike. I want a Hybrid to ride for fitness. I do not want the Road bike, mostly because I'm not going to ride on the road (I am too afraid of being run over). The Hybrid will be on paved trails. Plus, my back would not survive leaned over on a Road Bike, though I wish I could.

My question is how do you keep from coasting too much? Whenever I think of biking, I inevitably think of hitting hills eventually. Granted I have to go up the hill, but then I'm coasting down. And on flat, how do I keep the wheels moving without coasting? Just the right gear and discipline?

One can only go so fast, so sooner or later I will have to stop pedaling, and I also don't think I can go full out all the time.

  • 1
    When you buy a bike, you should look at all the available options. A lot of hybrids will have really easy gearing and you might actually have trouble pedalling fast enough on the hardest gear to make a difference on flat roads or slight declines. Not all road bikes have a really leaned over position, and some hybrids are actually quite leaned over position. Look into touring bikes for "road bikes" with a more upright posture. If your hands are on the hoods, then you are probably more upright than you may think at first.
    – Kibbee
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 16:03
  • 3
    Fixed gear with clipless pedals and learn to relax your legs when they move too fast for active pedaling. You're welcome.
    – ojs
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 16:10
  • 4
    You're overthinking this. Get a bike (borrow, cheap, used, new, whatever) and get riding.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 23:15
  • @Kibbee Thanks. I didn't know about that one and have started looking.
    – johnny
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 1:50
  • 1
    @johnny If you have been riding for a while, consider a single speed with a flip flop hub! 16-42 gearing is my flavor (I'm a "spinner"), but there is 18-44 too (a little harder to pedal). With a single speed you will have to pedal most of the time. By the way, always coast with feet at 9pm and 3pm.
    – sandraqu
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 13:37

6 Answers 6


You are correct - keeping the bike in the appropriate gear is important. Generally, you should have a preferred pedaling rpm, or cadence that you try to keep constant. Change to lower gears on uphill gradients, higher gears on downhill gradients.

If you find yourself going downhill at a speed that even your highest gear makes you pedal too fast, feel free to coast. There is no rule that says you have to spin your legs madly to keep pedaling. Hybrid bikes tend to have fairly low gearing so coasting on faster downhill sections is normal.


Your speed on any kind of bike is limited by the power you can put through the pedals to overcome air resistance. Air resistance increases with speed so, if you pedal with a level of effort that's comfortable for you, you'll eventually reach a speed where your power balances air resistance. Unless you're going down a long or fairly steep hill (or you're fairly powerful), the speed you end up at shouldn't be excessive.

So, if you'll pardon the statement of the obvious, all you need to do to avoid coasting is to keep pedalling. Select a gear that means your comfortable level of effort gives an appropriate speed and doesn't have you spinning the pedals like a whirlwind. Yes, you'll probably end up coasting down hills but remember that you had to put extra effort into getting up the hill in the first place and coasting back down again can be a useful time to recover from that.

Greg Lemond said, about training, "It doesn't get any easier, you just get faster" and that's basically what's going on, here. Instead of letting it get easier by coasting, keep putting power through the pedals so that you go faster, instead. That doesn't mean you have to go full our or put pro levels of power through the pedals, of course – just that you should keep up whatever level of effort you find appropriate, instead of coasting.

If you want to get fitter, pedal slightly harder than is comfortable; if you just want to get from A to B, pedal at a comfortable intensity.

  • upvote for the Lemond quote :)
    – Steve H.
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 20:52
  • If you're going downhill at speed and pedalling doesn't put in any further power i.e. the bike is freewheeling it is a good idea to keep on pedalling rather than keeping the feet in the quarter past nine position The muscles keep warm and lactate is more efficiently removed when the legs move without load.
    – Carel
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 8:18

Pedal when you need to, coast when you can. What's the problem? If you don't feey you've had enough exercise, ride another mile!

But remember that on road or track, your first priority is safety.

  • The problem is fatness.
    – johnny
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 1:46

I was going to make this a comment, but perhaps it warrants its own answer.

Something to keep in mind. When you are coasting downhill it's generally because the bike is taking you faster than you can pedal. Assuming that you eventually wind up at the same elevation you started, this means that that even if you coast down every hill, you'll still be pedaling a majority of the time - maybe even an overwhelming part of the time.

There are also different regimens of training for different purposes. For weight loss, for instance, you generally want longer periods of slower exercise above a certain threshold, as fat burns more slowly than carbs. For general fitness you may want to go through different regimes, for instance, starting off slow to get warmed up, the pushing as hard as you can to elevate your heart rate and get some anabolic action going, then dialing it back for some endurance, or whatever. I'm not advocating any specific regimen, as that's up to you to research to decide what is best for you. However, in doing so you may decide that it suits your purposes to attack hills and then recover on the down side. This might sit better with you if you deliberately push harder (how much is up to you) right before you can't push any more (because it's down hill), because you will get your heart rate higher and you will burn more calories and on the way down you'll be able to catch some of your breath back.


You can also mix in riding an indoor bike where there's no problem with going to fast since you're not going anywhere.

You can either get a trainer for your outdoor bike, or use a stationary bike, perhaps at a gym if you have access. A nice motivational aspect of riding a stationary bike at a gym is that you won't want to stop pedaling in front of everyone.

But as mentioned in elsewhere, if you want to pedal more and coast less then pedal more and coast less.


There is an underlying misconception in the question that coasting is bad for a fitness training.

However, if you can coast, it means you either gained enough kinetic or potential energy to overcome the many different types of friction. In other words you already did the work! Good on you, reap the benefits, let it roll, coast, enjoy, and recover. The next hill will come or you may turn into the wind again.

Rather than thinking of coasting as a missed opportunity to train your fitness, think of coasting and accelerating/climbing as a combination. How may we summarise such a training? Intervals!

Interval training is widely accepted as an effective form of exercise. High intensity interval training (HIIT)is often claimed as more effective than moderate intensity continous training (MICT) (eg by Mailard et al). A slight caveat, recent meta studies did not find any clinically relevant effects on weight reduction in adipose patients for neither HIIT or MICT (Keating et al) and little difference in effectiveness (Milanović et al). All studies found improvements of other markers of physical fitness, for example, VO2max, which quantifies the ability to breath.

All together this also means interval training is not worse than constant exercise either. What is more, if HIIT involves coasting on your bike, it certainly is so much more enjoyable. That in turn helps you to be out on your bike much more often. And that really makes the difference!

  • Agreed, but it very much depends on the length of the descent and your training objectives.
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 7:47
  • If the descent is long then a long climb preceded it. Looking at the energy spent we can even state with certainty that for frictionless translation between two points any path in a conservative field (gravitational field) will require the same energy. Since aerodynamic resistance scales with v^2 we may also find that a flat path is the lower boundary for energy considering drag. In other words going uphill always requires more effort (assuming equal surface conditions).
    – gschenk
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 9:25
  • But what if want to do 2h of easy recovery ride but only have mountains in your area? Mountains are often great for training but not always.
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 10:57

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