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I have just recorded two following activities (I am 42 years old and seriously fat / 108 kg):

  • Hike: 9.04 km / 1h20m / 90 m elev. / 1,220 kcal
  • Bike: 20.26 km / 1h25m / 146 m elev. / 837 kcal

Is this kcal burnout on second activity accurate / possible? Only 837 kcal when compared to 1,220 kcal on hiking?

Here is a Strava's (no power meter) screenshot from my hike / walk:

enter image description here

And here is the second activity (bike riding):

enter image description here

For me it was:

  • Hike: a moderate walk, feeling good, no stops, my muscles moving just me
  • Bike: tough ride, a few stops, my muscles moving me and +20 kg bike

How can I burn much less (only 70%) kcal on a really tough bike ride when compare to fairly moderate walk? What am I missing here?

EDIT: To clarify after a great number of even greater comments. Both numbers and "fast" wording are just to underline the difference here. I am not challenging each single kcal burnout on its own. It is only very hard for me to believe / understand that during a fairly simple walk I supposedly burned out 150% of the kcal that I burned during a bike ride from which I returned totally wet and "wasted".

So the real question could be: How can I burn way more calories walking than I burned during biking?

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    Bike fitness and walking fitness are different, if you are not trained in cycling the effort will feel harder for the same apparent work. As far as calories burned - without a power meter they are wild guestimates based on a comparison of measured results using a population sample then matching to your metrics. For an average person of average fitness averagely trained in the activity, they might be accurate enough to be useful. (and do read the article about how the US Air Force found there is not such thing as an average person).
    – mattnz
    Aug 16 at 21:53
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    Yes. The bike is the most efficient method of transportation there is. Nothing, absolutely nothing gets you further per energy unit than a bike. Taking your measurement, you can derive a cost of 4'250 Cal/100km, which is equivalent to about 470g fat, or about 0.51 l/100km biofuel (cooking oil). How far can you drive your car with half a liter? Aug 16 at 22:17
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    Finally, I don't know how you measured your calories. If it's via a smartphone app or bike computer, those are rough estimates at best (I would guess that those numbers might be a little high, but I may be totally wrong). The only reliable method of measuring expended calories on a bike is by using special power measuring cranks that precisely monitor forces and cadence to derive the actual mechanical work that is done by the rider. Aug 16 at 22:31
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    @Haukinger he's not calling the speed itself fast. But using the word "fast" do show that the number in front is about speed. Common in some languages.
    – Matsemann
    Aug 17 at 19:18
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    Side note: don't get too discouraged by the modest number of calories burned during exercise, as those numbers aren't the whole story. With regular exercise, you'll build muscle, which will act as a continuous calorie-sink, and your metabolism will increase, so you'll be burning additional calories between exercise sessions as well. Those calories aren't counted by your fitness app (AFAIK) but they will count where it matters -- towards improving your health and reducing your weight. Aug 17 at 19:51
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Since the other answers and comments were discussing only your bike trip, I will tackle on your hike values and show why they are probably incorrect.

First of all your activity wasn't a hike, but a walk, since 90m elevation in 9km is just ~1% elevation on average. This distinction could be important if you are using apps like Google Fit or similiar for the calculations of your calories. Depending on what activity you select, it will calculate different values based on some average values they have for these activities and there is a big difference between a hike and a walk.

So let's say you made your walk of 9km in 80 minutes, which is an average speed of ~6.77 km/h. This page (in german) shows a table of calories burned based on your weight and speed of walking. With 100kg and a walking speed of 6.5 km/h it shows 450kcal burned. So in 80 minutes you would burn around 600kcal and if we adjust it to your weight and some elevation you would probably end up at around 700kcal for your trip.

I also found a calculator for calories burned by walking and if I put in your data there I end up with roughly the same value of ~700kcal. So it is safe to assume that your 1,220 kcal are incorrect and to high. If you are using Google Fit or a similiar app, I would suggest to check what activity is logged for this trip and if it is "hike" change it to "walking" and it will recalculate the values and maybe show lower values with are closer to the calculated ones.

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    Damn, we wrote almost the same answer at almost the same time :D But at least we agree with each other.
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 7:56
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    Nice first answer, and welcome to the site
    – Andy P
    Aug 17 at 8:18
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    Apps relying on the difference between the synonyms "hike" and "walk" in calculations are too dumb to be trusted for anything. Much of the difference is subjective based on fitness, while distance, pace, and climb don't care what label they have. The only real difference is load, but a light day hike pack could weigh less than your load walking home with shopping, or a stroll around a nature reserve with photography gear. The one exception is something like fitness pal, which just uses time and activity type, not gps
    – Chris H
    Aug 17 at 9:27
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    In Chapter 10 McArdle, Katch, & Katch introduce a rule of thumb that running on flat firm ground requires a net energy expenditure of 1 kcal/kg/km. So, a 108kg runner traveling 9km on flat ground expends ~ 9*108=972 kcal. We also know that to raise a mass of 108kg 90m in height requires 108*90*9.8/1000=95 kilojoules. If gross metabolic efficiency is close to 23.8%, then 1 kJ~1 kcal, so total energy expenditure is 972+95=1067 kcal. (1 food Calorie = 1 kcal). If GME < 23.8%, energy expenditure rises.
    – R. Chung
    Aug 18 at 11:03
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    @trejder I haven't used an app recently that does something like that, but it's got a sort of logic to it that means it may well exist. I use a bike computer app that allows manual adjustment of GPS smoothing, also for walking (while we do use the term hiking in British English, we seem to describe things as walks when they'd be hikes in other places), running, and other activities. It does an OK job of calorie estimation, let down by my phone only having gps for altitude. Strava seems reasonably self consistent between activities, even if there's a considerable error overall.
    – Chris H
    Aug 18 at 17:08
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The bicycling calories sound about right (maybe a bit too high, but assuming a relatively bad bicycle and higher moving speed between breaks it could work). I think it’s your walking calories which are overestimated. Where did you get the estimate from? Most calorie calculators estimate around 600kcal for your hike, for example this one says 600kcal when set to 6.4km/h and 180cm height: https://keisan.casio.com/exec/system/1350891527

Are you used to bicycling? Is your bike set up correctly? Did you use easy enough gears for the climbs?

For comparison, here is a screenshot of a casual training ride I did a month ago with a power meter. I’m a 67kg, 1.8m male and used a 7kg road bike for this ride. The ride is about twice the distance and elevation of yours, took a bit more time and burned 1010kcal (fairly accurate estimation because of the power meter). The first and last 4km are slow because it’s in the city. I’m physically active but couldn’t train much this year due to injuries.

strava screenshot

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  • Interesting screenshot, and shows how poor the estimates from online calculators can be. They would have you at ~30kph for that power output on a road bike.
    – Andy P
    Aug 17 at 8:29
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    Yes, the problem with online calculators is that they can only assume a more or less perfect scenario. In my case the first/last kilometers are through the city (only 1 traffic light, but lots of cyclists and other traffic) which completely destroys the average speed. It was also a windy day. I’ve ridden the same route with only 940kcal in a shorter time on other days. On flat terrain without wind I do ride around 30km/h with 155W of power.
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 8:43
  • @AndyP most calculators use an average rate of climb, or a total climb. That doesn't work well because aero loses are so nonlinear. There are calculators that take segments of different inclines which should handle a ride like this better
    – Chris H
    Aug 17 at 9:29
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    @Michael ... which completely destroys the average speed I'm guessing that 200m hill between the 7 and 10 km did quite a bit to knock your average speed down, too. A 200m climb over 3 km is 6.67%, and the bulk of that climb looks to be over 2km, so it's pushing a 10% average grade, and I'd bet there are some 12% or maybe even steeper sections. Aug 17 at 15:04
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    @AndrewHenle: True, but if I cut out the first and last 3km the average speed is 26.6km/h. From after the first steep climb to 3km before the end it’s 29.2km/h. On a different day with less wind and much lower power output (922kcal for the ride) it’s 27.4 and 30.2km/h respectively (and 26.6km/h overall). Kind of shows how little distance, speed and elevation actually tell about the intensity of a ride.
    – Michael
    Aug 17 at 18:35
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Using this calculator we can estimate how much power you needed to produce to maintain your average speed of 20.26 km/85 min: I get 38 W, although I might have some of the conditions wrong.

We can then multiply 38 W by your ride time of 85 minutes to get joules of work performed. I get 194 kJ.

Thanks to a neat mathematical coincidence, work performed is roughly equal to calories burned (some calculators treat calories as work + 10%). Based on that, I get about 215 calories burned. Obviously this is much lower than the estimate you got, and some of that difference might be accounted for by headwinds, knobby bike tires, uneven pacing, etc.

Another thing to take into consideration is that unless you are using a power meter on your bike, calorie estimates aren't very reliable. They're probably based on speed over time and heart rate (if that data is available).

In any case, 837 calories doesn't sound low for the time and distance you rode. If you are not bike-fit, then riding can feel like a lot of work.

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  • I should mention that if your 85-minute ride time includes a significant amount of resting time, that throws the calculations off a lot.
    – Adam Rice
    Aug 17 at 1:00
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    and "resting" covers red light stops, coasting any downhill bits, and tailwind boost.
    – Criggie
    Aug 17 at 2:45
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    I used a different calculator to Adam (bikecalculator.com) and came to 38W and 186kcal. Given the very low speed, I tried switching the calculator to calculate for a MTB and got 80W/385kcal. I'm fairly confident we can say the 837 is a massive overestimate as you'd need to push 170W to do that and I can't think of any way 170W would translate to such a low average speed
    – Andy P
    Aug 17 at 8:02
  • @AdamRice "I get 194 kJ. (...) Based on that, I get about 215 calories burned". How can you get 215 kcal out of 194 kJ, if 1 kcal = 4.186798 kJ so 194 kJ is 46.336 kcal? What am I missing here? "In any case, 837 calories doesn't sound low for the time and distance you rode". You say nothing about my walking, but I understand that you suppose that 1,220 sounds way to high for 1h20m time and 9.04 km distance that I walked?
    – trejder
    Aug 18 at 14:44
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    @trejder The bit you are missing is that depending on the individual we're only around 20-25% efficient at turning energy into power at the pedals, so the measured kJ can be multiplied by 4-5. So for sake of convenience we'll say 4.18 and then 4.18kcal burned = 4.18kj at the pedals. Not perfect, but close enough.
    – Andy P
    Aug 18 at 15:08
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It's likely that both the bike and hike calories are overestimates. Many devices use weight and speed to calculate calorie burn, but because they are not measuring any physical output (such as cycling power) can be wildly inaccurate.

In addition, many sites/devices also count a fraction of your BMR corresponding to the time of the activity in the resulting value causing an inflated number.

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The 837 "calories" (which I assume mean kilocalories) sounds fishy. Usually when riding at 20.26 km/h speed I use 139 watts of power in varying terrain (10 meters of elevation ascent and descent per kilometer). That's only because I'm heavierweight than most. A normal weight person (70 kg) would use around 109 watts of power.

109 watts multiplied by 3600 seconds divided by 0.25 energy efficiency of human is 1570 kJ or 375 kcal. (At 139 watts for 110kg rider, it's 478 kcal.)

You rode the distance very slowly and it didn't seem to be a very hilly route. In fact, at 14.3 km/h. At such speeds, the average power in varying terrain would be 66 watts for 70 kg rider and 88 watts for 110 kg rider. The same calculation (but this time 5100 seconds and not 3600 seconds) gives 321 kcal for 70 kg rider and 428 kcal for 110 kg rider.

No way could you burn 837 kcal even if you're 110 kg.

What you're missing is that a bicycle is an extremely energy efficient form of transportation. Low rolling resistance, ability to coast (well unless you're riding a fixie), ability to move without center of gravity moving upwards and downwards repeatedly, etc.

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    0.25 energy efficiency of human That seems a bit high. For example (page 46 of the PDF link at top: "... the model returns a peak simulated value for thermodynamic efficiency of a little over 0.2 ..." Aug 17 at 15:12
  • @AndrewHenle I think 25% is a really good approximation for marginal energy efficiency that ignores the idle energy use, the energy a non-moving human would anyway use. If you consider the total energy efficiency, including the idle energy use, then 20% might be better.
    – juhist
    Aug 19 at 8:43
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I weigh about the same as you and happen to have a power meter, so I can give an empirical - if anecdotal - answer.

I would likely burn about 850 kcal in the duration of your ride. But my ride would be approx. 35-40 km in length and cover 300-400 meters elevation gain rather than your 146.

I don't mean this in any way to be rude, but your ride was not fast. And mine isn't either. It may have been high effort for you, but if you've only recently started out, you might just be incapable of actual high effort - only effort that feels high. You may huff and puff and get all sweaty, but in reality you might not really be doing much work - just because your body isn't adapted to it.

Your hike is very unlikely to have burned 1200 kcal either. I'd guestimate 600-800, but it's much harder to measure than cycling.

Generally, if you take calorie data from an app on your phone, it's most likely a useless guess. If you use a heart rate monitor, it's gonna be a bit closer, but still way off. I did an experiment once - used a watch and a bike computer at the same time - watch measuring with a HR monitor, bike computer with power meter - and the watch overestimated my effort by about 35%.

If you want accurate data, get a power meter (it's expensive though). Otherwise, either don't pay too much attention to what calories your app tells you you burn, or try to find out an approximate correction rate (it may not be 35% in your case though, depending on devices used).

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That sounds about right, maybe a bit high if anything. Here's a ride I did back when I was about 115kg, for something close to what you're saying and I got 750-ish calories from Strava. No power meter back then so numbers are pure guesses, but since I've switched to a power meter the guesses proved a little high.

So, sounds about right, but could be up to 30% high from my experience.

A Ride

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