What's the best way to track my bike trips, past and present?
April 6, 2015 10:17 AM   Subscribe

I've recently started counting calories and tracking my exercise. I understand that accuracy can be difficult with this sort of thing, but I refuse to accept My Tracks' statement that I only burn 158 calories on my 7 mile bike ride to work. Is there an immediate answer to this, and is there a $100ish fitness tracker that would do a better job in the future?

In the short term, I'd just like to get a fairly accurate estimate that I can reuse for my commute, but in the long term, I think it'd be fun to do the Fitbit/whatever thing; I'm pretty susceptible to gamification, and I like tracking things.

I loved the posture element to the Lumo Lift, but I'm on a Moto X and the Lumo folks aren't doing Android.
I downloaded Runtastic, but importing GPS maps requires the premium version. I downloaded Runkeeper, but My Tracks only seems to export .kmz files, and I'd have to download another converter to make that work with Runkeeper, and there's only so many apps I feel like downloading on any given day without knowing for sure that they will work.
posted by redsparkler to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It depends on a few factors like how much you currently weigh, how fast you're cycling, the terrain, etc. There's a handy little calculator on everydayhealth.com that says at (for example), 170 lbs. at about a 10 mph pace for about a half hour (assuming that's how long it takes you) you're burning 154 calories.
posted by cooker girl at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2015

The Endomondo app which you can install on android will track your bike route and take into account your speed and the hilliness of the terrain. It may be possible to port the data over to Lumo, but I'm not sure. It definitely ports over to fitbit.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:29 AM on April 6, 2015

170 lb rider @ 15MPH equals 31 calories per mile. Biking at a steady recreational speed of 12-14 MPH will burn about 30 calories per mile or roughly 7-8 calories per minute. I know you want an exact measure--on that I can not help as I was always most concerned about just getting sufficient aerobic activity. I just used the rule of thumb of about 7-8 calories per minute of actual biking time
posted by rmhsinc at 10:31 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're just not going to get anything near an actual calories-burned count from any sort of device that isn't connected to your body. The only truly accurate-ish way is a power meter that tracks your actual energy expended, which you can convert to calories in a relatively (but not totally) straightforward way (because of the joules to calories ratio and body efficiency, you can more or less equate joules to calories). Unless you're riding a good road bike, it's unlikely you'll want to buy a power meter.

Second best is a heart rate monitor with software that tracks your heart rate over time. That will get you part of the way there, but there really isn't a straight line between heart rate and calories burnt--some people's hearts just beat faster under the same strain, for example, so while the calorie counts have more of a basis in reality than "I went this speed for this time", it's still a guesstimate.

Anything else--tracking speed, elevation and whatever else, and the calculators mentioned above--is just guessing, and while there are government-standard rates of calorie expenditure that you can look up, it's all grossly averaged and smoothed and, well, probably not accurate for you.

I'll also add that the 158 calories number you threw out doesn't sound that crazy. Bikes are really efficient devices. It's been a while since I've done any real concerted power tracking on my bike, but I want to say I varied between 400 and 600 calories per hour as a ~180 lb man at race-training-ish levels of intensity. Going easier and as a woman, for the time it takes to do 7 miles, 160 calories might be close.
posted by The Michael The at 10:32 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

My garmin bike computer routinely estimates 2x the calorie number I see for the same trip tracked through Strava. So there's a lot of slop in these estimates. I use Strava and it's good for tracking runs & bike rides.
posted by GuyZero at 10:37 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure if it's what you are looking for, but Strava is the general go-to tracking app for cyclists.

Calorie counting is always going to be tricky as there are a number of factors to take into account. Strava does at least let you input some basic details like the weight of you and your bike, so may do somewhat better.

I'm not really understanding from your post what it is you actually want to be able to do with regards to importing/exporting maps etc? Strava is pretty feature rich though (even in the free, non-premium version) and also well established enough that there's all sorts of third party websites which extend it in some way and allow you to import/export stuff.

With regards to a fitness tracker, I'm not sure that it's really the right fit for you if you are mainly cycling. Most fitness trackers (and especially the fitbit) are essentially glorified pedometers, which will not accurately record cycling. The best they are going to do for cycling is act as a glorified stopwatch to record when you start and finish and then have a stab at some average values for the amount of calories burned by (n) minutes cycling.

What you need for accurate cycling tracking is some manner of GPS device which will accurately record speed, time and elevation. To be honest the Strava app manages this just fine. If you do want to get some manner of GPS tracking watch/doodad, then look for one which is Garmin compatible (probably, actually, a Garmin) because Garmin's file formats are pretty much the standard for most third party tracking/mapping apps.
posted by Dext at 10:40 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I assumed that there'd be some kind of tracker that takes elevation into account for rough caloric measurements. I might not have realized that Fitbits and such didn't do any heartrate monitoring, either.

I'm a 215lb person with an average moving speed of 12.46 mph on my way to work, according to MyTracks. On the reverse route, it looks like my average moving speed is 11.27 mph.

On that Everyday Health biking calculator, even estimating low (10-12mph), it's telling me 340 or so, but I don't know how or why to trust one calculator over another. I'm not trying to be super obsessive, but I'd be willing to spend a little extra time and energy to get a number that takes my route and speed into account. (sounds like I should borrow a heart rate monitor for a week or something?).

I'll definitely take a look at Strava, it sounds like it has some good stuff going for it.
posted by redsparkler at 10:48 AM on April 6, 2015

Speed isn't really a very good indication of caloric expenditure, since speed is dependent on wind (windy will expend more calories), bike variety (upright bike will expend more calories than a road bike), physical fitness (less fit will expend more calories), elevation change (hilly will expend more calories), etc.

I will say that the 340 calorie estimate is very high. In my particular case, from empirical direct power measurement with a calibrated power meter, I know that I will only expend 40 or so calories per mile if I ride as fast as I possibly can, reaching my "functional threshold power". I figure (although haven't measured) that at a more sedate commute pace, 30 calories per mile is a reasonable estimate, which is in line with the posts above. Bikes are quite efficient devices, and it's hard to deliberately cause significant caloric deficits when riding them.

A heart rate monitor is definitely possible on the order of $100. A power meter is not possible on the order of $100. You should look into zone training in order to maximize your desired goal (caloric expenditure or improving performance).
posted by saeculorum at 11:09 AM on April 6, 2015

(Just fwiw, newer/more expensive fitbits have heart rate tracking depending on the model. We just bought a Charge HR for $150)
posted by getawaysticks at 11:16 AM on April 6, 2015

Best answer: I love Strava for tracking runs and rides. I have no idea how accurate the calorie counting is. I pair it with my Wahoo Tickr heart monitor, which also works great (at a good price too).
posted by slogger at 12:51 PM on April 6, 2015

I'd say that about 160 extra calories burnt in a half hour moderately strenuous bike ride is about right.

Bike commute for cardiovascular and pulmonary health, for a more enjoyable commute, and to use less oil. Control diet for weight gain or loss.
posted by GregorWill at 5:18 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are looking to lose weight you should be willing to have error on the side of underestimating calories burned. Accuracy is less important than ensuring which direction the error takes. Likewise when doing your caloric consumption you should try and make sure errors are overestimates.

I've known many a person who has sabotaged their calorie counting by seeking the opposite pattern of error and then complaining about how calorie counting doesn't work.
posted by srboisvert at 6:30 AM on April 7, 2015

« Older What's still unnecessarily hard to do in HTML?   |   how to smoke less pot & avoid weed hangovers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.