The influence of body mass in endurance bicycling

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994 Jan;26(1):58-63.


Bicycling is a complex sport in which an athlete's energy cost is related to two principal forces: air resistance when traveling on flat terrain, and gravity when traveling uphill. Both wind tunnel data and physiological measurements suggest that air resistance scales as body mass to about the 1/3 power. Thus, large cyclists have only slightly greater frontal drags than small cyclists. If expressed relative to body mass, the frontal drag of small cyclists is considerably greater than that of large cyclists. The difference in frontal drag (energy cost) is not made up for by the advantage to small cyclists in relative VO2max (energy supply), since the mass exponent for drag (1/3) is closer to zero than that for VO2max (2/3). Thus, small cyclists should be at a disadvantage in flat time trials, which field data support. The energy cost of riding uphill slightly favors the large cyclist, because the weight of the bicycle represents a relatively smaller load than it does to a small cyclist. The mass exponent is 0.79. Since this exponent is greater than that for VO2max, the small cyclists have an advantage in climbing, which is supported by field data.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Sports