You’re not going to have biceps like a bodybuilder’s after a few bike rides. To get that kind of muscular development, you’ll have to lift weights regularly and stick to a healthy diet. But riding a bicycle does exercise your upper-body muscles somewhat, so it can help improve your muscular balance and overall fitness.
Bicycling regularly will strengthen muscle groups in your legs, buttocks and hips. Specifically, the primary muscles involved in pedaling are the quadriceps and hamstrings in your upper legs and the soleus and gastrocnemius in your calves. Riding regularly, especially on a challenging course, strengthens these lower-body muscle groups, increasing your power and endurance.
To a lesser extent, bicycle riding also incorporates upper-body muscle groups. Your back and torso muscles, for example, are vital for maintaining balance while cycling. Muscles in your shoulders, as well as the triceps and biceps in your arms, also help maintain stability. But since the role of these muscles is primarily to stabilize the body, not to propel it forward with explosive force as the lower-body muscles do, bicycle riding isn't the most effective way to develop upper-body strength.
If you use an exercise bike, get a fuller workout by doing upper-body resistance exercises while cycling. For example, alternate doing biceps curls and triceps extensions while cycling at a brisk pace. Start with light weights until you’re comfortable performing the coordinated movement. Over time, the resistance training will help develop muscles in your arms and shoulders. As an added benefit, the upper-body movements will help you burn more calories than cycling alone.
Another option is to use an exercise machine that combines pedaling-type motions with upper-body exercises. Elliptical trainers and ski machines, for example, offer an effective combination of lower- and upper-body exercises. Increasing the resistance setting makes the workout more challenging, leading to greater fitness benefits. For example, a 185-pound person using an elliptical trainer for half an hour burns 400 calories, a significant improvement over the 311 calories she would burn on a stationary bicycle in the same amount of time, according to Harvard Medical School.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.