Influence of body size on oxygen consumption during bicycling

D. P. Swain, Richard J Coast, P. S. Clifford, M. C. Milliken, J. Stray-Gundersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Scopus citations


Energy in bicycling is primarily expended to overcome air resistance, which is proportional to a cyclist's surface area (SA). Thus we hypothesized that large cyclists should have a lower O2 consumption normalized to body weight (V̇O2/BW) than small cyclists because of the former's lower SA/BW. We measured the V̇O2/BW of small (BW = 59.4 ± 4.1 kg) and large (BW = 84.4 ± 3.2 kg) cyclists while they bicycled on a flat road at 10, 15, and 20 mph. The large cyclists had a 22% lower V̇O2/BW than the small cyclists at all speeds. However, the SA/BW ratio of the large cyclists was only 11% lower than that of the small cyclists. We then photographically determined the frontal area (FA) of the cyclists in a racing posture, and found that the large cyclists had a 16% lower FA/BW ratio than the small cyclists. We conclude that 1) large cyclists are at a distinct advantage, in terms of V̇O2/BW, while bicycling on level roads, and 2) this advantage is principally due to their lower FA/BW ratio.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)668-672
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1987
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Endocrinology
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation

Cite this

Swain, D. P., Coast, R. J., Clifford, P. S., Milliken, M. C., & Stray-Gundersen, J. (1987). Influence of body size on oxygen consumption during bicycling. Journal of Applied Physiology, 62(2), 668-672.