Cycling Vs Biking

Imagine this, your friend, who owns both a bicycle and a motorcycle, invites you to go biking. This suggestion might confuse you; after all, is biking not used for riding a bicycle and a motorbike? Additionally, some people refer to riding a bicycle as biking while others refer to it as cycling. So, how do you know when to use them?

Both cycling and biking refer to riding a bicycle, where cycling is seen as a more professional term, and biking is more casual. Biking is the correct term when riding a motorcycle, whereas cycling can be used for pedal-powered vehicles like tricycles.

Cycling and biking are words used throughout literature, and while they may act as synonyms at times, they are not the same. The subtle differences between the terms can affect how we should use them. What are these differences?

Is There A Difference Between Cycling And Biking?

Biking and cycling are the same: they refer to an activity done on a bike or cycle. Both motorcycles and bikes are called bikes colloquially and fall in the category of cycles (pedal-powered or motorized vehicles with 1-3 wheels).

These words are often used interchangeably in daily conversations, and the context will do away with any confusion regarding them; however, while interchangeable, vehicle type, among other factors to be discussed later, which term should be used changes.

Biking And Cycling: Term Differences

When planning a ride through a park, your friends might suggest you rent a bike. It seems likely that you wouldn’t be renting a motorbike to do wheelies down by the dam and scare away the ducks. Instead, when your friend suggests renting a bike at the park, you’re more likely to picture a lovely bicycle, possibly with a little basket to store your wallet.

Since both a motorcycle and a bicycle are referred to as bikes by the general population, the word biking might cause you to scratch your head in confusion when lacking context clues. Cycling may bring up the same issues due to the word cycle being found in bicycle and motorcycle.

While people riding a bicycle can be cycling or biking, motorcyclists are not said to cycle but only to bike. Generally, motorcyclists are called bikers, and it’s more common to hear someone call a bicyclist a cyclist than a biker.

Now, if your friend suggests biking across the country this weekend, it’s more likely to be an invitation to hop on your Harley and throw on your leathers than to check that your bicycle bell still rings. Context clues are massively helpful in deciding whether to use cycling or biking when calling up a friend.

When Do You Use Biking Or Cycling?

Riding a bicycle can be referred to as biking and cycling, as the words bike and cycle are linked to a bicycle. Even within the activity of bicycle riding, the use of each term can be affected by individual meanings and distinctions based on cycle type or what activity is carried out.

Some factors to consider when choosing which term to use are as follows:

  • Not all cycles are bicycles
  • Connotative meanings of biking and cycling
  • Mountain biking is not cycling

Not All Cycles Are Bicycles

It’s important to note that the Latin prefix ‘bi-‘ means two. So, when using the word bicycle, you are only talking about a cycle with two wheels.

Biking or bike refers to the two-wheeled cycles used for riding; as a result, the term biking can’t refer to activities like riding a tricycle (three wheels) or unicycle (one wheel) or even spin classes where no wheels are involved. These would have to be referenced as cycling.

Connotative Meanings Of Biking And Cycling

Connotation is when a word holds meaning beyond the dictionary definition, that is, the emotional or personal meaning rather than factual. For example, when we associate winter with isolation or salmon with richness. Biking and cycling also hold connotative meanings.

While using both terms in the cycling community is not incorrect, people may prefer one or the other due to their associations.

Biking is often seen as a more leisurely or fun-loving activity. When you go biking, you’re likely to speed your way across a dirt track, race your friend through a field, or power up a mountain, filled with adrenalin and laughter. It’s down-to-earth and a layman’s activity.

On the other hand, cycling is considered more formal or sedate. If you’re cycling, you’re likely to be training for the Olympics on a cycling track or riding neatly on the side of the road on a Sunday, pavement all the way. It’s seen as a high-brow or privileged activity that costs time and money.

As a result of connotation, or maybe as its driving factor, cycling is more commonly used in professional spaces like magazines. A list of 21 bicycle magazine titles on Wiki shows a preference for cycling rather than biking.

Terms UsedTimes Used Out Of 21
Bike (inc. mountain bike)2
Cycling (inc. ProCycling)7

Despite the connotations behind the words, bicycle riders may still have personal preferences for what they’d like to be called and make decisions on whether to use cycling or biking based on this. 

Mountain Biking Is Not Cycling

Despite the training and skill required to go mountain biking, it is often called biking rather than cycling, whereas cross-country riding is called cycling.

Mountain biking (Enduro) is done with a specialized bicycle kitted for the rough terrain and the impact of falling or jumping obstacles. The sport, and the bikes, carefully and custom designed for it, lend themselves to trail riding, cross-country cycling, and downhill riding.

One reason for this divide of terms may stem from back in the 80s when mountain biking was considered a phase. And although it has become a mainstream and professional activity, mountain biking still tends to be called biking. On the other hand, cross-country, which is the only type of mountain biking found in the Olympics, is referred to as cycling.

While it would not be wrong to call mountain biking cycling, the connotations from its history and its presumed reputation as fun rather than serious activity seem to have a firm hold on the now-professional sport.

How To Choose Between Biking And Cycling

If you consider an exciting day out, you’ll want to go biking instead of cycling. You can go biking using a motorbike on the freeway or pull out your mountain bike for a traverse up a mountain. While labor intensive, it’s guaranteed to be fun.

If you are looking to train your core for a race or take a relaxed trip down the road, you’ll want to go cycling. You can go cycling with any cycle at your disposal, for example, the toddler’s tricycle, a beat-up old bicycle, or the streamlined bicycle dad uses for yearly races. Cycling is still fun and active, but it lends a view of privilege and leisure not found with the term biking.


Cycling and biking are similar but have separate contexts. Factors such as vehicle type, the number of wheels, and the user’s perception should be considered when using these. Their differences, and your choice between which one to use, rely on what kind of activity you want to engage in – something a bit fun or something more serious.


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