For many cycling purists, the notion of adding an assisted motor to a bicycle is a form of cheating that doesn’t offer the same type of physical and mental benefits as a traditional bike. Sure, riding an electric bike (e-bike) might not be as difficult as tackling that monster climb with only the power in your legs — but does that mean an e-bike won’t provide a good workout, and are you better off walking around the block a few times instead?
Recently, researchers at the University of Zurich aimed to tackle this question by monitoring 10,000 e-bike riders over a full year. In this article, we take a look at the findings of this study and offer a few of our own reasons why e-bikes shouldn’t be discounted as a reasonable way to improve overall fitness.
The primary focus of the study published in the Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives journal was to determine if cyclists who ride e-bikes achieve the same benefits as those who ride more traditional bicycles. To do this, researchers measured the weekly time spent exercising at a moderately intense activity level of e-bikers on the MET (metabolic equivalent task) scale and compared this to traditional cyclists. To record minutes in the moderately intense category, on a traditional bike you would need to fall between 3 and 6 METS, or about 5.5–10 miles per hour.
Of the notable results published, researchers found e-bikers, on average, took longer trips by bike, had longer ride time per day, and recorded higher MET minutes per week than those who rode traditional bicycles. In addition to more exercise time, researchers also found many of those who rode e-bikes also owned traditional bikes and commonly used those bikes for shorter trips.
But does this mean you’re getting in the same kind of workout and achieving the many health benefits traditional cyclists enjoy? Here’s what researchers were able to conclude.
“The data suggests that e-bike use leads to substantial increases in physical activity in e-bikers switching from private motorized vehicles and public transport, while net losses in physical activity in e-bikers switching from cycling were much less due to the increase in overall travel distance.”
Because these e-bikers are spending more time pedaling, even when it’s assisted, the gains from both forms of cycling are similar. While this might not be an apt comparison to those hardcore cyclists who ride regularly for three-plus hours at average speeds of 15 miles per hour or greater, the benefits of e-bikes shouldn’t be discounted.
REASONS YOU SHOULD TRY AN E-BIKE
1. E-BIKES GET YOU OUTDOORS
One of the big benefits of e-bikes is the ability to get non-cyclists outdoors and exercising. As most agree, any form of exercise is better than none at all, and since most e-bikes are pedal assist and still require movement, you receive the benefits that come along with upping your weekly exercise time. In fact, this study shows almost any form of exercise outdoors can improve both physiological and psychological well-being, including a reduction in stress, positive behavior changes and improved self-esteem.
2. IT MAKES TRANSITIONING TO OTHER FORMS OF CYCLING MORE LIKELY
If you’re a non-cyclist, you might not have a positive view of the sport. Lycra-clad cyclists racing around the streets is likely one of the first images that comes to mind, and for some people, this can be intimidating and not all that inviting. E-bikes break down some of these barriers, showing non-cyclists among us that cycling can be done by everyone — no matter your age, size or experience level. This helps introduce more people to cycling, and after seeing the value and impact cycling can have on a person’s life, transitioning into the sport becomes easier and more likely.
3. YOU’LL USE YOUR CAR LESS
Because you can travel longer distances with less effort, owning an e-bike makes it more likely you’ll use your car less. This is true for those who already ride traditional bikes too, as it makes commuting to work without getting too sweaty a bit easier and bringing home a few bags of groceries from the store easier to manage. Using your car less also means safer streets with less traffic, so you’ll be doing your part to make a positive impact on the environment.
4. YOU’LL BE MORE LIKELY TO RIDE PLACES YOU MIGHT NOT OTHERWISE
Heading out on a challenging group ride or even attempting to commute to work when you know there’s a ton of climbs you’ll have to tackle can be daunting. An e-bike makes tackling long, challenging rides or hills a bit easier to deal with and can help you gain confidence to ride different routes you might not be willing to try on a traditional bike. This opens up the possibilities of where you can ride and lets you ease into a world of cycling that can be a lot more fun than you previously imagined.
5. E-BIKES CAN STILL GET YOU FIT
Studies like this one, along with the one above, show cycling can have positive health benefits for the cardiovascular system and help you to lose weight. While you will need to cycle more frequently and take longer trips to get the same benefits as a traditional bike, e-bikes are not “cheating” fitness and have shown to be more beneficial than walking for exercise instead. For individuals who are overweight, e-bikes can be a great introductory tool to help get started cycling and gain confidence on the road, eventually leading to more traditional forms of sport cycling.
6. THEY’RE MORE AFFORDABLE THAN THEY USED TO BE
One of the big drawbacks of early e-bikes was the cost. And while there are still plenty of expensive models on the market that include a variety of high-tech features, the overall price of e-bikes has become much more reasonable in recent years. There are plenty of e-bikes that can be purchased for $1,000 or less, with some as low as $600. For more serious road cyclists looking for a little assistance up tough climbs or longer, more challenging group rides, there are more of those options available, too, with a similar price point to most mid-range road bikes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Forget the outdated idea of a motor-assisted bicycle as “cheating,” and consider investing in a beginner model (if you have the means). Even if you’re new to cycling, it could be the start of a fun and beneficial habit!
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.