It can, if you ride well, according to a new, pragmatic study comparing the physiological effects of e-bikes and standard road bikes on a simulated ride. The study, which involved riders new to electric cycling, found that most could get around faster and with less effort on e-bikes than standard bikes, while still increasing their breathing and heart rate sufficiently. to get a meaningful workout.
But the benefits varied and depended, to some extent, on how people’s bikes were adjusted and how they fit on bikes. The findings are particularly relevant at this time, as pandemic restrictions loosen and offices reopen, and many of us consider options other than crowded trains to get us from our homes to elsewhere.
In America, few of us cycle to work. By most estimates, only about half of 1% of working Americans regularly commute by bicycle, a number that has declined, but not increased, in recent decades. When asked why, most people tell researchers that commuting by bicycle requires too much time, sweating and the risk of an accident. At the same time, however, people are reporting a growing interest in improving their health and reducing their environmental impact by driving less.
In theory, these hopes and concerns could be met or minimized with e-bikes. A tempting technological compromise between a standard bike and a scooter, e-bikes almost look like regular bikes but feature battery-powered electric motors that aid in pedaling, with a light squeeze with each stroke.
With most e-bikes, this assist is low, similar to riding with a placid tailwind, and ceases once you reach a top speed of 20 mph or stop pedaling. The motor will not turn the pedals for you. (Some e-bikes, categorized as Type 2 models, have a throttle and pedal for you, up to 20 mph, and Type 3 e-bikes propel you to a maximum speed of 28 mph. h. Many localities do not allow Type 3 models on cycle lanes. You can read more about e-bike regulations at www.peopleforbikes.org/electric-bikes/policies-and-laws.)
Essentially, e-bikes are designed to make riding less demanding, which means commuters should get to their destinations faster and with less sweat. They can also provide a psychological boost, helping cyclists feel able to tackle hills they might otherwise avoid. But the question of whether cyclists also do e-riding training has been less clear.
For the new study, which was published in March in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, decided to ask inexperienced cyclists to do false journeys. They recruited 30 local men and women, aged 19 to 61, and invited them to the physiology lab to check their physical condition, as well as their current attitudes towards e-bikes and commuting.
Then, they outfitted each volunteer with a standard road bike and an electric bike and asked them to ride each bike at their preferred pace for 3 miles, a distance that scientists considered typical for trips to. cycling in the United States. Cyclists cycled around a flat loop course, once on the road bikes and twice on the e-bike. On one of these rides, their bike was set to a low level of pedal assist, and on the other, the punch was increased until the motor sent over 200 watts of power to the pedals. Throughout, commuters wore timers, heart rate monitors, and face masks to measure their oxygen uptake.
Subsequently, unsurprisingly, scientists found motorized bikes to be fast. On e-bikes, regardless of the level of assistance, riders completed the 3 miles several minutes faster than on the standard bike – 11 or 12 minutes on an e-bike, on average, compared to about 14 minutes on a bike ordinary. They also reported that riding an electric bike was easier. Even so, their heart rate and breathing usually increased enough for these trips to be considered moderate exercise, based on standard physiological benchmarks, scientists decided, and should, over time, contribute to health and fitness. the physical form.
But not all cyclists’ results were consistent or constructive. A few riders’ efforts, especially when using the highest assist setting on e-bikes, were physiologically too light to be considered moderate exercise. Almost everyone also burned around 30% fewer calories on an e-bike than on the road – 344 to 422 calories per hour, on average, on an e-bike, compared to 505 calories per hour on a regular bike – which can be a consideration if anyone is hoping to use the bike to help lose weight.
And several cyclists told researchers they were concerned about the safety and control of e-bikes, although most, after the two rides, said more confidence in their bike handling skills and called electronic journeys, compared to road biking, more fun. .
This study was obviously small-scale and short-term, involving only three short pseudo-journeys.
Still, the results suggest that “riding an electric bicycle, like other forms of active transportation, may be as good for the person doing it as it is for the environment,” said Helaine Alessio, director of the kinesiology department at the ‘University of Miami, who led the new study with colleague Kyle Timmerman and others.
To maximize your potential health benefits, she said, keep the pedal assist level as low as you want.
Also, for safety’s sake, practice riding a new e-bike – or any standard bike – on a low-traffic route until you feel ready and safe with the handling of the bike. .
Wear clear, visible clothing and “choose your commuting route wisely,” Alessio said. “Look for cycle paths and cycle paths as much as possible, even if you have to get a little out of your way.”
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