Is riding an e-bike good exercise or just a convenient form of transportation?

Does riding an electric bike to work count as exercise, and not just transportation?

It can, if you ride well, according to a pragmatist new study compare 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 complete their trips 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 fit 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.

Few people cycle to work. When asked why, many tell researchers that commuting by bicycle requires too much time, sweating and the risk of accidents. 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 autonomous bike and a scooter, e-bikes almost look like regular bikes, but feature battery-powered electric motors that help pedal, increasing slightly with each stroke.

Tail wind

With most e-bikes, this assist is small, similar to riding with a calm tail wind, and stops once you reach a top speed of around 30 km / h or stop pedaling. The motor will not turn the pedals for you.

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 riders feel able to tackle hills they might otherwise avoid. But the question of whether they also perform an e-riding training session has been less clear.

So 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 make false journeys. To do this, 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 bikes. home-work travel.

Then, they fitted each volunteer with a standard road bike and an electric bike and asked them to ride each bike at their preferred pace for about 5 km. 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 5 km several minutes faster than on the standard bike – about 11 or 12 minutes on an e-bike, on average, compared to about 14 minutes on a ordinary bicycle. 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. The efforts of a few riders, especially when using the highest assist setting on e-bikes, were too physiologically light to be considered moderate exercise. Almost everyone also burned around 30% less calories on an electric bike than on a road bike – 344 to 422 calories on average on an electric bike versus 505 calories on a regular bike – which may be a consideration if anyone. ‘one hopes to use the bike. move around 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 found e-commuting, compared to road biking, to be more fun.

On a small scale

This study, however, 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,” says Helaine Alessio, director of the Kinesiology department at the University of Miami, who led the new study with colleague Kyle Timmerman and others.

But to maximize your potential health benefits, she says, keep the pedal assist level as low as you want. Also, for safety’s sake, practice riding a new electric bike – or any standard bike – on a route with little traffic until you feel ready and safe with the handling of the bike.

Also wear bright, visible clothing and “choose your travel route wisely,” says Dr Alessio. “Look for cycle paths and cycle paths as much as possible, even if you have to get a little out of your way.” – New York Times

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