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July 26, 2020
One of the most frequent comments I hear about Electric Bikes is, “It’s not really exercise though, is it?”. For a lot of people, eBikes are seen as cheating, some people even think that you don’t have to peddle, that e-bikes sort of, woosh you along like a motorbike or moped.
So the question is, are those conclusions true?
‘Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles’ or ‘EPACs’ cannot be driven by a throttle. They must have pedals to propel it and the electric motor can’t assist in propelling it beyond 15.5mph. This means that you must peddle the bike to get assistance and when you go over 15.5mph the motor won’t assist you. On my electric bike I find it quite easy to reach 20mph on the flat, with the first 15.5mph being assisted, if I start to lag and drop below that number, the motor kicks in with a bit of extra help. A lot of ebikes also provide a throttle that gives you initial assistance up to 3mph only.
Electric bikes are also fitted with a central control unit. On some of the more affordable e-bikes this takes the form of an LED display with basic controls, whereas expensive ebikes tend to offer higher quality units, which have full LCD displays and advanced controls. These control units let you configure the level of assistance you want. You can have no assistance and ride the ebike as you would a normal peddle bike, or you can configure the them with varying degrees of assistance. These are also easily changed while riding, so on a flat surface you might turn off assistance altogether and ride free, but get a challenging hill and you can easily increase the assistance a notch or two, to tackle the climb without any extra effort.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s completely up to you how much depend on the assistance when riding. You can ride for hours without any help or rely heavily on the bike all the way, but you must peddle regardless.
Cheating ‘act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage’
Electric bikes do not fall into the definition of cheating. I don’t ride my ebike so I can gain advantage over traditional peddle bike users, I ride it because it’s enjoyable, it’s fun.
There is nothing dishonest or unfair about riding an ebike, it’s actually liberating to ride without feeling like you have to compete with anyone on the road. You’ll typically find that you will ride for longer on an e-bike because you can and that translates into a longer time spent exercising overall.
A lot of people who buy electric bikes use them for commuting, an often necessary, but mundane activity which is transformed when doing it on an e-bike. This is because the ride is no longer daunting. You will get some exercise, but you won’t get exhausted and you aren’t cheating because you’re not gaining an advantage, you’re only gaining some of your time and effort back.
Most of the cheating vitriol comes from traditional peddle bike users who think that riding an electric bike is cheating. This only really makes sense if you’re racing someone without making it clear you’re on an e-bike or entering a race under the guise of a traditional bike. Riders who say you’re cheating might be thinking you’re cheating yourself out of exercising, but as I’ve said above, you still have to peddle, you set the resistance and you’ll find you go out more often. It’s not like sitting in a car or on a motorbike.
Like Heineken, e-bikes reach the parts other bikes cannot reach. They appeal to people who would not necessarily go out on a bike, as well as traditional bike users and people who commute. They offer extra assistance while improving overall fitness and stamina.
Obviously, some of what I’ve talked about above is based on my own opinions about riding electric bikes. Does the science back this up?
Yes, it does actually.
A study funded by the European Commission that looked into the physical activity of electric bike users compared to conventional bike users and non-cyclists concluded that:
The study went on to suggest that e-bikes should be promoted as a healthy and sustainable transport option and that cycling infrastructure should be expanded and/or adapted to accommodate for electric bike usage. It’s a fascinating study if you want to read it, it’s linked here.
Another study aimed to compare conventional mountain bike and eMTB use. The majority of the riders were people who rode on average two times a week on a traditional mountain bike. Results were obtained by riding both a conventional MTB and then an eMTB over a course and comparing the results. They found that when riding an eMTB, participants still placed in the upper half of the vigorous-intensity zone even though they were assisted in doing so. In other words, they still reached 70% to 85% of their maximum heart rate, but the perceived effort when riding the electric mountain bike was lower. So they got some good physical exercise, but they didn’t necessarily feel like they did.
I could go on, but for now I’ll just mention one more study which looked to determine if electric bike usage would improve cardiometabolic risk factors. Cardiometabolic risk basically means your chances of having diabetes, heart disease or stroke. The study took 20 sedentary commuters and monitored them for 4 weeks where they had to commute using an ebike at least 3 days a week for 40 minutes a day. The conclusion was that this helped participants to meet physical activity recommendations with significant improvements in 2-H post OGTT (a test to determine how quickly glucose is cleared from the blood) and power output.
It’s clear to see from the information above that electric bikes need your input, they need you to peddle, it’s not cheating, but a choice and the science backs this up by showing a clear health benefit when using electric bikes.
It’s great to see more people out and about on bikes, whether they’re electric or traditionally powered. The choice is yours, but don’t feel guilty if you find yourself enjoying the assistance you get when riding an ebike, because you’ll know that you will benefit all the same.
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July 12, 2020