I have a friend who loves to cycle and mountain bike. They’re also a bit of a fitness and health fanatic. Most importantly they don’t think E-bikes are up to scratch. Now they’ve had to concede that for some people it’s the better option, but whoever can is better off with more traditional bikes.
I’ve given up trying to change their mind, but the big problem they have? E-bikes just don’t have the same health benefits. And this is something I’ve heard a lot, or read a lot in internet comments anyway. I can understand the assumption- you’re putting in less work so it’s less exercise- the thing is, it’s wrong.
Electric bikes aren’t a way to get from A-B with no exercise. That’s cars. You still exercise when you’re cycling an E-bike, you just have a little extra assistance. Now I’ve given up trying to convince my friend of the health benefits of E-bikes. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up with everyone though. So for anyone unsure of whether E-bikes improve health or not this is for you.
There’s Some Truth To It.
Ok, I’ll start off by saying there is truth to the assumption. Yes, riding an electric bike provides less intense exercise than riding a traditional bike. I admit it. But jogging provides less intense exercise than sprinting, we don’t say jogging is for the exercise adverse.
That is the real point. Less intense exercise is not the same as no exercise. When you take into account the increased distances you can travel on E-bikes then it’s not obvious which is healthier. One study in 2019 put E-bikes on par with traditional bikes in terms of total physical activity amassed.
How Much Exercise Do E-Bikes Provide?
Studies have shown that E-bikes provide at least a moderate amount of exercise to the rider. So while they might provide lower levels of intensity than cycling without assistance it provides higher intensity than walking.
The reverse of being able to cycle further on an E-bike has been brought up about this. One article mentioned “replacing a walk with a shorter ride will be quicker but offer reduced health benefits”. It then went on to correctly point out that E-bikes often replace car trips not walking trips. Which means an increased distance at higher activity levels.
So while I have to concede that there are instances where E-bikes offer less exercise than regular bikes at the same distances. Potentially less than walking over short distances. I also think the studies show there is a net gain in exercise from E-bikes.
What Are The Actual Benefits?
There’s no real surprise here. The thing that E-bikes help with most is your cardiovascular and heart health. E-biking allows for continuous moderate intensity activity over a long period of time. It keeps your blood pumping through your body and improves the efficiency of oxygen transfer. Improving both of these factors mean you can stay active for much longer and will have more energy in your day to day life. Most importantly though it decreases your risk of heart problems.
Just like with traditional bikes E-bikes also help you to lose weight, tone muscle and improve your core strength. How many calories you burn on an E-bike varies depending on things like assistance level. But an hour of average effort has been estimated as 300 calories burnt. Importantly this is also very easy on your joints due to the assistance provided, so while it burns less calories than a high impact exercise like running it takes less of a toll on your body.
When it comes to toning muscle E-bikes function just like traditional ones, activating your muscle groups as you pedal. Similarly because you need to stay balanced your core strength is engaged.
E-bikes Can Be Higher Intensity
I mentioned earlier that my friend is almost right. E-bikes offer a lower intensity exercise than regular cycling. But they don’t have to, you can push yourself harder on an E-bike to get the same level of intensity. You can put in the extra effort to make it more intensive.
That’s something that I think people can miss very easily. E-bikes still need to be pedalled. After all they’re pedal assist not self pedalling. You need to do a minimum amount for that assistance to kick in, but you don’t have to do the minimum amount. Just like with running you can choose to jog, run or sprint. Each one gives you a different level of intensity.
Who Can It Help?
Not everyone’s a health fanatic. Some people are out of shape. For those people it can be hard to get into cycling. If someone finds it too hard to cycle, the assistance offered by E-bikes can be a great motivator. That’s where the big difference comes in for me. If you’re able to cycle for hours anyway then traditional bikes are great but if you can’t you need something more.
27.7% of the English population is currently overweight. There’s multiple reasons for this but one reason is an inability to exercise. Running and cycling can be strenuous. I shared my own problems with cycling in a recent post. E-bikes are a way for people to exercise that usually have trouble with it.
For working parents, or people who work and study or many others, there may not be time to exercise during the day. For them their only chance to exercise is travelling. Their commute is their exercise because they don’t have the time or energy to do it anywhere else. A lot of them wouldn’t have the energy to cycle without assistance either. I’m sure most of the people reading this have been in situations like this. Wouldn’t an E-bike have helped there?
So Are They As Good?
On the whole, yes. E-bikes provide all of the same health benefits as a traditional bike does. The difference is that they are much less strenuous. If you’re already fit or have no health problems that might make it feel like less exercise, but to a lot of people it just makes exercise manageable.
Not everyone will feel the health benefits of E-bikes for that very reason. My friend is very fit, they can already cycle for an hour and feel fine. I can’t. Not without an E-bike anyway. Because of that I was much less fit than I am now. And that has a knock on effect. I can run and cycle a lot easier than I used to because E-bikes made me healthier.
Since E-bikes can more easily replace car journeys it also means people get their exercise on the way to work. Again that’s something that can be done on a traditional bike, but only if you’re fit enough to do it. For some people that’s the only time they have so that exercise becomes very important.
So if you think E-bikes are worse for exercise ask yourself first, is that only true for your circumstances? Because I promise that me and many others have benefited immensely.