cycling · fitness

Science says we can get a workout on e-bikes. Duh…

The New York Times, paper of record, reported this week on a new study comparing levels of exertion (perceived and measured on participants using road bikes vs. e-bikes.

tl:dr conclusion from NYT:

The study, which involved riders new to e-cycling, found that most could complete their commutes faster and with less effort on e-bikes than standard bicycles, while elevating their breathing and heart rates enough to get a meaningful workout.

tl:dr conclusion from the study abstract:

The faster times and the lower perceived exertion associated with the e-bike may incentivize active transportation. Further, while the cardiometabolic responses (e.g., HR [heart rate]and V̇O2[roughly, how hard your lungs are working for your body]) were lower for the e-bike, they were indicative of being at or near “moderate intensity,” suggesting that e-bike use may still benefit health-related fitness.

Well, that’s nice. However, digging a little deeper revealed some more interesting points. Here are some takeaways from them and me:


Essentially, e-bikes are designed to make riding less taxing, which means commuters should arrive at their destinations more swiftly and with less sweat. They can also provide a psychological boost, helping riders feel capable of tackling hills they might otherwise avoid. 


Duh. Since we know (from the article and elsewhere) that in in the US, fewer than .5% of commuters ride bikes to work, increasing those numbers by any means necessary is a good thing. E-bikes definitely lower some barriers to bike commuting, which, by the way, needn’t be an all-or-nothing activity. Becoming a fair-weather e-bike/bike commuter or errand-doer is an excellent goal. It all counts.


In the study, participants rode a flat 3-mile course outside three times: once on a road bike, once on a e-bike with low-assist, and once on an e-bike with higher assist.

…the scientists found that the motorized bikes were zippy. On e-bikes, at either assistance level, riders covered the three miles 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 regular bike. They also reported that riding the e-bike felt easier. Even so, their heart rates and respiration generally rose enough for those commutes to qualify as moderate exercise, based on standard physiological benchmarks, the scientists decided, and should, over time, contribute to health and fitness.


Duh. Of course it’s easier to ride an e-bike. And yay, glad to hear they got in a bit of a workout!


But the cyclists’ results were not all uniform or constructive. A few riders’ efforts, especially when they used the higher assistance setting on the e-bikes, were too physiologically mild to count as moderate exercise. Almost everyone also burned about 30 percent fewer calories while e-biking than road riding — 344 to 422 calories per hour, on average, on an e-bike, versus 505 calories per hour on a regular bike.


Who cares? The calorie expenditure difference is minimal, and (in my view) irrelevant. The study was testing comparative exertion, not comparative energy expenditure (aka calories burned). The study concluded that some people found riding the e-bikes really easy on the higher setting. So how about adjust it to the lower setting if you want more of a workout? See? done…


This study, though, was obviously small-scale and short-term, involving only three brief pseudo-commutes. Still, the findings suggest that “riding an e-bike, like other forms of active transport, can be as good for the person doing it as for the environment”.


Duh. And yes, the study’s results make me optimistic that those riding -bikes for longer rides (doing errands or for recreation and exercise and fun) will also find barriers to those activities lowered, so they’ll ride more often and for longer distances. Yay! Did I mention that it all counts? Yes? Well, it’s still true.

One last Them/Me takeaway:


for the sake of safety, practice riding a new e-bike — or any standard bike — on a lightly trafficked route until you feel poised and secure with bike handling. Wear bright, visible clothing, too, and “choose your commuting route wisely,” Dr. Alessio says. “Look for bike paths and bike lanes whenever possible, even if you need to go a little bit out of your way.”


Duh. Obvs. Don’t throw a leg over your new e-bike and rev it up, careening down a heavily-trafficked road. Start off carefully and slowly. But then again, you knew that. Duh.

Readers– are any of you riding e-bikes? How do you like them? What do you use them for? We’d love to hear from you.

5 thoughts on “Science says we can get a workout on e-bikes. Duh…

  1. My Blix Vika+ should be arriving Tuesday! I bought it specifically to commute to campus next year—it’s just over 2 miles away, but atop a good sized hill. I don’t want to be all sweaty when I get there. It’s going to save me $40/month in parking fees! I’m hoping to be able to run more errands by bike, too.

    1. Oh boy! How exciting! Sounds like a great move, with lots of fun included.

      1. I’m excited! It came in last week, but I immediately threw it in the car to drive back to the NE. I hope to get it up & running this week.

  2. I think eBikes are brilliant! Anything that gets more people out of cars and onto bikes has got to be. It’s a shame that the speed limit on eBikes is so much lower over here than un the USA, otherwise I’d add one to the garage for sure. As for a workout, if you fancy sweating a little more, simply switch the assist off!

  3. Great post Catherine. There’s definitely an ebike in my future at some point. I think I’ve said before that if I lived in Vancouver with its hills and its distances between things I’d want one for commuting. Here the terrain is pretty forgiving but big climbs would have me wanting help. Your commuting distances would too!

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