Electric bicycles have come a long way in the last decade from rarely-seen oddities to skyrocketing sales. It’s hard to argue against the obvious transportation advantages of e-bikes; they simply help people arrive at their destinations quicker and without as much sweat.
But that same reduction in pedal pain also leads to a nagging criticism that e-bike riders sometimes find hard to shake: the misconception that electric bicycles don’t offer a good workout.
That may have some base in truth for North American e-bikes operated only in throttle mode (sorry Europeans, no fun for you!).
But when it comes to e-bikes used in pedal assist modes that require users to provide their own muscle power before any motor assist kicks in, the proof is in the pudding. And the pedaling.
There has been plenty of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of e-bike exercise, such as riders loosing over 100 lb (45 kg) thanks to their e-bikes.
But hard data that extrapolates across a wider range of riders usually tells a more complete story.
San Diego-based electric bicycle company Juiced Bikes recently set out to set the record straight about pedal-assist e-bikes and their fitness benefits.
The Juiced team took the company’s most recent model, the RipCurrent S ST, and used a fitness monitor to test how many calories a rider burned during a bike trip.
The bike sports fat tires that would normally be arduous to pedal without any assist, but become perfectly manageable on an e-bike with several levels of pedal assist.
The testing included a 45 minute ride on hilly terrain performed entirely in Level 2 pedal assist. With five total levels of pedal assist, Level 2 keeps riders on the higher effort end of the spectrum. Level 1 is usually reserved for fit riders seeking a serious workout, while Level 5 makes it easy to zip along quickly with minimal effort.
The end results were 498 calories burned for a rate of 664 calories per hour. According to a handy chart I found, that rate is roughly equivalent to activities like playing basketball, a firefighter hauling hoses, or a rousing game of ultimate frisbee.
As Juiced explained:
“At the end of the ride a total of 498 calories were burned with an average heart rate of 106 beats per minute. These statistics are pretty encouraging for those looking to add some physical activity to their routines.”
These results should come as a surprise to just about no one. We’ve seen plenty of examples of real world testing indicating that electric bicycles operated using pedal assist can provide a caloric burn rate equivalent to several common types of exercises.
Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes ran an interesting real world test with riders of various sizes using different styles of e-bikes on different levels of pedal assist. The results were intriguing because they gave insight to a wider range of riders and riding scenarios.
An academic study on e-bikes performed earlier this year by Miami University concluded that while riders engage in higher intensity exercise when using a non-electric bike, the amount of exertion on electric bikes still provides the moderate intensity exercise level that is recommended to avoid or reduce the risk of serious health conditions.
And while this might sound counterintuitive, some studies have actually found that electric bicycle riders get more exercise than pedal bike riders in the long term. This is usually because such studies have found that e-bike riders spend much longer periods riding and do so more frequently than pedal bike riders. Despite pedal bike riders burning more calories per ride, electric bike riders burn more calories total and get more exercise due to spending more time engaging in the sport.
I’ve certainly found that to be the case on my own rides. And even when I enjoy riding my higher power e-bikes, I can still get in a great workout. A 1,500W electric bicycle might sound like a dirt bike, but it certainly gets my heart racing (literally).
The fitness and weight loss argument is just one of many advantages of electric bikes. The list of e-bike benefits is long, but getting healthy while having fun is definitely a chart topper.
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