Whenever we write about e-bikes, we get a pile of comments like:
“Or you could just ride a regular bike. I'm all for e-bikes for those with physical disabilities or elderly folks. But if you're able, save a little bigger piece of the environment and use your human power.”
I think it is fair to say that everyone would agree with that position, that it is better to use a regular bike. However there are places where e-bikes have a real role to play; in cities like Seattle with lots of hills; for people who have really long commutes; or possibly, for people who are pretty sedentary and would have trouble switching from a car to a bike for commuting to work.
A new study from the University of Colorado Boulder looked at a group of car commuters, testing them for blood glucose and general fitness. They then put them on pedelecs, or electric bikes which don’t have throttles, but give a boost while pedalling. These make it much easier to do longer distances or deal with hills, but you still have to pedal for it to move. The twenty participants rode the pedelecs at least 40 minutes three times per week, while wired up with heart monitors and GPS.
After a month, the volunteers came back to the lab and had their health tested again. The researchers noticed improvements in the riders’ cardiovascular health, including increased aerobic capacity and improved blood sugar control.
“Commuting with a pedelec can help individuals incorporate physical activity into their day without requiring them to set aside time specifically for exercise,” said James Peterman, a graduate researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology at CU Boulder and lead author of the new study.
There is no question that pedelecs and e-bikes are less exercise, cost more money and there is a real concern that they are more dangerous than conventional bikes. But let’s stop bashing them; for some people, some cities and some commutes, they are a really useful alternative for getting people out of cars and as this study shows, getting them healthier and fitter.
UPDATE: Pete at Electric Bike Reports points to a post on their site where a fit and accomplished cyclist named Adam Alter (no relation, familial or body type) does a 40 mile commute on an electric bike and tested the energy and effort used in comparison to a road bike.
“I basically had the same intensity regardless of the bike I was on, as reflected in my heart rate average and max nearly matching perfectly.” Simply put, he could ride the eBike as hard as he wished.