Electric bicycles, often known simply as e-bikes, have become incredibly popular in recent years. Proven to make cycling much more accessible, e-bikes are a powerful way for riders of any and all fitness levels to tap into the health benefits of cycling.
A Quick Introduction to E-Bikes
Virtually any type of bicycle—road bike, mountain bike, all-purpose bike, and everything in between—can be an electric bike. E-bikes are defined by the use of a lightweight, high-efficiency electric motor, which provides varying degrees of pedaling assistance.
There are three main types of e-bikes, each defined by the way the motor works:
- Pedal-Assist e-bikes, also known as “pedelecs,” use a pedal assist system that automat- ically turns on whenever you pedal. Some pedal-assist bikes provide steady and continuous assistance the entire time the pedals are moving, and others use sensors to adjust torque, giving riders more assistance on uphills and less assistance on downhills and level ground.
- Throttle-Only electric bikes put riders in full control of the motor. Generally, these e-bikes do not include an automatic pedal assist system. Instead, riders use a throttle to turn the motor on and off, and to control how much assistance the motor provides.
- Combination or Power-on-Demand e-bikes are essentially a combination of pedal-assist and throttle-only. They typically include an automatic pedal assist system, but you can also control it using a throttle. As a result, you decide whether or not the motor kicks in automatically and how much power the motor provides. You can also choose to ride in pedal-only or motor-only modes
Removing Barriers to Pedaling
Since hitting the cycling scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, e-bikes have exploded in popularity. There are now more than 200 million e-bikes being pedaled around the world.
One of the biggest reasons electric bicycles have become so popular is that they help riders overcome many of the biggest barriers to cycling, including hilly and difficult terrain, distance, concerns about getting too sweaty or dirty while riding, speed, poor physical fitness, joint pain, and many others. By providing a way to overcome these barriers, e-bikes have proven to empower more people than ever before to begin cycling and to spend more time cycling.
Health and Fitness Benefits of E-Bikes
At first glance, it’s easy to assume that because e-bikes use motors, they don’t give you as much exercise as a regular bicycle. However, researchers have found that e-bikes end up producing nearly the same health and fitness benefits as conventional bicycles. And for many riders—especially those for whom regular bikes are inaccessible—electric bikes can often be more effective than regular bikes.
Here’s what some of the most recent data shows:
- A 2016 study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that after just four weeks of commuting with an e-bike, cyclists showed marked improvements in aerobic fitness, blood sugar control, and fat mass.
- In 2017, researchers in Norway found that people’s lifestyles became 8.5 times more active when they begin riding an electric bicycle. And people who ride e-bikes ended up being nearly as active as people who ride conventional bicycles—a finding that helps dispel the assumption that e-bikes aren’t as effective as conventional bikes.
- A study published in 2018 by researchers at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, found that riding an e-bike produced significant improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, regardless of the rider’s current fitness level. Lead researcher Arno Schmidt-Trucksäss summarized the findings: “Those who use e-bikes on a regular basis benefit perma- nently, not only in terms of their fitness, but also in terms of other factors such as blood pressure, fat metabolism, and their mental well-being.”
- Another study published in 2018 found that e-cycling “could increase fitness” and that riding an e-bike “elicited a heart rate” high enough to become beneficial to people with diabetes, leading researchers to conclude that “electric bicycles have potential as a health-improving intervention in people with Type 2 diabetes.”
- And finally, in 2018, a group of researchers completed a detailed review of 17 published studies related to e-bikes. They concluded that e-bikes provide a number of health benefits, including “physical activity of at least moderate intensity” and improved “cardiorespiratory fitness in physically inactive individuals.” They also found that “e-cycling can contribute to meeting physical activity recommendations and increasing physical fitness.” Ultimately, researchers concluded that e-bikes are an effective “alter- native to conventional cycling,” especially since electric bicycles are significantly more accessible to a wider range of individuals than non-motorized bicycles.
In the end, the real power of electric bicycles is their versatility and accessibility. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist, a brand new rider, or somewhere in between, e-bikes make it easier to get in the saddle and stay there longer. And ultimately, this gives everyone more options and new possibilities—especially when it comes to improving health and fitness.