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E-bikers defy ‘lazy’ reputation

If you want to e-bike your way to fitness but the family says you’re cheating, tell them this.

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  • Read Time: 5 mins

Distance cycling has been the preserve of the young, fit, and Lycra-clad. Hit your 60s and the fear of there being nothing between you and the hard road surface takes over from any hope of cycling as a means of keeping fit. 

So, it was with some joy and trepidation that my wife and I cycled from the alps to the ocean in New Zealand. Over six days we explored as we cycled up and down hills, through snow-capped scenery, and into quaint Kiwi towns.  

We had the choice of conventional mountain bike or one of those “new fangled” electric bikes. We chose the latter, and were so glad we did! 

The e-bike is a revelation, enabling the not-so-fit and not-so Lycra-clad to scale hilly country and travel vast distances. 

Since their introduction in the 1990s, e-bikes have undergone a technological transformation. Enhanced battery technology has made them lighter and more durable, and pedal-assist technology has changed the way we ride. 

E-bikes have ushered in a revolution in how we explore, exercise, and commute. 

But did we exercise to our full capacity? 

It’s one of the continuing criticisms of e-bikes and e-bike riders, usually by conventional bikers, that somehow e-bikes are a cheat’s way to cycle and achieve fitness. 

Traditionalists argue that e-bikes provide an unfair advantage, allowing riders to effortlessly conquer terrain that would otherwise be challenging on a conventional bike. But is there any truth to this assertion? 

And, as if to layer on the guilt, they say e-bikers are kidding themselves believing they can pedal their way to physical fitness on anything other than a leg-powered machine. 

Well, guess what! Researchers have found electric bikes are among the most low-impact and senior-friendly modes of exercise. 

While the small motor helps take the edge off obstacles such as hills that may have kept some seniors off traditional pedal bikes in the past, they still require enough physical effort to make for a workout. 

They’ve also been proven to help maintain cognitive and mental health among older riders. The light assist from an e-bike, according to one study, can inspire confidence and improve self-esteem in older people who may feel limited by mobility issues. 

What’s more, another study compared the workout intensity of e-mountain bikes with conventional mountain bikes. The study involved 33 amateur cyclists riding a 10-kilometre loop with elevation gain, first on e-mountain bikes and then on conventional bikes. 

The Bringham Young University study found that both types of bikes provided essentially the same level of workout, with riders reaching the upper half of the vigorous intensity zone for target heart rate on both e-bikes and conventional bicycles. 

And, perhaps more surprising (and promising), the study revealed that participants didn’t feel riding the e-bikes was physically taxing, even though they were exercising at the same physical intensity.  

And the average heart rate on an e-mountain bike was 94% of the average heart rate for a conventional mountain bike. 

“Many of us have these perceived barriers about exercise, that it is hard and painful and all we can remember are bad memories from our 8th-grade gym class,” said Cougar Hall, lead author on the study. 

He concluded the study could be a critical catalyst for people who struggle to exercise. The participants got cardiovascular results but didn’t really feel like they were working out. 

The study also supports previous research that found e-bikes (not e-mountain bikes) are capable of providing much of the cardiovascular health benefits that conventional bikes provide. 

Related reading: BYU, Escape Bicycle, Electric Biker Report 


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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