E-Bikes Apparently Offer a Better Workout Than We Give Them Credit For

A new study finds surprising similarities between pedal assist and traditional road bikes

electric bikes
Photo by Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to a new study published in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, e-bikes don’t just provide a quicker, more efficient means of transportation — they also offer a worthy workout. While pedal assist does take some effort out of a commute, e-bikes still elevate heart rates, burn calories and push the body to optimize its oxygen consumption.

Researchers at Miami University in Ohio had a group of 30 volunteers (aged 19 to 61), complete a set of controlled, three-mile “faux commutes,” once with a traditional road bike, and twice with an e-bike, set to different degrees of pedal assistance. Analyzing data collected from timers, heart rate monitors and performance face masks, the scientists concluded that riding an e-bike — even at a leisurely pace, on the way to “work” — counts as moderate exercise and is a legitimate option for improving one’s wellness over time.

The study, as The New York Times points out, was small, but this sort of confirmation is arriving at the right time. There’s been an “e-bike boom” ever since the pandemic began — a subset of a larger demand for bikes, which actually led to a shortage in cycling shops across the country. This sort of analysis is especially relevant as A) offices begin to open up again, B) people remain wary of hopping on public transportation, and C) employees game-plan for calorie-burning in a world where they may no longer be able to schedule a run in the middle of the day.

Commuting by e-bike is a great way to keep an expensive quarantine purchase in use, while greeting all those other post-pandemic concerns. To be clear, an e-bike ride isn’t going to burn as many calories as a ride on a normal two-wheeler. (About 30% less, actually — from 422 calories to 344, per hour.) But an e-bike habit will likely burn more, over the course of several months. Past studies have confirmed that e-bike riders use their bikes more frequently.

Why? Well, it gets riders where they need to be quicker (in the Miami study, riders finished their commutes an average of three minutes quicker). It also unlocks routes that may have seemed prohibitive in the past due to steep inclines. But most importantly — it’s flat-out more fun. Mindless, good-vibe exercise breeds consistency, which has excellent long-term health benefits, for both the body and brain. If you’re struggling to get a grip on your fitness this year, e-bike mornings could be a great place to start.

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