A common misconception about electric bikes is that riding one will make you lazy and is essentially cheating when it comes to exercising. So, I’ve considered my own riding experience and have taken a look at the research out there to determine whether you can get any exercise on an e-bike.
Because a rider has to pedal in order to activate the electric motor, riding an electric bike is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. E-biker riders can get more or less exercise depending on how much they ride and how they ride. Moreover, certain riding habits directly affect the exercise benefits of e-biking.
In fact, a recent study confirmed that the average heart rate increases during e-biking use to 94% of the average heart rate. So, you can definitely get your heart rate up.
Still, there are a lot of things that affect how much exercise you get from riding and the quality of it. Keep reading and I’ll help you get the greatest health benefits by riding an electric bike.
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How to Get Exercise on an E-Bike
The first thing to understand in order to get the most exercise is that electric bikes are meant to provide electric assistance. And this assistance is only given when you are actually pedaling, as this is when the motor senses it is time to work.
Most e-bikes have multiple levels of “pedal-assist” which lets the rider decide how much help they want from the motor at any given time.
In other words, you have to pedal to make e-bikes go. Thus, you’ll burn calories while pedaling using electric assistance, just as you would riding a traditional bike.
So what it comes down to is this: You’ll get exercise by riding an e-bike, but you can increase your effort to get more quality exercise by following these tips to improve cardiorespiratory fitness.
Riding Habits: Tips That’ll Improve the Quality of E-Bike Exercise
Naturally, when you ride longer, you’ll get more exercise. So creating good riding habits, just as you would with conventional bikes, will help you improve the amount and quality of exercise that you’ll get.
Here are some tips to improve your e-bike riding habits:
- Keep your pedal assist level on the lowest level (0 or 1) for as long as you can, whenever you can. Increase it one level at a time as needed.
- Don’t rely on the throttle, if you have one, to keep you moving. Use it when you need to move forward quickly (like out of the way of a car) or need a boost to get started up a steep hill. Just don’t use it to avoid pedaling entirely!
- Ride to work, high school or college. Because an e-bike can get you where you need to go easier than a standard road bike, you can get consistent exercise by riding every day on your commute. But what’s nice is that you won’t have to end up tired-out or sweaty when you get there.
- Pick up groceries or run errands. Just put a little rack or basket on the front or back of your e-bike or carry a backpack to put your groceries in (and don’t forget to lock up your bike while shopping).
- Ride up hills. Riding hills provide a fantastic form of exercise because they require greater sustained effort to get up them. And with an e-bike, there’s no reason not to try going up even steep hills. You can make it as pleasant or as hard as you’d like. And as long as your pedaling, you’re getting exercise.
Here’s how I tackle a hill: Start on your lowest pedal assist level and challenge yourself to pedal as long as you can without extra help. Then add more assistance by increasing your pedal-assist level little-by-little.
I also find that setting my gears to 3 or 4 on a steep hill helps me get more exercise because I don’t need to increase pedal assist as quickly.
- Make riding a daily habit. Start your day off with a ride around your neighborhood. This will get your blood flowing and increase your heart rate, giving you a burst of cardiovascular exercise. And, as a bonus, it can help you focus and increase your productivity for the day.
How E-Bikes Can Get You More Exercise Than on a Normal Bike
With all of the fuss about e-bikes making you lazy or not providing “real” exercise, it’s actually possible to get more exercise each week when you ride a fun electric bike instead of a conventional bike.
The truth is that, because an e-bike makes pedaling easy, you’re much more likely to ride it in the first place. And, you’ll ride it further because you know you can handle it and that you’ll be able to get back home using greater motor assistance if you need it.
In turn, your motivation to ride is likely to increase even more. Therefore, you’ll ride more, burn more calories, and get more exercise.
If you have to ride up hills just to get in or out of your neighborhood, then there’s a good chance you’ll avoid bike riding entirely (like my husband and I did before we got our e-bikes).
But when you know that you can easily ride up a hill while still warming up your muscles and then easily get back up a hill to get home even though you’re tired, you’ll get on that e-bike way more often! And using the riding habit tips mentioned above, you’ll get exercise consistently and get fit on your e-bike.
Exercise Benefits for Seniors and Physically-Impaired
E-bike riding can provide great exercise for everyone. And that becomes even more clear when you consider how it can help seniors and the physically impaired.
Unfortunately, many seniors have limitations when it comes to exercise. Walking or riding a conventional bike could be a problem for many reasons, including lack of strength, an injury, getting tired easily, or a chronic illness.
But, as long as they have no problem with balancing on and riding a bike, an electric bike will help seniors get the motor assistance they need to get where they want to go.
They can e-bike to their friend’s house, the recreation center, the store, or even the doctor’s office. These are places that might be too far to walk or take too long to walk to. And if a senior is no longer driving, riding an e-bike is a great alternative.
So, not only can an e-bike give senior e-bike riders the freedom of mobility that they otherwise wouldn’t have, they can get the benefits of exercise along with it.
All of this is true for anyone who has physical limitations that would still allow them to ride an e-bike, no matter their age.
With the assistance of the motor, they can get where they need to go, get a good workout, and get proper cardiovascular exercise.
More Research on E-Bike Exercise
Many people have wondered what the downside is to riding an electric bike versus a traditional one. And “exercise” is often brought up.
However, a 2020 study in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health used a real-world setting and let the participants decide how and when to ride their e-bikes for a two-week period. The results suggest that riding an e-bike is a “suitable” way to promote physical activity in otherwise healthy adults.
Another study in JMIR Publications compared exercise response in e-bikers, among other things. Although participants perceived their exertion while riding an electric mountain bike to be low, the results showed that most of them fell into the “vigorous-intensity heart rate zone”. Therefore, riding an e-bike was an intense form of physical, aerobic exercise for even experienced, athletic mountain bikers.
Additional research shows that e-bike riders take longer trips as compared to people on standard bicycles. Thus, even if the exercise isn’t as intense, e-bike users ride farther and for longer periods of time, providing them physical exertion for longer as well.
One more study discovered that when people rode e-bikes, cars were used much less frequently. And, naturally, riding an e-bike will increase your exercise time substantially over sitting in a car.
E-Biking for Exercise Conclusion
When you ride an electric bike, you are getting effective exercise. No matter whether your goals are to burn fat, increase cardiorespiratory fitness, reduce blood pressure, or achieve weight loss, e-bike riders can get moderate-intensity exercise and reach desired fitness levels.
Riding an e-bike just makes exercise a bit easier and even more enjoyable than brisk walking.
E-bike riders can get moderate exercise on an e-bike with less effort and less physical fatigue. If you’re not feeling like you’re getting enough energy expenditure, just decrease motor assistance and use your entire body to tackle hills, or simply ride more often to the places you want to go.