Saturday, October 1, 2022

How to Get Fit on an E-Bike: Essential Guide to Fitness and Health Benefits

Is riding an electric bike cheating? You might be wondering whether you can get fit, stay fit, and feel healthy by riding e-bikes. After all, riding a bike with a motor certainly makes it easier, right?

Research suggests that you can get fit on an e-bike by riding regularly. Studies indicate that you can increase cardiovascular exercise, improve cognitive function, get better sleep, and build muscle while losing fat. Further, people ride their e-bikes farther and more often than they would on a regular bike.

In this article, I’ll show you the research that supports how riders can get fit and healthy on e-bikes, help you understand the benefits of getting a good workout on electric bikes, and give you ideas on how to improve fitness by riding your e-bike.

Do E-Bikes Improve Fitness? (The Research)

With some of the recent research being done surrounding pedal assisted bikes, it’s much easier than it used to be to answer “yes” to this question.

According to recent research studies, your physical health, mental health, and overall fitness can increase by riding your e-bike regularly. Riding electric bikes has been shown to increase aerobic capacity and blood sugar control, improve cognitive function, provide mental benefits, and lower the risk for heart disease and cancer.

One study at the University of Colorado Boulder specifically looked at physically inactive, car commuters to see whether pedelecs (e-bikes) could help them meet their daily recommended fitness goals.

After one month of substituting their car commute for riding an electric bike 3 times per week, for a minimum of 40 minutes, at their own chosen speed and level of intensity, researchers noted “increased aerobic capacity and improved blood sugar control”.

Similarly, a research article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity studied the health benefits of electric bike riding. What they discovered is that electric bikes offer moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. It’s higher than walking but lower than riding a traditional non electric bicycle. Further, they found “moderate” evidence that e-bike riding can increase cardiorespiratory fitness in previously inactive people.

A long-term study in the UK of over 264,000 people, and published in the British Medical Journal, found a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer in people who commuted by cycling (which includes riding e-bikes). Dr. Gill comments:

“Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes. Those who cycled the full length of their commute had an over 40 percent lower risk of heart disease, cancer and overall mortality over the five years of follow-up.”

Dr. Jason Gill, Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences

Another study in PLOS ONE journals reports that, after 8 weeks of cycling, either on a regular bike or an e-bike, older adults ages 50-83, improved in executive cognitive function. E-bikes also improved riders processing speed and their mental health score, as compared to non-cyclists. Even more notable is that e-bike riding may provide even greater mental benefits than traditional cycling just due to being in an outdoor environment.

Finally, The UMPC Health Beat reports a study published in the Circulation journal that found that cyclists who rode regularly had around 15% fewer heart attacks than those who didn’t bicycle.

In conclusion, when we’re talking about improving fitness by riding electric bikes, the research suggests that you can most definitely get fitter, stay healthier, and feel better, both mentally and physically.

Man riding electric bike on paved road
Marc’s daily ride on his RadMini Rad Power Bikes!

Why You Should Get Fit On an Electric Bike

The number one reason you should use an e-bike to get fit is that it makes exercise fun and, therefore, you’re more likely to exercise in the first place. The number two reason you should use your electric bike for fitness is that it’s more accessible regardless of physical ability.

It’s easier to get daily exercise because you can work out as hard as you want or increase motor assistance when you’re tired.

Exercise is more fun on pedal assisted bikes

Just try to find someone that doesn’t think riding electric bikes is fun. I’ve never met anyone. However, you can probably find plenty of people who’ll tell you that they don’t like to ride electric bikes. But this is likely due to the fact that they’ve only had the opportunity to ride a conventional bike (not e-bikes) and found it difficult.

The truth is that having a motor to assist your pedaling makes riding easier, faster, and therefore, more fun:

  • You can ride uphill on e-bikes without feeling as though you’ll pass out or overworking your leg muscles
  • You can ride your e-bike to college without breaking a sweat (well, maybe) and still get exercise
  • And you can get to the store without worrying that you’ll be too tired to ride back home
  • You can even ride electric mountain bikes if you’re going for off-road adventure

You are more likely to exercise regularly on e-bikes

Because riding an e-bike is more fun than many other types of exercise, your motivation to hop on it and ride is more likely. In turn, more people will have a better chance of exercising several times per week on their e-bikes… if not daily! I’ll cite a few different research studies later on in this article that confirm this.

Electric bikes are accessible to all

The second reason to use an e-bike for fitness and improving your overall health is that it’s very attainable. That is, a majority of people can ride electric bikes even if they have a disability, injury, or are just more challenged due to age (check out electric trikes).

Because you can use as much pedal assistance as needed, you can ease up on pedaling whenever you need to. And if you already have an injury, many electric bikes will give you a throttle to move the bike forward without pedaling.

Find out why e-bikes are good for seniors!

And there are even electric trikes that remove the need for balance… the three wheels keep you grounded.

Did you know that you can ride an electric bike and improve your fitness, even if you’re obese or substantially overweight? Not only are many e-bikes made with stronger, larger frames, but there are also ones that will hold up to 550 lbs (body weight and cargo included). So, almost anyone can find electric bikes perfect for them.

Even better, you can use an electric bike to remove physical and psychological barriers and get a moderate workout without putting excessive strain on your joints and the rest of your body.

What Are the Benefits of Getting Fit on an E-Bike?

Many of the benefits of riding an e-bike for fitness are the same as when riding a traditional bike (or mountain bike) and include improved mental health, increased cardiovascular health, a lowered risk of serious diseases, and less joint impact.

Additionally, all the many benefits of getting fit on an electric bike include increased time riding and going longer distances because of motor assistance.

Additional Research

The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) conducted a survey of e-bike owners as a follow-up to a study at Portland State University. This study found that electric bikes are helping users ride more often, to more distant locations, and to carry more cargo with them (you can even take a pet). The study showed that people with physical limitations, or who were too far from where they needed to go, were able to ride e-bikes because of the electric assistance.

The NITC survey confirmed the findings that riding an electric bike generated more and longer trips.

Additionally, Science Direct describes one study of 10,000 participants comparing the physical activity of e-bike riders to traditional bike riders and non-cyclists. They also discovered that e-bike riders go on longer trips than do regular cyclists. Further, there wasn’t a measurable difference in the increase in physical activity between both e-bikers and regular cyclists (meaning that e-cyclists didn’t get significantly less physical activity than regular bike riders).

What these studies suggest is that, if you’re not one to exercise regularly or consistently, then you are much more likely to get fit on an e-bike than on a regular bike.

Other surprising benefits of getting fit on an electric bike include improved mental health, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, increased mobility, and strength, as well as weight loss.

Additionally, the UMPC Health Beat, cited earlier, reports multiple health benefits of regular cycling, whether it’s on an e-bike or standard bike, including:

  • Improved cardiovascular systems
  • Increased flexibility and muscle strength
  • Improved mobility in knee joints
  • Mood improvement
  • Posture and coordination improvement
  • Decreased percentage of body fat
  • Disease management and prevention
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Lowered dementia risk

Let’s discuss the health benefits of e-bike fitness in more detail.

Mental health benefits

Taking your electric bike for a ride is great for your mental health as well as physical health! First off, exercise, in general, is proven to enhance your mood and cognitive functions as well as decrease depression and anxiety (and electric bikes are just fun!).

Woman enjoying fresh air and clearing her mind after a bike ride

The act of cycling pumps blood faster through your body and helps your endorphins, like serotonin and dopamine, to spread rapidly throughout your body. Further, studies have shown that riding e-bikes can reduce stress hormones, which in conjunction with the increase in serotonin, can help you sleep better and further improve your mood.

Not to mention that the thrill of riding an electric bike at faster speeds than a standard bike makes riding more fun than your other daily activities, thus improving your mood!

A study from the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that the frequency of exercise should be the focus of improving mental health, rather than the intensity of it. So, riding your electric bike daily, even if it’s for a short time, can make you feel better.

For additional reading, there’s an article in The Guardian by a man who used cycling to battle his depression and anxiety.

Lower rates of cardiovascular disease

Cycling regularly can help decrease cardiovascular problems like heart disease and cancer. It’s a great way to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight, help your body receive more oxygen, regulate blood flow, and strengthen your stamina, all of which help you to have a healthier heart. 

Refer to the studies mentioned above for more details.

Increased mobility and muscle strength

Riding a bike can mobilize joints and strengthen your muscles. But the great thing about riding an electric bike is that you can get fitter gradually, over a period of time, without risking injury. Using electric motor power allows for starting your e-bike ride without a lot of resistance and slowly increasing that resistance as you decrease the amount of electric assistance you’re receiving.

You get warmed up more carefully and don’t need to struggle to get started. Having the ability to gradually warm-up, as well as cool down, will keep your joints and muscles in good shape while helping you to stay mobile on and off your e-bike.

Minimal joint stress

E-biking is a low-impact exercise, so it’s softer on your joints and less prone to giving you sprains or injuries than running and other high-impact types of exercise. This is extremely beneficial if you haven’t done much exercise previously or you are obese, injured, or elderly.

Specifically, cycling is gentle on your knees, ankles, hips, and back. Further, low-impact exercises, like riding e-bikes, help you warm up not only your joints more carefully but also the rest of your body.

Weight Loss

Can you lose weight on an electric bike?

Riding an e-bike is also an efficient and healthy way to experience weight loss, all while gaining weight in muscle mass. Riding any type of bike requires exertion from your whole body, from arms to legs to abdomen, so doing it regularly is a well-rounded way to lose weight and gain muscle.

Further, thanks to an e-bike’s electric pedal assist, it’ll be easier to ride for longer and get more physical activity than you would otherwise, potentially leading to even more lost weight.

However, to burn fat while cycling, you need to get your heart rate up to about 70% of your maximum. To determine how high it should be to burn fat, you can subtract your age from 220. So, if you’re 50, then your max heart rate would be 170. Then, to burn fat, it needs to be at 70 percent of 170, or 119. Thus your heart must beat 119 times per minute in order to burn fat.

For weight loss, you’ll likely need to use a lower assistance level to make you somewhat breathless and unable to easily maintain a conversation. Riding for fitness on electric mountain bikes up in the hills is a perfect example.

How to Get Fit on an E-Bike

So, how do you get fit on an e-bike? Make a fitness plan. Like many workouts, it’s entirely up to you how much electric bikes exercise you want to get. However, with an electric bike, you have a great deal more control over your expenditure than on a conventional bike.

To get fit on your e-bike you should:

  • Determine the level of workout you want
  • Choose the muscle groups you want to exercise most
  • Find a suitable training location
  • Decide how long you’ll ride and how far you’ll go
  • Schedule your ride times for the week
  • Don’t forget to stretch

I suggest that you keep a weekly workout log with these details to ensure that you’re maximizing the time spent on your e-bike to get fit. And make sure to download a couple of the best free fitness apps for e-bikes that I’ve compiled for you below.

Man riding e-bike for fitness

Determine the level of workout you want

Your overall level of fitness achieved by riding an e-bike will be largely determined by your effort and how much energy you expend. If you choose to increase electrical assistance level whenever riding gets a little challenging, you won’t get as much exercise as riding until you’re breathless or your muscles start to burn.

That being said, you should start slowly.

The great thing about e-bikes though, is that you can easily switch from riding hard to riding easy and vice versa. So, there’s no reason to avoid a challenge, burn more calories, and get fitter. You can always reduce your effort when you get tired. In fact, using intervals of hard and easy on a pedal assisted bike is a great way to start building your cycling workout and stay motivated to continue.

Like any type of exercise, you should start pedaling slowly to warm up so that you don’t over-stress your muscles. Then, gradually increase the intensity until you have reached your maximum heart rate. Stay riding in that zone as long as you are comfortable, preferably for 15-20 minutes.

What muscle groups do you want to challenge?

In general, riding electric bikes will focus your workout on your core muscles (pelvic floor, abdomen, obliques, diaphragm, etc.), legs (hamstrings, quads, shins, calves), and buttocks (glutes). You won’t be working out your arms, chest, or most of your back.

Leg muscles used riding a bike.
Image courtesy of TrainingPeaks.com

To build core muscles while riding e-bikes, you essentially need to work them harder than they’re used to and then give them a chance to rebuild and become even stronger. So, after working out any muscle group significantly, you need to give it the next day off to rest.

Planning out your riding days ahead of time will maximize your workout effort and ensure that you’re not overworking any one muscle group… or neglecting others (for help, see the Beginner E-Cycling Fitness plan below).

For instance, if you ride steep hills with as little motor assistance as possible one day, you’ll want to give your leg muscles a rest the next day by focusing on other muscle groups to exercise instead. This could be an entirely different exercise, such as swimming, yoga, or upper body weight lifting. Or it could just mean taking an easy, casual e-bike ride on a flat road.

If you have an injury or certain muscles are weak, then you’ll want to be careful to not overwork those areas. You might want to ride in lower gears and/or switch your pedal assist mode to a higher output so that you can still ride but not overexert those muscles. Make sure to find a suitable bike training location.

Training location: where to ride

What kind of roads and elevations will you ride on an electric bike?

If you have access to steep climbs, it’s a good idea to alternate riding on flat land with riding uphill. And because you’re on an e-bike, you can do this even if you’re new to fitness or new to working out on electric bikes. If you were riding a non-electric bike, you might not make it up a hill to begin with.

If you don’t have hills in your area, then you’ll simply switch between higher and lower gears and electric power assistance levels to alternate the resistance and therefore the intensity of your workout.

Don’t neglect to learn how to shift the gears for the best ride!

How long and how far will you ride on your electric bike?

As the research discussed earlier indicated, you’re likely to exercise longer and go farther on an electric bike than on a non electric bike. And e-bikes certainly make it easier and more fun to do this.

So, for starters, don’t underestimate how far you will go. After a few rides, you’ll get an idea of how long you can ride and what kind of physical exertion you desire. Then, you should increase the amount of riding each week. It’s okay to start slow… just map out your ride beforehand and use your e-bike’s controller display or an app to measure your distance.

Schedule your ride times for the week

Finally, determine how often you’ll ride every week and plan out the times and days of the week. Without a plan, you’ll be surprised how fast the days disappear… and fitting in regular workouts will be less likely.

Stretch before and after each ride

Always do a proper warm up and cool down after each ride to ensure that riding your bike isn’t overstressing any muscles, joints, or ligaments.

Don’t have an electric bike yet? Check out the electric bikes buying guide!

Beginner E-Bike Workout Plan

If you’re new to exercising or are a beginner e-bike rider, follow this guide to get started (get your comfortable padded bike shorts ready). Once you’re confident and comfortable on your bike, you may wish to modify it. However, you can easily follow this plan for 4-6 weeks. Then re-evaluate your fitness and goals.

LEVEL OF WORKOUTGOALLOCATION/ELEVATIONMINUTES
SUNDAYEasyRelaxed/funFlat Road15
MONDAYModerateIncrease stamina/
Build muscle
Flat + 6% incline hill15-20
TUESDAYBreak
WEDNESDAYModerateIncrease heart rate/
Build muscle
6-10% incline hills/low motor assist15-20
THURSDAYBreak
FRIDAYModerateAchieve maximum heart rate6-10% incline hills/low motor assist15-20
SATURDAYBreak
*Complete 5-10 minutes of a good warm-up ride beforehand and enjoy a casual ride of 20 minutes after meeting your goal.

Best free apps for e-biking health and fitness

Your e-bikes fitness plan will be more successful if you measure your stats and continue to improve on them. So, find a cycling fitness app that works with your phone and use it to further develop your fitness plan, as well as to stay on track.

Keep your goals in mind, whether they are to decrease blood pressure, weight loss, or just to improve a sedentary lifestyle. Here are five highly-rated apps that’ll help you meet your goals.

  1. Strava: Run, Ride, Swim
    1. Rating: 4.8/5 Stars
    2. Overview: This app is great for all cyclists, whether it be traditional biking or e-biking! You can easily track your distance, speed, elevation gained, pace, and calories burned. The app includes special routes and maps and allows you to set monthly challenges to compete with others and to push yourself. Your stats can be shared on your Strava feed or other social media platforms. 
    3. Awards: Editor’s Choice
    4. Phone: IOS and Android
  1. Bike GPS- Ride Tracker
    1. Rating: 4.7/5 Stars
    2. Overview: This app is very intuitive and allows you to simply track your rides. It also creates detailed statistics and bike profiles. 
    3. Phone: IOS and Android
  1. Cyclemeter-Cycling & Running 
    1. Rating: 4.6/5
    2. Overview: Like the other apps, this one can track your heart rate, bike speed, cadence, and power. It can also detect stops automatically, view maps with google, and tell you the current weather temperature! It is voice-enabled and connects to Siri, so it’s great for training and tracking your overall fitness routines, whether it be on an e-bike or going for a jog.  
    3. Phone: IOS and Android
  1. Komoot: Cycling, Walking MTB
    1. Rating: 4.8/5 Stars
    2. Overview: This app is great because it’s designed more specifically for navigating and finding the best trails for you. It includes turn-by-turn voice navigation so you can keep your eyes on the road at all times, offline maps to help you navigate your way around the best trails, and the ability to browse your community’s favorite trails. Overall, it’s great for route planning!
    3. Phone: IOS and Android
  1. Bicycle Ride Tracker: Bike Map
    1. Ratings: 4.5/5 stars
    2. Overview: This is a very accurate cycle computer that tracks how long you ride, how many miles, how many calories were burned, and what your top speed was. 
    3. Phone: IOS

5 Tips on How to Stay Motivated to Ride

  1. Awesome Workout Apps. By using one of the previously mentioned apps, or another one, you can use it to set goals for yourself or challenge your stats against others. 
  2. Riding with a friend. Scheduling a ride with a friend or two is a great way to help the time pass quicker and make the experience more enjoyable! It’s also beneficial to have someone else to hold you accountable for your goals and push you to keep going. You can even challenge them to help challenge yourself. 
  3. Music. Listening to music can make any form of exercise better! You can create an upbeat or motivational workout/biking playlist to keep you pumping while you ride. Or listen to soft, meditative music while you cruise down a beautiful country road. 
  4. Podcasts. If you aren’t in the mood for music, you can also listen to a podcast. This helps keep your mind off of the workout and you can choose any topic to listen to! This could even be a podcast about e-biking.
  5. Incentives. Give yourself incentives- Set a goal for you to reach, whether it be the duration of your ride, calories burned, or length traveled. When you reach it, treat yourself to a small scoop of frozen yogurt, a hot bath, or an extra half hour of relaxation time!

Little to no experience riding electric bikes? Here are 12 tips for beginners.

Conclusion

Getting an adequate amount of exercise every day is super important for your health. And sometimes it can be hard to stick to an awesome workout routine because of a lack of motivation, your job, family, or other personal issues. But you can get fitter without being miserable.

Riding electric bikes a few days a week for around 30 minutes each is a great way to benefit your health. I hope you’ll get serious and make time to see what electric bikes offer. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to get fit and complete your daily exercise on an electric bike. Plus, you’ll feel great about your health and fitness when doing so consistently for a period of time.

Further, you don’t have to ride the best electric bike to get a break from your standard workout routine, fresh air, and have more fun!

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