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Study on E-Bike Usage

Published on 12/22/2019

BElieve it or not, study shows e-bike riders get more exercise than cyclists

Micah Toll - Aug. 11th 2019 11:16 am ET @MicahToll

Electric bicycle riders have always known that e-bikes can actually be a great form of exercise. But a new study now shows that e-bikes can actually result in riders getting more exercise than standard pedal bike cyclists. Here’s why.

Electric bicycles result in more exercise
As electric bicycles have become more popular and more affordable, their use has taken off around the world. Today there are e-bikes available for as little as $499, while many great quality options can still be found for under $1,500.

That has created a large base of e-bike riders that helped the study in question perform such a broad and well researched analysis. The study, which was recently published in the Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives journal, followed over 10,000 adults in seven European countries.

The researchers determined the average energy expenditure of different forms of transportation including riding an electric bicycle, pedal bicycle, walking, driving, etc.  The study then surveyed the thousands of participants to determine the amount of time they spent engaging in those activities each week and the distances they traveled.

As it turned out, electric bicycle riders ended up slightly edging out pedal bike cyclists in terms of total exercise each week. The study’s authors largely attribute this to the increased amount of time that e-bike riders spend on their bikes, compared to cyclists and the longer-distance trips taken by e-bike riders.

The study’s authors even go as far as to say the results should potentially be used to lobby for increased e-bike usage and improved e-biking infrastructure:

In conclusion, this analysis supports the notion to accept, or even promote, e-bikes as a healthy and sustainable transport option based on e-bikers travel behavior and self-reported mode substitution. Planers should be aware that e-bikers travel longer distances than cyclists. Thus, e-bikes might be used for longer commuting trips than non-electric bicycles. To accommodate (or promote) this new demand and to avoid conflicts with other road users in urban areas, cycling infrastructure should be expanded and may need to be adapted to accommodate higher speeds and address safety needs. The health benefits in terms of physical activity of using e-bikes, particularly when replacing car trips, should be factored in when considering subsidizing e-biking.

For any standard cyclists reading this and turning red in the face, don’t worry just yet. The same study also found that you all have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) reading than e-bikers, on average. Cyclists were found to have an average BMI of 23.8, while e-bike riders had an average BMI of 24.8. Both are in the “normal” range of the BMI scale, but may be indicative of the trend where e-bikes have been found to attract less traditionally physically active commuters who might not have otherwise cycled.

The study also found that e-bike riders tended to be older as well, with an average age of 48.1 years versus the average cyclist age of 41.4 years.

Well, this is pretty cool. Not that I can take too much solace in it, seeing as I mostly ride high-power, throttle e-bikes unlike those used in this study. But if you ride a pedal-assist e-bike, which is pretty much the only type of e-bike that is legal across Europe, then you can take comfort in knowing that you’re likely getting just as much exercise than if you were on a pedal bike.

And I think this is something we’ve all expected, or at least those of us that actually ride e-bikes. While the lycra-clad homeboys are paying an extra $3,000 to shave 200 grams off their bikes, we e-bikers are simply enjoying riding around on fun, affordable electric bicycles and not fretting the little things. We ride for pleasure, not to compete. And that seems to result in us going further and riding for longer, according to this study.

This seems to be something that standard cyclists find hard to grasp, in my opinion. On one press ride for an upcoming e-bike, I found myself in a group of seven or eight cycling journalists, among whom I was the lone e-bike-specific writer. That resulted in me becoming something of the go-to guy when anyone in the group had an e-bike question. I remember one guy asking me how he should enter this 20 mile or so ride into Strava. “Into what now?” came my reply. As he explained it to me, Strava was something these spandex enthusiasts used to compete against each other and see who did more and longer rides. He was baffled that I had never heard of it, and I was equally baffled that his entire goal for riding seemed to be to beat random strangers on the internet. If that’s your thing, then fine, more power to you. But it’s a great example of how e-bike riders simply ride for the pleasure and utility that e-bikes offer — not for credit or glory in the form of fake social network points.

So next time some random dude on a pencil-thin race bike tells you that your e-bike is cheating, just give him a big ol’ e-grin and reply, “I’m not competing, I’m commuting. But for what it’s worth, you might get more exercise on one of these, buddy!”