Do You Get More Exercise on Electric Bike or Conventional Bicycle?

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Do you get more exercise on electric bike or on conventional bike? The answer may surprise you.

Who hasn’t dreamed of riding an electric bike up a hill that would make the greatest cyclists sweat? However, if the pedal-assist bicycle boosts our muscles, it does not exempt us from physical effort. To the point of representing a more important sporting activity than the classic bicycle? 

That is what a study published in the scientific journal Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives tends to prove. Ten thousand adults living in seven European cities were chosen to participate in the test and divided into three groups: cyclists, non-cyclists, and electric bike riders (e-bikers).

For two years, each of them made trips using their mode of transportation. The researchers determined the physical activity associated with each method of travel among these three groups.

More distance covered and energy spent on the electric bicycle

The findings are surprising: cyclists, with or without assistance, share the same monthly frequency of use of their bikes and the same daily travel time. But above all, electric bike users covered greater distances than conventional cyclists: 9.4 kilometers compared to 4.8 kilometers. 

The calculation of the metabolic equivalent of each group, i.e., the intensity of their activity and the energy expenditure deployed over a week, thus leads to a slightly higher result for the electric bike users: 4,463 for the e-bikers, 4,085 for the cyclists.

“The result of this study is not surprising, says Nicolas Barizien, head of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Foch Hospital. If we postpone the moment when the effort becomes painful, which is the case with the electric bike, we manage to do more. And when you do more, you get out of physical inactivity and get closer to sporting activity. 

Read also: Are electric bikes good for exercise? And, Can I use an e-bike to get fit or for weight loss?

So if the electric bike ride is much longer than the muscle bike ride, it makes up for it!” For Professor Jean-Luc Bosson, head of the Public Health Unit at the Grenoble University Hospital, the electric bike does indeed allow for consistency and, therefore, a surplus of activity: “In everyday life, cyclists tend to get back in their cars so as not to arrive sweating, because the weather is not pleasant or because they are tired. That is not the case with the electric bike!”

The e-bike would thus be an effective way to maintain regular activity and expend more energy. Furthermore, the data collected proved that in addition to their electric bike, the sample of e-bikers also used a classic bicycle from time to time. 

The electric bike would therefore be more motivating than your traditional two-wheeler. Even for occasional switching to more strenuous activities?

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It can be an excellent way to convert to muscle biking,” agrees Nicolas Barizien. Some people get back into physical activity with an electric bike, get a taste for it, and then switch to a traditional muscle bike. Others stay on the e-bike, but they keep their physical activity.” 

This does not mean you have to give up everything in favor of an electric bicycle: “For a person who is in good shape and used to cycling, you should not change anything,” warns Professor Jean-Luc Bosson. For others, the only advice is to continue doing what suits you.”

A question of cycling intensity

If the bicycle moves forward, propelled only by the force of your muscles, the electric bike, although assisted, uses the same springs. It thus allows you to solicit the same muscle groups or metabolic pathways, such as cardiorespiratory endurance.

“Swimmers who glide in the water use partial weightlessness, skiers with hyper-performance equipment … would not do sports?” ironizes the University of Grenoble-Alpes researcher. “It is wrong to say that if there is assistance, there is no physical activity, agrees the sports doctor Nicolas Barizien. 

Let’s take the example of two people, a cyclist who is used to riding a muscle bike and a novice on an electric bike. In terms of energy expenditure and fatigue, the person not used to it can have the same results because the heart rate that he will produce to make this energy expenditure will perhaps cost him as much as the trained cyclist who, however, does not have assistance.”

“The benefit of the electric bike is that it can push people who wouldn’t have the ability to be physically active.”

According to Nicolas Barizien, it is difficult to judge if the electric bike allows spending as much or even more energy than the classic bicycle. 

“It all depends on the level of individual physical capacity, which depends on training. And then, the electric bike can be ridden at different intensities. That makes it difficult to analyze all these studies: at what intensity is the e-bike practiced?”

According to the doctors, the best way to increase your sporting activity with an electric bicycle is to adapt it to the terrain. For example, they advise lowering the level of assistance when the road is flat to make the bodywork more challenging.

Studies support both opinions

Scientific research on the subject has been numerous for several years, driven by the rise of the electric bicycle. In 2018, a Swiss study highlighted an equivalent physical activity in e-bike or bike among overweight riders. Thirty-two overweight and untrained participants, half with electric assistance, were thus required to ride 6 kilometers at least three days a week. 

The e-bikers improved their endurance in the same proportions as the others, thanks to a faster speed and more significant differences in altitude. The benefit of the electric bike is that it allows people who would not otherwise be able to exercise to do so,” says Nicolas Barizien. What’s important is to keep the pleasure aspect because otherwise, motivation will disappear very quickly.”

Read also: Top 10 mental benefits of riding an electric bike. And, Can riding an e-bike improve mental health.

Similarly, in 2020, German researchers compared the daily physical activity of 101 pathology-free employees, some on electric bikes and others on traditional bicycles, as they commuted from home to work. 

They found that the frequency of use of electric bikes was higher than that of traditional bikes and that the physical intensity was higher when calculated over the week, despite a less tiring effort. “Certainly, with electric bikes, the effort is 30% lower, but it is used four times more often,” summarizes Professor Jean-Luc Bosson.

But contradictory studies are also flourishing, highlighting, in particular, the small samples of users and the short-term results of the tests carried out, as in this British publication

Here is the opinion of sports doctor Jean-Christophe Miniot: “With the electric bike, the gain for health is very, very low because we do not leave our comfort zone. In my opinion, this is not a sport.”

Read also: What is the ideal electric bike? And, Here is why e-bikes are really cool!

So, will you burn more calories on the saddle of your classic little queen or a hybrid bike? According to Professor Jean-Luc Bosson, this is secondary. “The public health issue is not a sport but the fight against a sedentary lifestyle. So the electric bike is an asset.” 

According to the WHO, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of premature death worldwide and a risk factor for chronic diseases. The institution even states that more than a quarter of the world’s adult population needs to be more active. So, with or without assistance, get on your pedals!

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