Fitness: bicycles and e-bikes must share the road and the spotlight


Despite the differences in frequency, intensity and minutes of exercise per week, the two groups of cyclists have the same main motive: fitness.

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Electric bikes have gone from luxury items to mainstream in the space of a few years, with more and more Canadians taking their electric two-wheelers on and off the road. Environmentalists give e-bikes full marks for their low carbon footprint and potential to reduce the number of trips made in gas-powered vehicles.

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Health and fitness advocates, however, are a little less enthusiastic about the popularity of e-bikes. With a motor designed to assist pedaling, the main selling feature of e-bikes is that they make cycling less physically demanding. No more huffing and puffing on a steep slope or in a strong headwind. Just fire up the engine and the hard work is done for you. But less effort means the fitness benefits typically associated with bikes are no longer a given.

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To get a better idea of ​​the impact of e-bikes on fitness and health, a team from the University and Medical School of Hannover in Germany collected data from 1,250 e-bike users and 629 traditional cyclists. The aim was to find out how many achieved the recommended amount of weekly exercise – 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise – needed to improve health. All study subjects received a smartwatch activity tracker that recorded time, heart rate, and distance traveled during each bike trip over a four-week period. The data was transmitted to the researchers.

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People using e-bikes were less likely to accumulate 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity per week (22.4%) than traditional cyclists (35%).

“Time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity during cycling per week was lower for the e-bike group, with an average difference of 69.7 minutes per week,” the researchers said.

The data also revealed that e-bikers went out for a ride less often during the week, with an average of 3.8 trips compared to 5.9 trips for traditional cyclists, who also logged more minutes of cycling during the week. . But people with e-bikes made longer trips (6.6 minutes longer per trip) than those with non-motorized bikes. As for the difference in intensity between the two groups of cyclists, those pedaling traditional bicycles recorded higher heart rates, averaging 119 beats per minute, compared to 113 bpm for e-cyclists.

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Despite the differences in frequency, intensity and minutes of exercise per week, both groups of cyclists shared the same primary reason for buying their bikes: fitness, with convenience ranked second. Environmental concerns played only a minor role in their respective purchasing decisions. Yet when it came to choosing between their bike and a gas-guzzling four-wheeler, e-cyclists were more likely to opt for their bike while traditional cyclists were inclined to choose public transit.

There was no significant difference in the number of accidents reported by cyclists and e-bikers, although women were more likely to have an accident while using an e-bike.

When it comes to fitness, traditional bikes seem to be a better choice than e-bikes. But the German researchers offer insight beyond the numbers.

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“Given the higher energy expenditure observed when using a traditional bicycle, it seems that we should recommend bicycles over e-bikes for optimized health effects,” they said. “However, this view overlooks the fact that some people make the deliberate choice to purchase an e-bike, who otherwise would not consider conventional cycling.”

The data revealed that e-bikes were particularly popular with older, less fit, overweight or less healthy people who valued the comfort of e-bikes.

What does all this mean for anyone hesitating between purchase a conventional bike and an e-bike? If fitness is your primary goal, a self-driving bike is your best bet. But if you’ve been hesitant to buy a road bike for various reasons – you find it uncomfortable, you don’t consider yourself fit enough to commute to work or for leisure cycling, or the traditional bike ride takes too long – then an e-bike could be your next investment.

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“The growing attractiveness and popularity of e-bikes could facilitate recreational cycling and active commuting, especially for those who are limited by age or constrictions associated with disease and who would otherwise not opt ​​for the ‘use of a bicycle,’ the researchers said.

The more cyclists and e-cyclists on the streets, the more minutes Canadians will spend exercising per week, which is a big win for public health. Not to mention that there will be fewer cars polluting the air, which is good for the environment.

A little exercise is better than no exercise, so if occasional help is needed to get more Canadians cycling to work or their neighborhood, then there is no need to make e-cyclists feel less like cyclists than those who have chosen traditional auto-electric bikes. Electric bikes are here to stay. Hopefully we can say the same for the new cohort of cyclists who appreciate a little extra help getting to their destination.

  1. Electric bicycles, such as those offered by the STL's bike share program, are the fastest growing segment of bicycle sales in the world.

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    Josh Freed: An e-volution is upon us with electric bikes in Montreal

  3. German tourists Lena Weber and Christoph Weitkuhn discover Bixi's e-bikes in 2019. Montreal's bike-sharing service claims its e-bikes are rented 60% more often than traditional bikes.

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