I sometimes come across people who say, “Riding an electric bike is cheating.” I find this very strange, and sometimes it makes me really angry. Usually, I am too furious to reply, and then sometimes I lie awake all night thinking about what I should have said. So I wrote this post about why I think riding an electric bike absolutely is not cheating.
So, let’s take this whole issue back to the basics: Why do people ride bikes? To me, people use bikes for one or more of these purposes:
- For transport
- For fun
- To get fit
- To race (competitive or professional cyclists who participate in bike races)
If you are using it for the 4th reason, competitive bike racing, then yes, using an electric bike would be cheating! But let’s face it: those guys are a tiny minority within all the people in the world who ride bikes.
For most of us, life is not a race.
Using Bikes for Transport
The vast majority of people riding bikes are riding for transport. And before you laugh, thinking that the vast majority of people drive cars for transport, while just a tiny minority venture onto our car-choked streets on bikes … let me add that I am talking about the whole world, not just North America. If you look at places like China and Africa, there are millions of people who have no access to cars, and who rely on bikes for transport.
For these millions of people, would making their lives a bit easier by giving them a bit of electric assistance on their bikes be cheating? No, of course it wouldn’t! That is a ridiculous notion. Electric assistance would just make them a little more efficient in their daily lives and work.
That’s why China is the world’s biggest user of e-bikes. Of about 210 million e-bikes in the world, 120 million of them are in China. So, there are more e-bikes in use in China than in the rest of the world put together. Sometimes those people use ebikes because there is too much traffic for cars to move easily, but most often it is a matter of what they can afford. Those millions of Chinese people do not think they are cheating … they simply think that e-bikes are their best available form of transport.
Their ebikes help them to survive and help them to make their lives work.
But how about people in North America who need transport? Let’s say for example a woman called Sue has a job half a mile from her house. She’s probably going to walk to work. And that’s just fine; no one has a problem with that. But now let’s say Sue quits that job and gets a new job that is 10 miles from her home. Is she going to keep walking to work? No, because she doesn’t have 4 hours a day to spend walking. So most likely she is going to buy a car, if she can afford one. When she shows up at work in that car, are people going to jeer at her, curl their lips and say, “Oh, you cheated!”
No, they are just going to see it as a perfectly reasonable way to get to work.
But what if instead of buying that car, Sue sank a lot less money into an e-bike? An average e-bike, that is to say, a Pedelec bike that provides assistance in direct proportion to how much pedaling the rider does. Which means that the rider has to pedal all the time. With such an e-bike, Sue could manage that 10 miles twice daily. The difference is, on every trip she would be getting a really substantial amount of exercise to get to work.
I have never had an e-bike that would get me to the top of a hill without expending a lot of energy, breathing heavily by the time I got to the top. Not to mention that on an e-bike your whole body has to put in constant work, steering and balancing, starting and stopping. You even get exercise lifting the heavy bike in and out of the elevator, and off and onto curbs. It’s all exercise, keeping your whole body moving for long periods of time. As opposed to your average automatic car, where the only things that moves are your ankles, and your arms on the power steering.
So if Sue chose an e-bike, she would get a whole lot of exercise. As I know from personal experience: one year of commuting to work on an electric bike every day got me into the best shape I had been in years.
But … the chances are, there would be some hard-core cyclist at Sue’s work who would tell Sue she was “cheating.” And to which I hope she would answer:
“I am not cheating, I am commuting to work. And getting fit while I am about it.”
So you might be thinking, “Well, I wouldn’t say it was cheating if it was 10 miles. Most people couldn’t ride 20 miles a day without some help. That would be just too tiring and exhausting for most average people, so it probably makes sense to get some assistance, whether it’s a car, or an e-bike. But hey, I know this guy Mike who bikes to work on an e-bike, and he only lives 2 miles away. That’s cheating, for sure! He should be riding a regular bike!”
Well, I think there’s only one person in the world who would have the right to say that Mike was “cheating,” and that would be Mike’s doctor. Mike’s doctor would know for sure whether or not Mike had any health conditions that made it hard or dangerous for him to ride a regular bike. But for all of us who are not Mike’s doctor, we do not have the right to judge.
People with Serious Health Conditions who Keep Exercising on E-bikes
I know so many people with serious health conditions who are riding e-bikes and getting a lot of exercise:
- People who have had one or more heart attacks, who are improving their cardiovascular health by riding e-bikes, but who could die if they tried to ride regular bikes;
- People who have arthritis that makes it impossible for their knees to handle the stress of regular cycling;
- People who have recovered from strokes and are improving their arterial health by daily exercise, but are medically unfit to handle extremes of effort that could kill them.
All of these people are making a brave and admirable choice to say, “Hey, I am not as healthy as I was when I was 20, but I am going to keep exercising because I want to stay active and preserve my quality of life and my independence of living for as long as I possibly can!”
Those people are choosing not to become a burden to society by finding a creative and alternative way to travel and exercise, and I think they deserve our respect – they do not deserve sneers and accusations of “cheating.” We wouldn’t sneer a person in a wheelchair for “cheating”, so why would we sneer at a person with health issues on an electric bike?
Bob – a Shining Example of Courage
I know a guy called Bob Seible who has contributed a couple of posts to this blog.
Bob had failing eyesight due to advancing age, so he voluntarily gave up his driver’s license, rather than risk injuring someone. However, his eyesight is still good enough to ride a bike. But he has other factors that prevented him from riding a regular bike. He has a couple of medical conditions, and he is a very large guy. So here was Bob, only in his mid-sixties, yet unable to leave his house unless someone came to give him a ride. Sadly, a lot of people get into that situation, and for most of them, the outcome is dire. They are isolated, they get depressed, they stop going out, they stop exercising, and within a couple of years, they are dead. And those last few years are not good years.
But Bob decided he was not going to stay home and die. He decided he was going to get an electric bike. He couldn’t afford the one he wanted, so hey – he learned how to make an electric bike! And he made his own e-bike. It’s an inspiring story, which you can read here.
Now Bob cycles every day on his home-made e-bike, having fun, having adventures, talking to people, losing some weight, and most likely improving his medical conditions. And almost certainly prolonging his life and his quality of life. Best of all, he’s happy. He is no longer confined to his home, and he is not going to get depressed and die without two years.
Is Bob cheating? Heck no! Bob is being a hero.
Other Reasons for Choosing E-Bikes for Transport
Apart from Bob and others who have serious medical conditions, there are a whole lot of people who choose e-bikes as transport for various reasons. Some of them are transporting cargo or kids, and it is just more efficient to have an e-bike to get them around more quickly and easily.
Some of them, like the hypothetical Sue, have long distances to travel, and don’t want to exercise themselves to the point of complete exhaustion every day. Electric bikes transport humans more quickly and with less energy expenditure, so they put longer bike commutes within the reach of average people. Some just want to bike to work but don’t have the facilities to take a shower when they get there, so they want to bike without excessive sweating.
Whatever the reason, many people make a decision to commute by e-bike. These people are not cheating, they are just figuring out how to live their lives in a smart and efficient way. And let me not even get into environmental impact … but suffice it to say that electric bikes are extremely easy on our beloved and very essential planet.
As one of my other guest posters said, “I’m not cycling, I’m commuting!”
Using Bikes for Fun
For the important purpose of fun, electric bikes are top-notch! Take a look at the face of anyone who is riding an e-bike for the first time. See the sheer joy!
It’s FUN to feel like a super hero! Of course, it is even more fun when your super hero days are long gone, and you have got used to accepting that now you are just slower than you used to be … but suddenly, every spin of your pedals is augmented, every spin seems to get you flying.
And you can bike with abandon, without fear! You can go out on a bike ride and not be afraid to go down that hill. Yes, you can go down and see what’s there, because you know you have some help to get back up.
And once you get going, trust me, you find yourself disengaging the assistance as much as you can, because you start to enjoy seeing how much fitter and stronger you are getting, just from riding an e-bike and having a great time.
Also, there is tons of evidence to show that those who ride e-bikes ride more often and further than those who ride regular bikes. I think that is because it is because e-bikes are such an efficient mode of transport. But it’s also because it is just such fun to ride a bike while feeling like a super hero!
It is really a great thing for the ageing baby boomer population to be able to have some fun while we get some exercise. Yeah, the exercise is not as brutal or intense as what we did when we were 20. Buy hey, we are not 20 any more, and it’s OK to exercise in a more appropriate way now. And no, it’s not cheating, it’s having fun!
Using E-bikes to Get Fit
The idea that you don’t get any exercise riding an e-bike is is one of the greatest misconceptions of all (and this idea is only held by those who have never ridden an e-bike!). I challenge anyone who thinks that riding an e-bike is analogous to sitting on a couch to ride MY e-bike up the huge hills of the city where I live (think San Francisco). Yeah, I do get exercise. In fact, I sometimes have to stop and rest at the top of a hill.
But the point is, I can cycle all the way up the hills – I don’t have to get off and walk. Plus, I am actually out there on my e-bike. With the hills around here, I would simply not cycle if I only had a regular bike. I am not 20 any more, and those hills would just be impossible. So it is thanks to e-bikes that I still get regular exercise on a bike. I monitor my heart rate, and I know that I get my heart rate up more on my e-bike than when I am hiking, but less so than when I ride my regular bike.
There is plenty of research to substantiate that riding a pedelec e-bike provides sustained mild to moderate aerobic exercise, which is incredibly beneficial to overall health. It is less intense than riding a regular bike, and therefore safer for people with health conditions. As has been proven, exercise is so good for you that it amounts to a miracle cure for most of the ailments that can plague us as we age.
Fun and Exercise Together!
When Maggie and I explore new places and cities, we often use e-bikes.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. We find that if we use e-bikes for transport on vacation, we can eat as much as we like of the local cuisine, without gaining weight. Plus, we see way more than we would from a cab or even a tour bus. We come home fitter than when we left, and we save money on cabs!
Is using an e-bike cheating on your vacation? No, cheating on your vacation is the stuff that you do in Vegas that stays in Vegas. But having fun and exploring a city on an e-bike is not cheating!
Using Electricity is NOT Cheating
The notion that getting out and having fun on a e-bike is cheating simply makes no sense.
Sneering because your co-worker came to work on an e-bike instead of a bus or a car or a regular bike is just mean and inexplicable to me.
If you found out your co-worker used an electric toothbrush, would that upset you? Would you say, “Oh, he’s cheating, he should be using more elbow power on that tooth brushing!” No I don’t think so!
If you found out one of your co-workers was using an electric stove to cook dinner, instead of a fire, would you be upset that she was cheating by using electrical assistance? No, I don’t think so!
Electric Bikes are NOT Cheating!
We need to get past this ridiculous “e-bikes are cheating” notion. We need to remember that not all people in the world have it as good as others, in terms of youth, fitness, and health. We need to remember that not everyone can afford a car, or WANTS a car. We need to remember that not everyone has a healthy heart. And that not every one is 20 years old. And that not everyone weighs 130 pounds.
If you want to stick with a regular bike, feel free. But don’t question why someone else chooses to access a bit of electric help. And certainly don’t condemn them as cheaters!
We also need to remember that the more people there are riding bikes, the safer it is for all cyclists. Research shows clearly that the more cyclists there are, the more careful motorists are around them. We need to build the number of cyclists back to where we are a major slice of the vehicles on the road, like we were before cars took the streets away from pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-riders.
Here’s to all of us riding the bikes of our choice, having fun, going places, and getting fit together in mutually respectful harmony!
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