Did you know that you can use an electric bike to get fit? An electric bike allows you to exercise without putting excessive strain on your joints and muscles, so that you can safely build your strength and fitness, even if you have not exercised for many years, or have health barriers and challenges. This post describes three different ways in which you can use an ebike to get fitter and healthier.
The beauty of electric bikes is that you can get as little or as much exercise as you like on an ebike. It has been proven that it is possible to get effective exercise on an ebike, if you use it in pedal assist mode – and of course, also if you use it without assistance. You can choose, for example, to only use assistance on uphills. You can also choose to use a low level of electrical assistance, so that you still have to work hard to keep the bike going. Bear in mind that ebikes are heavy – anything between 35 and 80 pounds.
Electric Bikes Exercise Your Core Muscles
Because ebikes are heavy, your entire body, and especially your core, will have to work to ride it. Your core muscles will engage as you balance it and maneuver it around corners. Also as you wheel it in and out of your garage or elevator! Similarly, your joints and bones will be strengthened by what is essentially weight-bearing exercise.
Research Proves that You can Get Fitter and Healthier with an Electric Bike
Riding an electric bike will improve your cardiovascular fitness, improving the efficiency of your heart, your lungs, and your blood vessels, while improving your blood pressure. Like all exercise, it will also improve many other aspects of your health, including your blood sugar processing, and resistance to cancer. This post sums up several research studies, which all showed that people get effective exercise on an ebike, and experienced improvements in both fitness and health.
In fact, researchers were often surprised at how much exercise people got on ebikes, as compared to regular bikes. Some started off skeptical, and admitted to being surprised by their research findings. In short, riding an electric bike brings with it all the many benefits of exercise, which has been described by researchers as a miracle cure for most of the ailments that eventually kill us (and can make our lives not worth living before that).
- See also this post on how many calories you can burn on an electric bike.
- See also my post on how my friend Ron uses his electric bike to keep getting exercise as a heart attack survivor).
#1: The Best Way to Get Fit with an Electric Bike – Use it for Transportation
Almost all researchers agree that if you get an adequate amount of moderate exercise, it will have an extremely good effect on your health. Specifically, the US Government recommends that we all get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise – per week. Of course, it can be hard to fit this into a busy schedule. That’s why so many people are turning to active transportation, such as walking, cycling, or riding an electric bike.
When you ride a bike to work, for example, you get exercise twice a day, five days a week. That adds up to a whole lot of exercise very quickly. This happened to me when I started commuting to work every day on an ebike – 30 minutes twice a day added up to 5 hours of moderate exercise per week. This was double the recommended minimum, and it made me fitter than I had ever been before.
Use Your Electric Assistance Wisely to Get Fit
With great power comes great responsibility! In the case of the ebike, that means do not get a bike with a throttle controller and just sit on it, without pedaling. Obviously, that is not going to make you fit. Of course, if you just wanted transport, that would be fine. But if you also want to get fit, you are going to have to pedal. The beauty of an ebike is that if you get a Pedelec, the assistance only kicks in when you pedal. You can choose varying levels of assistance to kick in once you start pedaling. This means that you can choose how hard you want to pedal. And let’s face it – we don’t need researchers to tell us whether we are getting a workout. We can feel it for ourselves as we ride, and – often more so – after we ride. If you feel tired after a ride, you have had a workout! So all you need to do is to choose a level of assistance that is low enough that you can feel your body is getting a moderate workout.
When I was commuting on an electric bike, I used my own power as much as possible, and usually only engaged significant assistance when I needed it – for uphills, and when sudden bursts of speed would make me safer. Also, because the bike was heavy, I would often engage a low level of assistance on flats, to compensate for the weight of the bike. Some of the hills were very steep, which meant I had to pedal as hard as I could, as well as use maximum assistance, to get up them.
Use Electric Power Plus Your Own Power for Thrilling Speed!
To be honest, there were also times when I used maximum assistance on flats. However, this was when I was in places where it was safe to go really fast. On those occasions, I would use maximum assist, plus pedal like a mad man, just for the thrill of getting up to as fast as 25 to 30 miles per hour on my bike.
In those circumstances, I was still getting a workout, despite using maximum assist, because I was using the big gear rings on my bike and pedaling really hard. This was using a 350 W BionX electric bike setup. I would not recommend this on a bike in traffic …
Yes, You Will Get Fit Commuting on an Electric Bike
In case you are doubtful that the comparatively moderate level of exercise you get on an ebike will make a meaningful difference, please refer to my post on the health and fitness benefits of ebiking. This post reports on research into the effects of ebiking regularly. Most of this research was done in conditions similar to what you would experience with commuting on an ebike, and the participants all experienced surprising benefits. Even when using high levels of assistance, they still used their cardiovascular systems at levels close to those of people on regular bikes, and also experienced significant improvements in fitness and health.
Cycling to Work is Much More Possible with an Ebike
The researchers in one study made the point that ebikes make cycling to work more feasible, because they shorten traveling time by about 30% over regular bikes, and reduce the physical and psychological barriers by “flattening out the hills” (source: ScienceNordic).
You don’t have to scrap your car and cycle everywhere, or suddenly start cycling to work every day. You could start off by using an electric bike for just some of your transportation needs. You will probably find it addictive, and start using your ebike more and more. We certainly had that experience. And we are not alone – research has shown that electric bikes cause people to cycle further and more often.
#2: Another Way to Get Fit with an Electric Bike – Use the Assistance to Get to a Good Training Spot
These days, I no longer commute to work, because I work at home (on my blogs – yay!). So I had to find a way to make up the lost hours of cycling. But if I step outside my front door, there are steep hills in every direction (hills so steep they have been used in action movies featuring runaway cars and bikes). This means I cannot use my regular Specialized Tricross bike to get a cycling workout in my neighborhood – I just cannot get up those hills.
But I have a solution for that! I can use my Haibike electric bike to get up those hills and ride to a more suitable training location. After cycling uphill for about 2 miles, with assist, I get to a place where there is a long road that is reasonably flat. There, I can switch off all assistance, and spend about 30 minutes to an hour working really hard to cycle with my 50 pound bike. That done, I can coast home downhill. The ride there with assist makes a good warmup, the cycling without any assist on a heavy bike gives me an awesome workout that builds up my lungs and my legs, and the coasting home is an enjoyable chance to cool down.
Basically, my ebike enables me to get to a suitable bike training location, without having to load my bike onto a car or transit. Which makes me much more likely to do it, because it’s a lot less hassle.
#3: Another Way to Get Fit with an Ebike – Go on a Cycling Vacation
Electric bikes offer a terrific way to go bike touring. I have not tried this yet myself, but I know of a couple who did. Gary Corbett and Rachel Kuiper-Corbett are an Australian couple who set out to cycle across Europe on ebikes. You can read their inspiring story on their website, Ebike Cycle Tourists. They were on the same ebike I happen to have – the awesome Haibike Enduro, which I reviewed here.
When Gary and Rachel set out, they were in their late 50s and early 60s, and Rachel was recovering from a severe case of acute reactive arthritis. She also had two perforated disks in her lower back. They were not totally confident they could do it, but they ended up cycling about 43 miles per day, for a total of 17,274 miles. Along the way, they inspired thousands of people around the world. They note that:
“An e-bike actually provides a more ‘body friendly’ total workout than that available on a traditional non-electric bicycle. Not only can greater distances be covered in a shorter period of time, but the electrical boost on steep inclines takes the strain away from knee joints and it is easier to maintain a consistent heart rate over all types of terrain.” (Source: E-bike Cycle Tourists)
What I found most inspiring about their blog posts was hearing about how dramatically their health improved as they cycled on their ebikes. In particular, a year of constantly cycling on an ebike set Rachel free from years of pain. After one year, she wrote:
“I simply can’t describe how happy I am that my body is finally pain free after a whole year of training and cycling. Not only am I pain free, but I also feel so strong and vital after 9 months on the road cycle touring. I turned 57 in October whilst touring the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland and compared to the same time last year I feel 10 years younger!” (Source: E-bike Cycle Tourists)
In case you want more inspiration, here is a video about this couple’s remarkable achievement:
In sum, riding an ebike is an excellent way to get fit – and also have cheap transportation, and a whole lot of fun. And maybe even go on a record-breaking cycling vacation! Good luck with this – and if you have experience of other ways of getting fit with an ebike, please tell us about them.
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