E-bikes have health benefits and are growing in popularity in the United States
"E-Bikes" are growing in popularity in the United States. Partly, that's because the so-called "assist bikes" can be a good option for people who may not have the strength or stamina to ride a regular bike. But do they provide physical benefits for riders? Dr. Helaine Alessio says yes. She is Professor and Chair of the Department of Kinesiology, Nutrition and Health at Miami University in Oxford. Dr. Alessio recently published an academic paper about the health effects riding an e-bike has on the body. WYSO spoke with her.
What motivated you to study the potential health benefits of e-bikes?
"What motivated me was the increased popularity in e-bikes in the United States. It's very, very popular in Europe. It's just beginning to gain popularity in the United States. "
"Also, I had a chance to ride one, and I did feel as if even though there was an assist that I was putting in effort, and that was contrary to other people who believed that riding an e-bike was cheating. People say: If you're riding an e-bike, it's like cheating and you're not getting any fitness benefit or health related benefit from it. So I thought, well, we have the equipment in our Department of Kinesiology, Nutrition and Health that can measure the effort and intensity while you're riding a bike, whether it's a regular bike or an e-bike. That's what motivated me. I was just curious to see if it was in fact cheating or if you could get a health benefit from riding any bike."
Describe the assist for those of us like me who've never ridden an e-bike before. I kind of always thought that with an e-bike, you just hop on and push a button and off you go...
"Well, that's a scooter. With an e-bike, you have to pedal in order to get an assist. There is a motor that is designed to kick in as you pedal."
"It'll kick in a certain level of wattage depending on whether you're on the assist level one, where it'll give you a little bit, assist level two, a little bit more, assist level three, even more, or assist level four, you're flying."
"You are pedaling, but as you pedal, it's almost as if someone from behind is pushing you along. Instead of going, let's say ten miles an hour, which is a normal speed for you on a bike, the effort that you put in that same effort will give you more like 14 miles an hour—about a 40% increase in speed."
So what did you find in your research?
"We found that when we compared the effort on a regular bike with an effort on an e-bike, the effort on a regular bike was certainly greater—you do expend more calories, your oxygen consumption is higher."
"But what we did find was the effort that you exert, which we measured with calories expended, oxygen consumption, and your heart rate—those parameters, which we call cardiometabolic, are increased with the e-bike at a level that meets the minimum criteria that you should workout for health related fitness."
So for those who feel that riding a regular bicycle might be a little too strenuous, do you feel that an e-bike would be a good option to get them to a certain calorie expenditure or metabolic rate that is recommended for exercise?
"Absolutely! Some people might be intimidated of riding a regular bike because maybe their house is situated on the top of a hill, or maybe wherever they're going, they know they're going to encounter a hill, or if it's more than a mile. With an e-bike, those types of barriers are eliminated, or maybe not eliminated, but decreased significantly so that you feel the confidence that, 'I can get up that hill because of the assist.'"
"If you have never been on an e-bike, go to your local bike store and maybe just ask for a chance to try one out and see what it's about. I think you might be pleasantly surprised that if you're not already active, it might be just the thing you need to get you started on a more active lifestyle."
Just a note: E-bikes aren’t cheap; quality e-bikes start out just under $1000 dollars and go up from there. They are available at most bike shops.