To an experienced mountain biker, using an electric bike might seem like cheating. An e-bike gives you a motorized pedal assist that allows for longer-distance rides and the steeper hill climbing, but also sounds like less of a workout.
Researchers at Brigham Young University, however, suggest that’s not the case. In a new paper, they reveal that in a small study experienced mountain bikers got nearly as strenuous a workout from an e-bike as riding a traditional bike without pedal assistance.
To reach that conclusion, they recruited 33 experienced mountain bikers. They were all male, all self-identified as white, with a median age of 38; about half had more than 10 years experience riding mountain bikes, and a majority said they did so at least twice a week. Only a few had ever ridden an e-bike.
The researchers outfitted them with heart rate monitors and sent them on a 6-mile trail loop on a typical mountain bike, then sent them back through the same route on an e-bike. It turns out that the e-bike ride still pushed them into the “moderate to vigorous” heart rate zone—in fact, they hit 94 percent of the average heart rate as on a conventional bike.
Remarkably, though, their perception of the e-bike ride was different: It didn’t feel like a strenuous workout. They still got the benefits of riding, but did feel as challenged. That’s good for people who might be less inclined to exercise, because of an injury, say, or coming from a more sedentary lifestyle. For them, e-bikes might be a way to overcome the “workouts are too difficult” problem.
Granted, it’s a small pilot study; future research may refine or challenge the results. Still, it suggests that in one crucial way, e-biking is easier than the traditional way. And that’s a good thing.
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