With most e-bikes, this assistance is small, similar to riding with a placid tailwind, and ceases once you reach a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour or stop pedaling. The motor will not turn the pedals for you. (Some e-bikes, categorized as Type 2 models, have a throttle and will pedal for you, up to a speed of 20 miles per hour, and Type 3 e-bikes power you to a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour. Many localities do not allow Type 3 models on bike paths. You can learn more about e-bike regulations at www.peopleforbikes.org/electric-bikes/policies-and-laws.)
Essentially, e-bikes are designed to make riding less taxing, which means commuters should arrive at their destinations more swiftly and with less sweat. They can also provide a psychological boost, helping riders feel capable of tackling hills they might otherwise avoid. But whether they also complete a workout while e-riding has been less clear.
So, for the new study, which was published in March in the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, decided to ask inexperienced cyclists to faux commute. To do so, they recruited 30 local men and women, aged 19 to 61, and invited them to the physiology lab to check their fitness levels, along with their current attitudes about e-bikes and commuting.
Then, they equipped each volunteer with a standard road bike and an e-bike and asked them to commute on each bike at their preferred pace for three miles, a distance the scientists considered typical for bike commutes in America. The cyclists pedaled around a flat loop course, once on the road bikes and twice with the e-bike. On one of these rides, their bike was set to a low level of pedal assistance, and on the other, the oomph was upped until the motor sent more than 200 watts of power to the pedals. Throughout, the commuters wore timers, heart rate monitors and facial masks to measure their oxygen consumption.
Afterward, to no one’s surprise, the scientists found that the motorized bikes were zippy. On e-bikes, at either assistance level, riders covered the three miles several minutes faster than on the standard bike — about 11 or 12 minutes on an e-bike, on average, compared to about 14 minutes on a regular bike. They also reported that riding the e-bike felt easier. Even so, their heart rates and respiration generally rose enough for those commutes to qualify as moderate exercise, based on standard physiological benchmarks, the scientists decided, and should, over time, contribute to health and fitness.