E-bikes and cardio: everything you need to know about staying fit on an e-bike

Cycling has a moment. Interest in road bikes and mountain bikes is higher than ever, and even though the waiting lists for bikes that piled up during the height of the coronavirus pandemic are starting to shorten, there is still a huge interest in conventional and electric bicycles.

E-bikes are basically traditional bicycles with electric motors. The e-bike trend lags a few years behind the e-car trend, which really took off with the introduction of Tesla into the mainstream car market around 2013.

Since then, more and more consumers have decided that eco-friendly travel is a priority, opting for e-bikes for commuting and errands. In the mountains, buyers are realizing that e-bikes can take the pain out of mountain biking uphill and make riding more fun.

Trek Allant+ Electric Bike

(Image credit: Trek Bikes)

But athletes who cycle for the benefits of cardio or training are still likely to scoff at e-bikes, which are often seen as “cheating” in the minds of traditional cyclists and mountain bikers. Unfortunately for these old-guard riders, this ableist mindset is anything but correct. With the proper knowledge and technique, almost anyone can get a fantastic workout on an e-bike at any ability level. Here’s how.

How do electric bikes work?

Unlike a regular road or mountain bike, an e-bike has an electric motor to help cyclists propel themselves. Depending on the bike, the rider can choose to avoid pedaling altogether or use the motor to adjust the level of assist on climbs or long rides. With a non-motorized bike, pedaling uphill can be extremely tiring and feel like you’re pushing extremely hard to turn the wheels, even in the lowest (easiest) gear.

According to Lauren Butler, Urban and Kids Product Marketing Manager at Trek Bikes, riding an e-bike generally feels like riding a traditional bicycle. “Your riding experience is like the same natural riding experience on any other bike, except with extra power you can ride further and faster.”

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Canyon e-bike motor

(Image credit: Canyon Bicycles)

Electric bikes have an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery. Depending on the size of the battery, it can take between two and six hours for a full charge. While riding, a display on the handlebar allows the rider to see and adjust the level of motor assistance.

For pedal-assist bicycles, the rider must pedal for the motor to work. On an electric bike with accelerator, the cyclist does not need to pedal (like on a scooter). Some bikes offer both options, but many countries classify those with a throttle as mopeds or motorcycles rather than bicycles.

What are the advantages of cycling?

Cycling is one of the best cardio workout options for the average person. With low or no impact (except for crashes), biking uses all your major muscle groups, improves joint mobility and of course increases your heart rate and lungs, especially when climbing or cruising. on a terrain strewn with obstacles. .

According to Dylan Renn, full-time mountain bike coach and former professional mountain bike racer in Northern California, mountain biking is generally more difficult: “A mountain bike is more demanding and requires more strength, whereas on an e-bike the motor helps with strength.”

MTB trainer

Requests for e-bike coaching have skyrocketed during the pandemic (Image credit: Jaime Pirozzi / LocalFreshies.com)

Renn says his requests for individual and group e-bike coaching have skyrocketed this year, along with sales reports from e-bike retailers. He thinks traditional bikes and e-bikes can run in parallel, which is great for riders trying both.

“The e-bike allows you to perform at a higher level than your own abilities due to the power draw. So if you can master the skills on an e-bike, your overall mountain bike skills will improve.”

Why do people choose e-bikes?

In a word, ease. In three words, ease, simplicity and recovery. Riding an e-bike will almost always be easier than riding a bike that requires 100% human power. It puts longer, more challenging trails in the rider’s wheelhouse and can make riders feel more confident knowing backup power is available if their muscles or lungs hit a metaphorical wall midway through their rides. But according to Devin Riley, US director of marketing for Canyon Bicycles, it’s not just riders in poor shape who choose e-bikes.

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“While we have seen a strong demand for e-bikes from adult riders looking to replace a car or continue strenuous Saturday rides, there is also a generation of younger mountain bike riders interested in extra range and power of an e-bike,” he says.

Canyon e-bike battery

Most e-bikes have removable batteries that can be unclipped for charging (Image credit: Canyon Bicycles)

As a former competitive cyclist, Riley says he’s used his e-bike to supplement his current hobby, taking his e-bike out on muscle recovery days or when he wants to do a third ride but his body doesn’t only has energy for two.

According to Trek Bikes’ Butler, cyclists often choose e-bikes to explore new areas they couldn’t reach on their own, covering more distance in the same amount of time. E-bikes also allow cyclists with physical limitations to access otherwise inaccessible terrain and allow cyclists recovering from injuries to ride their bikes earlier in their recovery.

“If you can’t ride like you used to, e-bikes are a brilliant solution,” says Butler. “You still exercise a lot and enjoy being outdoors, but the assist makes that more possible and relieves pressure on your joints and back.”

Electric bikes can also make it easier for people of different ability levels to ride on bike trips. And, of course, e-bikes are better for the environment than cars. According to the League of American Bicyclists, 60% of trips less than a mile long are made by vehicle. E-bike assists may allow some of these riders to cycle these journeys instead, helping to reduce their overall CO2 emissions.

So how do you stay in shape on an e-bike?

So if traditional mountain bikes require more effort and power, should people looking for a better cardio workout forgo the motor? Not necessarily, says Riley. “You can get the same cardio workout on either one,” he says. “It all depends on how fast you turn the pedals and how much you ask the e-bike to help you in your efforts.”

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Renn says e-bike riders need to be aware of their heart rate while riding. “You get the cardiovascular benefits of an e-bike, but it doesn’t feel as taxing. Your heart rate is 9-10 heartbeats per minute lower on an e-bike compared to a mountain bike when riding in your zone. high intensity. So it’s the same effort, but lower heart rate zones in an e-bike.”

Although a lower heart rate can slightly decrease the number of calories burned over a period of time, it can also give cyclists the energy they need to ride longer, which ends up burning After calories than a shorter trip.

Electric bike jump

E-mountain bikes take some of the sweat out of the climbs, while letting you enjoy the descents unaided (Image credit: Canyon Bikes)

Riley suggests riders use the e-bike to supplement traditional riding, rather than replacing it entirely. E-bikes, he says, can help cyclists access new trails; for example, an urban cyclist could use electronic assistance to ride outside their city limits, then lower the level of assistance once they begin their training-oriented ride.

He also highlights the ability to customize workouts with an e-bike: if you need a day off for your quads, turn up the assist level. And if it’s really a basic workout you want, use the e-assist to get up the trail before embarking on a basic workout on the way down (most technical riders stand on their feet on the way down.)

Ultimately, the extent to which any e-biker, road cyclist or mountain biker can train and train is entirely up to the user. Mountain bikers can relax walking up steep terrain, and putting an e-bike in full-assist mode is unlikely to kick most people’s heart rates into fat-burning mode.

But the idea that e-bikes are “easier” is a misconception – when used correctly they can both extend your workout and allow you to spend more time on your bike, even on recovery days. . And with travel likely on hold for at least a few more months, it’s the perfect time to strap on a helmet and hit a few miles on two wheels.

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