In the Tour de France competition, having a small electric motor installed on your bike is cheating. For the rest of the world, it may help make cycling more practical and enjoyable, according to a new study. Everyone knows that exercising is necessary and good for us. Physically active are much less likely to suffer from heart diseases, cancer, strokes, diabetes, and depression, than those who are sedentary. They will also have much fewer disabilities at old age and are at a lower risk of dying prematurely. Although everyone is familiar with this, not a lot of people actually exercise. They have excuses like the lack of time, or not being fit enough to do it.
Here is where electric bicycles could help. The motors switch your pedaling as you need it, some even pedaling for you. This, for example, makes climbing hills very easy. This could even reduce the need for cars, avoiding daily traffic jams. Surely, depending on your requirements you can choose the best electric bike and use it to commute and stay fit.
There is, however, no scientific evidence that they actually benefit our health. There aren’t many of them around either, and people haven’t even seen them, let alone drove them.
The European Journal of Applied Physiology published a new study, an experiment that the researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, examined what would happen if they presented a group of out-of-shape people with zippy electric bikes, who would drive them to work each day. They used the bikes which only assist the rider, not do all the work for them.
They tested if this is at all a meaningful workout for them. They also aimed to see if the bikes were fundamentally safe, as they allow riders to reach speeds of more than 20 mph. The Boulder city government funded a part of the study that could show how the future transportation could be a lot greener. Additional resources came from local bike shops.
A group of 20 volunteers had their body composition, aerobic fitness, blood sugar and pressure, and cholesterol levels checked. Each of them received an electric bicycle, a heart rate monitor, a GPS device, and instructions. They were asked to wear the monitors and ride their bikes to work and back at least three times a week for the next month. This would mean 40 minutes at least on a bicycle per day. They could choose the speeds and difficulty levels themselves.
After a month, the volunteers came back to the lab for another checkup. All of them accomplished what was asked of them, some even rode 50% more, often with intensity. Heart rate monitors showed they were getting moderate workouts.
There were no accidents or injuries. James Peterman, a student at U.C. Boulder leading the study, said: “We found that participants rode at a reasonable average speed of about 12 miles per hour.”
All of them were healthier and fit. They significantly improved aerobic fitness, have better blood sugar control, aimed to lowered body fat and become more active. They said they had fun, and generally enjoyed themselves. “It’s exercise that is fun,” said William Byrnes, the senior author of the study and director of the Applied Exercise Science Laboratory at the university.
He uses an electric bike to and from the university, while many of the participants bought one for themselves.
These bikes are however unlikely a solution for everyone pressed for time or hesitant to exercise, because they are pricey, with figures being in the thousands of dollars.
They offer less of a workout than standard bikes. An accomplished bike racer, Mr. Peterman, says that motorized bicycles are unlikely to become popular with well-trained athletes, or cyclists.
For those who are still not being active, the good news is that there is something to help you pedal after all. Although pricey, it is at least some form of exercise and is better than just sitting around and complaining.