It’s a common perception that you aren’t able to get fit on electric bikes. This is due to the motorized assistance they give you whilst cycling. But this is a misconception I will prove in this article. I will therefore convince you that you can, in fact, get fit on electric bikes.
Electric bikes are an effective tool for keeping fit. They make cycling accessible, for many people who would otherwise not cycle at all. Electric bikes can even help improve fitness, better than regular bikes. This is when they’re used effectively, as part of certain fitness regimes.
Here in this article, I will talk about the types of people that can benefit from electric bikes, in terms of getting fit. These types of people could possibly include yourself. I will also advise of the scenarios where electric bikes are especially helpful when used for fitness. These scenarios include certain fitness regimes I mentioned above. Ultimately, I will advise you how electric bikes can get you fit.
Pedaling Effort on Electric Bikes
Electric bikes have pedal assistance, which is exactly that, assistance. This does not replace the need for pedaling altogether. So you will still need to put in effort yourself. This pedal assistance complements your own pedaling, to provide an extra boost. It is available for use for the below scenarios.
- As and when required. For example, when you’re riding up a steep hill, or if you’re fatigued during a long ride.
- Throughout the whole ride, if cycling is difficult for you. This can be if you’re currently of a low fitness, or recovering from injury.
- To get to a destination quickly and without a sweat.
- For fun. Many people simply find cycling with the motorized boost enjoyable.
This pedal assistance, allowing for an extra boost when needed, is beneficial for cyclists of all levels. For example, you may decide not to use the pedal assist most of the time. This can be whether you’re a fit cyclist, or not. However, it can be reassuring to know it’s there. This can be just in case you were to come by a steep hill, for example, which you may struggle with on a regular bike. This is why electric bikes can be the difference between cycling, or not cycling at all, for many people. After all, exercise with some assistance is better than no exercise at all.
To emphasize that you still have to put in effort when using electric bikes, at least not when using a throttle. Some electric bike motors have torque sensors that engage the motor when you’re pedaling. Here, the level of electric assistance is relative to the amount of pedaling you’re doing. So you will already need to be pedaling hard in the first place, to maximize the electric assistance.
By the way, the other type of sensor you’ll have on electric bike motors is a cadence one. For motors with these sensors, you need to adjust the electric bike settings, for the motorized assistance to match your pedaling.
Electric Bikes with Throttles
Before continuing any further, it’s worth clarifying the following.
Some electric bikes do have a throttle, by the way (depending on if local laws allow). This engages the motor without any pedaling effort. Throttles on electric bikes can be instead of, or as well as, pedal assist.
As you may gather, using throttles on electric bikes will not help you keep fit. However, referring back to where I mentioned that having an electric bike can be the difference between cycling and not cycling at all. Which can be the case for many people. Having a throttle, can give you the confidence to go out cycling if you’re not at full fitness. This is due to that you know the throttle is available to get you home, if you become tired. Again, it is still true that you have to put in effort yourself, when using the motorized pedal assistance.
Electric Bikes Help People of Advancing Years, or with Ailments, or Injuries to Keep Fit
Regular exercise is important to stay healthy. However, you may be restricted to the amount of exercise you can do. This can be for various reasons. These can include if you’re overweight, advancing in years, rehabilitating after/whilst carrying an injury, or if you have a health issue like arthritis. These factors can make exercise more difficult for you to undertake.
This is where electric bikes come into their own. They can get you on a bike and exercising, where other forms of exercise, like running, may be too demanding. This can even include if you would find riding on a regular bike too taxing.
An electric bike can allow you to still keep active, whilst using a level of assistance that is suitable for you. This can prevent overexertion. Overexertion risks causing you more harm than good, like possibly causing an injury. Again, remember that any exercise is better than no exercise.
Additionally, you can steadily reduce the level of assistance, the fitter you get over time. This can also be for the more you recover from an injury or health issue. Again, if you have health issues or limited fitness, the comfort of having an electric motor may give you the confidence to go cycling at all. You may be concerned that you could start experiencing difficulties whilst cycling. If this occurs, you can use the electric assistance to get you home easier and quicker.
You may want high intensity exercise, but you may have a limited ability to perform this. If this is the case for you, then an electric bike can offer an achievable solution. Electric bikes allow for increased intensity compared with walking. Increased intensity also allows for increased fat burning capacity.
Below shows the rates at which you can burn calories, either by walking or using an electric bike. This is depending on various factors, like weight and incline.
Walking – between 200 and 350 calories per hour,
Riding an electric bike – between 390 and 500 calories per hour.
Electric Bikes Get You Cycling More
Electric bikes can get all sorts of different people cycling more. Not just people restricted to the amount of exercise they can do.
From chatting on electric bike forums, I have spoken to many regular and able cyclists. Many who have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from riding electric bikes. Riding electric bikes has prompted these people to cycle more, compared to when they cycled on normal bikes. This has therefore increased their fitness.
Electric bikes make steep hill climbs less challenging. As a result, I have spoken to cyclists who have used their electric bike on cycling holidays, in mountainous and picturesque locations. This is to such places like Morocco and Slovenia, which they have thoroughly enjoyed. This is something they would not have ever dreamt of doing, on a regular bike.
You don’t necessarily need an electric bike, to only ride in these sorts of places, though. Many electric bike users will tell you, they make the difficult parts of cycling (like riding on tricky surfaces) more pleasurable. Or at least less of a burden. This makes the overall cycling experience more fun, which can motivate you to get out on your bike more.
Remember, you don’t need to use the pedal assist all the time, just as and when you require.
Using Electric Bikes for Commuting
Many people are turning to electric bikes for their commute to work. Electric bikes are particularly beneficial here. This is due to the fact that they can allow you to get to work quicker than a normal bike, without arriving in a sweat. Turning up to work with a sweat is a common reason why people avoid cycling to work. So this is another example of how electric bikes can get people cycling, where they otherwise wouldn’t have. Remember, any exercise is better than no exercise.
Riding an electric bike to work in the mornings uses less effort compared to riding a normal bike. However, if you’re doing this every day, the benefits will mount up. You can even cycle back home from work without using the pedal assist. This will give you a more intense workout. It will also not matter as much that you’ll develop a sweat, since you can shower when you arrive home.
Electric bikes can give you the time to cycle to work in the mornings, if riding a regular bike will take too long. This is due to the fact that electric bikes allow you to cycle faster than regular bikes.
Using Electric Bikes for Various Journeys (That Increases Fitness)
Other than the daily commute, electric bikes may encourage you to embark on all sorts of other journeys, which you may not normally cycle for. This creates even further opportunity for exercise. Below are examples of these other types of journeys.
The electric power can definitely make it easier to carry shopping, or children. You can even add a trailer, or buy a cargo electric bike, especially for these purposes. Additionally, electric bikes can prompt you to cycle to make deliveries. This can be instead of using a van or car.
Riding an electric bike for journeys you make anyway, is an excellent way to fit exercise into your everyday life. Especially where you may not otherwise have time. After all, lack of time is the number 1 reason people give, as to why they avoid exercise.
You never know, an electric bike could allow you to replace the car all together, for shorter trips.
Using Electric Bikes for Fat Burning
Electric bikes can absolutely be used for fat burning. In fact, electric bikes are particularly useful for this. This is due to the fact that they are a fantastic tool for aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is described as below.
Aerobic exercise – Lower intensity exercise, where you are in the fat burning zone.
Riding an electric bike effectively is a great way of keeping you within this fat burning zone. This is no matter the terrain or incline you’re riding on.
When performing aerobic exercise, the level of intensity should be low enough for you to still hold a conversation. You can work out approximately what your own heart rate should be, to be within the aerobic/fat burning zone. The below calculation will allow you to do this.
As a general rule, this calculation may not give an entirely 100% accurate result. It’s more to give you a rough guide. If you’re using a heart rate monitor though, you can fine tune this. You can observe your heart rate with a heart rate monitor, after riding flat out at your maximum intensity. When you’re at maximum intensity, you can’t maintain this for more than around 15 seconds.
Electric bikes have an advantage over regular bikes when it comes to performing aerobic exercise. This is due to the fact that electric bikes allow you to maintain your aerobic heart rate throughout a bike ride. This is no matter how much the incline or terrain is changing. Using your electric bike effectively, allows for the incline and terrain, to not dictate your effort and heart rate.
For example, when you hit a hill, you can increase the level of pedal assist, or even start using pedal assist if not already. This can allow you to maintain the same heart rate you had while riding on the flat.
Using a heart rate monitor, whilst cycling, will make this easier. This will allow you to keep an eye on your heart rate, to help you make sure you’re always in the fat burning zone. Heart rate monitors are affordable, costing upwards of around £20. The amount you spend on one, depends on how sophisticated you want it to be.
There are various benefits of aerobic exercise, as shown below.
Electric bikes particularly allow for a consistent aerobic workout, when mountain biking. Again, when compared to regular bikes. You can ride on all sorts of trails, with varying terrain throughout, whilst using the various pedal assist settings. This helps prevent your heart rate from fluctuating too much. As the incline and difficulty of the terrain changes, you can adjust the level of pedal assist accordingly. Again, not allowing the terrain and incline to dictate your heart rate. This will help you to keep your heart rate within this fat burning zone.
You still get to have great fun out riding on those trails, without compromising on speed.
Aerobic exercise, being ideal for fat burning, is excellent news for anyone limited to the amount of high intensity exercise they can do. You can even incorporate aerobic exercise into a fitness regime, that includes other forms of exercise. This “YouTube clip”, talks more in depth about aerobic exercise.
Electric Bikes Assist with Various Types of Exercise
In addition to aerobic exercise, electric bikes can be effectively used to assist with other types of exercise. This can be to achieve various fitness goals.
Cycling will get you fitter in general. However, clever use of the varying levels of pedal assist on an electric bike can help you achieve these specific fitness goals. You can adjust the level of pedal assist, to allow you to cycle at a required level of intensity. Cycling, at a required intensity level, will in turn, determine your heart rate. Adjusting the pedal assist, to determine your cycling intensity and heart rate, is where electric bikes allow you to achieve certain fitness goals.
There are various fitness zones, which give you different benefits. These fitness zones each have a different level of intensity. Effective use of an electric bike can help you to stay within an intended fitness zone.
I have already talked about the aerobic/fat burning zone above. So I will now talk about how electric bikes can help you achieve these other fitness zones.
You can use the previously mentioned calculation to establish your maximum heart rate. This is to then allow you to determine your required heart rate, for each of these other zones. A reminder of this calculation is below. Remember though, this calculation is to give you an approximate idea, as a guide.
220 minus your age = your maximum heart rate
I will now proceed with talking about these fitness zones.
(up to 60% of your maximum heart rate)
Obtained with the following calculation – maximum heart beats per minute x 0.6
This is cycling at a very low and achievable intensity, at a nice and easy pace. This is at a lower intensity than the previously talked about fat burning zone.
This zone promotes muscle regeneration and improved recovery. So this zone is ideal to ride in, if you’ve recently been riding intensively for a few weeks, but you want to give your body a rest whilst still being active.
Even if you’re riding on flat ground, you can use the pedal assist of an electric bike to keep you within this zone. Whenever the incline you’re riding on increases, you can increase the level of pedal assist as appropriate. This allows you to maintain the required level of intensity, to remain in this zone.
You can even ride in recovery mode at the start of a cycle to warm up. This could be for 5 to 10 minutes. Also, you can even finish your cycle in recovery mode to warm down. This will help clear any lactate that may be in your muscles and blood.
Ultimately, adjusting the level of pedal assist as required helps you remain in recovery mode through varying terrain and inclines.
Endurance Zone (Fat Burning)
(60% to 65% of your maximum heart rate)
Obtained with the following calculation – maximum heart beats per minute x 0.6 or 0.65
This is also the fat burning zone I spoke about before. However, it is usually referred to as the endurance zone. Also, I have further points to discuss, with regard to this zone.
As you may have guessed, riding in this zone increases your endurance capabilities. This is in addition to the previously mentioned fat burning qualities, it provides.
Cycling within this zone builds a solid base fitness. This makes this zone ideal for training for specific events.
You want to build a base fitness level for 120% to 150%, of the amount of time it will take you to complete the event. An example could be that you’re taking part in a charity bike ride, which you expect would take 2 hours to complete. Here, you would want a base fitness level for 2.4 to 3 hours of cycling. Therefore, as training for this event, you can go on cycles for these periods of time in the endurance zone.
Riding an electric bike can help you to keep your heart rate within this zone. This is due to that you can alternate between the various pedal assist levels. Therefore, you can accommodate for the variations in the incline and terrain. So any increase in incline doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in heart rate. This will help keep your heart rate at the required percentage for this zone.
As a reminder, riding within this zone will be at a comfortable, low intensity pace. You’ll be able to keep within this zone for long rides.
(65% to 82% of your maximum heart rate)
Obtained with the following calculation – maximum heart beats per minute x 0.65 or 0.82
This is where you start to use efforts, where you’re going to feel it. However, you’re still not at a level of intensity where it’s difficult to maintain.
Cycling in this zone will get you sweating. Also, your legs are going to start burning. It’s a suitable zone, to start getting yourself used to harder efforts, before moving up into the more intense zones. You can even cycle in this zone, before eventually going onto interval training. I talk about interval training later in this article.
This zone is suitable if you’re steadily building up the amount of effort you can handle cycling. This can be if you’re recovering from injury, or if you’re currently not fit enough for intense effort.
Also, this zone increases your fitness and endurance further, after building a solid base fitness, in the endurance zone.
You may be riding in this zone with an electric bike, on a flat surface. In which case you may have the pedal assist off, or at least on a low setting. You could then use the pedal assist, to allow you to stay in this zone whilst cycling up hills. The required level of power to get up the hill could take you out of this zone, without the use of pedal assist.
This is also a suitable zone to increase your fitness, if you’re using an electric bike to commute home from work. You may have already used the pedal assist to allow for a lower intensity ride on the way into work. This is to avoid arriving at the office in a sweat. So you can increase your fitness by riding with a higher intensity on the way home.
Lactate Threshold Zone
(82% – 89% of maximum heart rate)
Obtained with the following calculation – maximum heart beats per minute x 0.82 or 0.89
This is where it’s starting to hurt now and you’re going to start to fatigue here. You may find it challenging to sustain this level for long, unless you’re particularly fit.
This zone is for improving high speed endurance and performance. It also helps towards interval training performance. In fact, this zone is excellent for increasing all round fitness and muscular endurance.
If you’re building up your fitness, you can steadily build up the amount of time you can spend cycling in this zone. For example, you could start off riding for 10 minutes in this zone, before resting. You could then work up to 20 minute, then 30 minute rides and maybe even up to 1 hour rides, in this zone and so on. The amount of time you spend riding in this zone to start off with depends on your current fitness level.
Whilst training this way, you can take advantage of the pedal assist of an electric bike, to help you. You can do this, by using the pedal assist, to help you to ride in the recovery, or endurance zone, for a rest after cycling as long as you can, in this lactate threshold zone. This can be a very welcome respite, for cycling the rest of the way home.
V02 Max Zone
(89% – 94% of maximum heart rate)
Obtained with the following calculation – maximum heart beats per minute x 0.89 or 0.94
This level is very intense and will have you gasping for breath. Riding in this zone helps build up short term resistance to fatigue. It also makes you a faster racer (particularly with time trialing), if you are a competitive cyclist.
Riding in this zone is so intense, that generally you’ll only be able to keep up riding at this level, for up to 4 to 8 minutes. Therefore, riding in this zone tends to be as part of interval training. Again, I will discuss that further below. This “YouTube” clip, talks more at length about the benefits of high intensity exercise.
Anaerobic Capacity Zone
(anything above 94%)
Obtained with the following calculation – maximum heart beats per minute x 0.94
This zone is riding all out as intense as you can get. You will not be able to maintain this level for more than a few seconds. Cycling in this zone will increase your overall fitness and strength on a bike. It will also leave you highly out of breath. Like the V02 max zone, cycling in this zone also lends itself to interval training.
The pedal assist can provide a much needed respite after a quick sprint in this zone. Also, you can use the pedal assist to help with a warm up, before riding in either this, or the V02 max zone. Again, a respite or warm up can either be in the recovery or endurance zones.
Interval training is not one of these fitness zones, although it does make use of them. It is a proven way of improving your fitness and overall health.
The concept is to carry out short, high intensity bursts of exercise at intervals. Far lower intensity periods of exercise are sandwiched between these high intensity periods. These low intensity periods are for recovery.
The intense bursts can be within the lactate threshold, or V02 max zones. The lower intensity periods can be within the recovery, or the endurance zones, depending on your level of fitness.
This type of exercise has all sorts of tremendous benefits. This can include increased fat burning, after the exercise session has been completed. This is due to the fact that this type of training increases your metabolism. Here, you may even burn an extra 15% to 20% calories from fat, for the next several hours.
There has been research that shows this type of exercise helps with the below.
- Slowing down the ageing process.
- Lowers risk of chronic disease.
- Helps build muscle.
Again, electric bikes are an ideal tool to help you get fit with this sort of exercise. Using the various pedal assist settings, allows you to maintain the required level of intensities throughout the exercise session. This is no matter what incline you incur.
The pedal assist can be beneficial for the recovery intervals. This is even whilst riding on a flat surface. Additionally, an electric bike can also help you during the high intensity intervals. This is due to the fact that they can allow you to still cycle up steep hills and on difficult terrain, where you may otherwise have to get off your bike and walk.
Once you have finished an interval training riding session, the pedal assist can be especially welcome. It allows for a leisurely and relaxing ride back home, as a warm down. If your electric bike has a throttle, then you can use this instead, for a rest on the way home. You would have done all the exercise you need for one day, from the session already.
The great thing about interval training is that research has shown you can achieve great fitness results within a few weeks. Additionally, each session doesn’t need to take long. So this type of training is easier to fit around a busy schedule. Again, remember that lack of time is the number 1 reason why people avoid exercise.
Hopefully, you’ll agree after reading this article that you can certainly get fit and maintain fitness riding electric bikes. Additionally, I hope I have shown you how you can use electric bikes effectively, to help you reach certain fitness goals.
Ultimately, when it comes to keeping fit, electric bikes have their place.