With the Brits known for their cycling skills we have recently been glued to the TV watching our Olympic Team GB demonstrate their speed and cycling prowess. And, let's admit it, also enviously admiring their toned thighs and taut buttocks. No wonder cycling has taken off as the sport of the century with lycra-clad loveliness (or sometimes lardiness!) wherever you look. It's a great way to get outdoors and get fit without too much pressure on the joints.
But for many of us the thought of cycling is as far as it gets. Let's face it, we have enough uphill struggles in our day to day life without adding to them in our leisure time!
Enter the e-bike...
Electric bikes have a battery to boost your pedal power, which weighs a bit (7kg or more) and takes a few hours to charge. Bikes can be pedal-assist to kick in when you need a bit of extra help up those pesky hills but leaving you to pedal most of the time. These bikes can take you 90 miles or so before the battery dies and then you still have your legs to get you home if needed. Or bikes can be full-power, requiring minimal pedalling. As you can imagine they are much heavier and give a much shorter range of travel than the pedal-assist versions. Electric bikes are often built for commutes and road use but more and more are being built for mountain biking and off-roading.
But is it a short-lived craze or will it keep on rolling?? And is it worth the investment? Let's look at the real benefits...
Yes, really! I was surprised. How can using a motor to reduce the amount of energy you put into your cycling, make you fitter? In fact, a lot of research is showing that electric bikes do improve fitness. How? They encourage people to jump on the bike more often and may increase the distance they travel when compared to normal bike use. More frequent and longer journeys more than make up for the lower energy expended thanks to the motor. A recent study of 20 sedentary people showed that 4 weeks of trialling an e-bike resulted in an average of over 300km and 16 hours of cycling that led to better blood sugar control, improved power and a tendency to fat loss.
With e-bikes being a lot heavier than conventional bikes, the effort required when you are pedaling and the increased difficulty manoeuvring it will ensure you still get a workout. Electric bike users also demonstrate that they can achieve the same increase in heart rate from riding an e-bike as they do from a conventional bike - but they are covering a greater distance.
Finally, without the head-down, maximum effort of pedaling a conventional bike, you can enjoy the scenery and get a mental boost too.
Increases bike commuting
A key factor to increasing activity is to build it into your day-to-day life. If you never have enough time to exercise, incorporate it into something you have to do anyway. Many people would like to commute by bike but it may be just too far, the hills may be a tad too steep, you don't want to arrive hot and sweaty....the electric bike can take those excuses away! Feedback following a trial of electric bikes amongst 40 employees stated that 75% would cycle to work at least one day a week if they had an e-bike available compared to 30% without an e-bike. Apparently, e-bikes have the potential to double cycling commuting distance in the UK.
Suitable for more people
With an e-bike, we don't need to be super-fit, young, unencumbered by baggage....so many more people can reap the benefits. E-bikes are great for older people, kids (though have to be over 14 on public roads), shoppers or parents with infants on board. They have a much broader appeal meaning a greater health potential for communities and less crowding on the roads.
OK - not compared to standard bikes due to the fact that making and disposing of batteries can be very polluting. Plus the electricity has to come from somewhere - ideally solar panels or wind turbine but could be a coal plant! However, if they mean that you are able to use them for commuting and leave the car at home, then the environment will win. E-bike trials have shown a reduction of 20% of car miles during the study period. The European Cyclists' Federation found that electric bikes emitted less than 10% of the CO2 that a car produces per passenger, per kilometer, helping to protect the planet. And the air pollution from fumes that is affecting our breathing will be improved too.
When compared to car commuting, e-bikes are a lot cheaper - costing just 0.4 pence per mile compared to 34 pence per mile of the average car. They are more pricey than conventional bikes - plus the cost of replacement batteries, servicing and increased tyre wear. However, when you consider what people can pay for increasingly lightweight titanium conventional bikes in an effort to reduce the pedal power needed, maybe paying for a motor isn't so bad after all.
Of course, it doesn't have to be either / or when it comes to conventional or e-bikes - if your wallet can stretch to both. Even the 'purist' cyclist may find an e-bike comes into its own if injuries make pedal power difficult, or when longer journeys preclude standard cycling.
So, if you are tempted by cycling, this may just be enough to overcome your excuses. And when you get the look of disdain from a traditional cyclist as you shoot past, leaving them behind on the hill, you can feel smug knowing that there is loads of great health evidence behind you too.
Now, it's just the lycra decision to make!
There are hundreds of free articles by Dr Sally Norton on health, wellbeing and sustainable weight loss at www.vavistalife.com