Are E-Bikes for Cheaters?

Providing health gains and disrupting the cycling world


There’s a certain amount of grumbling happening in the cycling community about the new kid in town: e-bikes. They’re easier to ride than traditional bikes because they use a battery powered motor that kicks in as you pedal.

The word ‘cheating’ has been thrown around by hardcore cyclists but while e-bikes take less energy to ride than conventional bikes, they are hardly cheating.

E-bikes require the rider to pedal at all times in order to get a boost from the motor. The amount of effort needed depends on the level of assist the cyclist chooses, from zero to turbo.

With the rise in popularity of e-bikes, scientists are looking at their effectiveness as an exercise tool. A University of Colorado study followed non-exercising volunteers who rode e-bikes three times a week for a month. The study found improvements in the riders’ cardiovascular health, aerobic capacity and blood sugars.

Another study in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine concluded that “E-bikes may have the potential to improve cardiorespiratory fitness similar to conventional bicycles despite the available power assist, as they enable higher biking speeds and greater elevation gain.” Overall, studies have shown that riding an e-bike is a moderately intense workout, harder than walking but not as strenuous as conventional cycling.

Andrew Brown, of iGO Electric Bikes explains that historically, e-bikes have appealed to an older crowd with mobility or health issues who wanted to stay active. But that’s changing.

“A younger audience has also been drawn toward electric bikes as an environmentally responsible form of urban transportation,” Brown says.

Worldwide the popularity of e-bikes is exploding, led by China. European countries are also enthusiastic. In the Netherlands, e-bikes have surpassed conventional bike sales and subsidies are available to offset the purchase price in several countries who aim to get cars off the road and encourage cycle-commuting instead.

Non-traditional bicycle manufacturers are also getting on board with General Motors announcing plans for two e-bikes in 2019.

Despite all the benefits there is a downside. E-bikes are heavy, typically around 45 lbs. although the motor easily offsets this. They’re also pricey, starting at around $2,000.

Bicycles have been popular since the late 1800s, and every upgrade since gears and derailleurs has been met with a certain amount of suspicion and derision from cycling purists. The e-bike is just the next disruptor in the evolution of the bicycle.

In the end it’s not about cheating, it’s about what your goals are as a cyclist and what will bring you enjoyment and meet your needs, regardless of what anyone thinks.