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Is Riding an Ebike Still Good Exercise? Does It Make It Too Easy? Do You Use the Electric Motor Too Often?

Before I upgraded from my old bike to a new electric bike, I wondered if it would give me the same level of workout. One thing about conventional bikes is they force you to confront difficult terrain. You might be riding along and see a rugged hill ahead. “No way, no how,” you think to yourself. But once you get going it’s easier than you thought. You make it to the top and you’re glad you expended the effort.

With an electric bike, there’s the option to turn up the motor assist at any time—does that moment of “no way, no how” cause the instinctive reaction of boosting the assist?

For me, it helped when I stopped thinking of an ebike as a bicycle that helps you climb hills and started thinking of it as a bicycle that allows you to modulate the difficulty of your workout at any time. We’ve talked about it before: the best cardio fitness programs include a mix of low-intensity, medium-intensity and high-intensity workouts (read more here.) An ebike allows you to access any of those three levels of workout at any time.

That idea helped put it in perspective for me. As long as I was maintaining some high-intensity workouts, I shouldn’t feel guilty about activating the motor assistance whenever I wanted. And it’s not a binary on/off feature: I can use a little bit of motor assistance to transform a high-intensity workout into a medium-intensity workout, or I can use a lot of assistance and give myself a nice easy low-intensity pedaling workout.

No matter which level you’re at, you’re still getting a terrific workout. A high-intensity workout might be a “greater” workout than a low-intensity workout, but remember that balance is important, and even a low-intensity workout will activate your heart muscle and burn calories.Scientists estimate that a 185-pound person burns 311-355 calories for every thirty minutes riding at a medium intensity level and 450 or more calories for every thirty minutes at high intensity.

Of course, it all depends on the individual. I listen to my body. If I’m feeling tired, I take it a bit easier. If I’ve got gobs of energy, I go all out. If I feel like I can push myself, I push myself. That’s maybe the coolest thing about having an ebike: no matter where you’re riding, you can choose what kind of ride you want.

Take my commute as an example. It’s about five miles, for the most part pretty level—overall, a solidly easy ride. Then at the end is a large hill that I zoom down. It’s fun.

The ride home is a different story. Instead of going downhill at the end, it’s a sharp uphill incline at the very beginning. It’s great exercise, but maybe it’s been alooooongday and I wished I didn’t have to.

With my old bike, I didn’t have the choice. Now I do.

Absolutely, yes, an ebike is just as good of an exercise machine as a conventional bike. The difference is that whereas previously you had no choice but to climb every hill, now you can pick and choose, and as a result you have more energy leftover to ride more, and ride further.

And for the record, I still do the hill with motor assist off or on Level 1 most of the time. With four days per week commuting to the office, I climb the hill about three times on average. Once a week I won’t have it in me. I’ll turn the electric assist up all the way and zoom up the hill. And then by the time I get home I’ll be energized from the nice easy low-intensity ride that I’ll be able to go outside and spend some time playing soccer with my daughter in the backyard.

-Mitch