Debunking the ebike nay-sayers…unscientifically!
This week I’ve got a treat for you with a great article about ebikes from my good mate Tina McCarthy. I love how Tina demolishes so many of the myths and assumptions that a lot of riders have about ebikes. Over to you Tina…..
I can hear the whispers behind me now. I’m starting a ride and there is talk about bikes. ‘Yeah but if you don’t use it you lose it’ were the words quietly said behind my back, hoping I wouldn’t hear. The response was equally as pointed, ‘I agree, I’m not ready for an ebike. When I’m old maybe.’
I’ve heard it time and time again. The ‘I’m not old enough yet’ or the ‘I want to keep my fitness for as long as I can’ arguments. No matter how many times I try to dispel these myths I hear it like a broken record. It’s repeated by the thousands of comments you can find online from the nay-sayers who think ebikes are for the old, the weak, the unfit, the overweight and the lazy. Why do they dare to make judgement on another person’s bike choice? Why does it matter so much to these people?
It’s an issue that has plagued me, vexed me, and downright made me angry. To hear those words from a fellow rider imply so secretly that I was not fit enough or good enough to ride with them had me fuming — the problem was, it happened on more than one occasion. That same rider went on to tell me to slow down when we were trying to travel at ~27–28 km/h because there was ‘no way’ they could keep up against my ebike. Well, I hate to break the news to you, my ebike stops being an ebike at 25 km/h, so maybe the shoe was on the other foot…it was not me who lacked fitness.
Invalidation is a funny thing. It is said that the use of this form of personal commentary on others is a way to manipulate, control, or maybe even create emotional injury to the recipient. It is also a way of letting the listeners know of the speaker’s own need to state their position of power and an ‘I’m better than them’ position. So, was this person attempting to alleviate their feelings of inadequacy? I’m no psychologist but this very outspoken need for self-assertion against an ebike did seem pretty unnecessary.
Is this the same reason that a certain element of the cycling world feel it is necessary to go into attack mode every time there is an article about ebikes being great for all kinds of cyclists? Are they simply trying to shout out to the world ‘I am not inadequate!’…I don’t know, but for whatever reason, they need to just simply stop. What a person chooses to ride is not their problem, so don’t make it into a problem. (No doubt the nay-sayers will make all kinds of comments on my words here)!
But in 2020 I was smacked in the face with a diagnosis I had never expected; a genetic heart condition that means I am susceptible to coronary heart disease. What was discovered shocked me…despite a good diet, staying active and low cholesterol I had a 50% blockage in my left anterior descending artery.
For the time being massive hills or interval training were off the agenda. I was advised to be cautious due to the ‘unpredictable’ nature of the blockage. A window had slammed shut…not that I’d ever been a hills rider anyway! But it felt like just when I had actively changed my lifestyle to prevent mature onset diabetes, I’d been thrown a curve ball. From that day on I felt shattered about the possibilities lost.
Enter the e-road bike. Suddenly I felt like that window had opened again. I had a safety net when I rode up hills and I felt like it gave me permission to do some of those things I was told not to do…albeit with full clearance from my cardiologist.
And this is when the troubles started. Instantly it seemed certain people thought it their responsibility to tell me I would lose fitness, imply I’d be less of a rider, I was too old for my fancy race geometry road bike and I was medically debilitated and therefore ‘needed’ an ebike. But the problem was, they didn’t realise that as soon as I got my hands on the e-road bike I couldn’t wait to get up each day and ride! The bike was so much damn fun I couldn’t stay away from it…it was like a drug!
There are countless articles now stating that ebikes improve the fitness of the user: they ride more often, they ride further and they ride for recreation as well as commuting, often ditching the car. One study conducted by the University of Basel in Switzerland* pitted ebike riders against analogue bike riders over a period of 4 weeks. At the end of the period the results showed that the ebike riders had improved their V02 max and when put on an analogue bike had consistently high speeds than the analogue rider group and travelled up steeper gradients more easily.
I was interested in this result because 2 years down the track from diagnosis I was subjected to further cardio tests to check exactly how my condition had progressed. To the astonishment of my medical team my heart health had improved so significantly to the point they stated ‘you have the heart of a 20-year-old’! It was a big turnaround from the initial diagnosis. For me, it was a revelation…I had ridden myself to good health. Because of the ebike I ride more, I ride to places I would never have gone before, and I ride faster for longer…I don’t sit on 25 km/h at the bike’s e-power limit. I generally ride at 30–33km/h and I’m pushing a 14–15 kg bike. It’s a no-brainer…of course, I was going to be fitter.
But still, I heard the comments…I was not fit enough, I could not ride hills and I was ‘cheating’! I decided to put this to the test in order to lay these ridiculous comments to rest. Unscientific as it may be, I wanted to find out what would happen if I jumped back on my analogue race-geometry bike and rode the same route as usual…just a couple of very mild hills of around 4–5% and one nasty little bugger at 10% for around 100mt. I ride the route weekly, it’s my ‘go-to’ for a nice flat spin and I am nearly always chasing my ride partner who sits on 30–35 km/h+ on the flats. But some had implied I could no longer do this with ease on my analogue bike…sadly I also had begun to question my ability.
‘I’ll be slow’ I said, ‘don’t wait for me, I’ll just go at my pace’ I said, and ‘I’m not sure I’ll be able to get up those hills’ was my warning to my ride partner to go easy on me. We set out as usual and I instantly noticed how sluggish the bike felt on take-off. I’m used to the instant energy output from my ebike. I braked after a cheeky little downhill and then had to accelerate again to keep up with my ride partner…again, it felt sluggish to pick up speed. I had become so familiar with the instantaneous take-off on the ebike that ‘me-power’ made me feel like this was going to be a slow ride.
But soon the old familiar responsiveness of the race-geometry bike came back into play. Within minutes we were racing down the usual route sitting on 35 km/h with no problems at all. I was slower on the take off, but over the flats I was faster. More surprisingly I was faster on the uphills than I am on the e-bike, remembering I will be riding over the 25 km/h threshold of the ebike. My ride partner kept getting faster and stated ‘I thought you said you were going to be slow?’ Well, that’s what I had thought. The fact was, I was faster than I am on the e-bike. I had not lost fitness at all; I had gained it.
This was a route that pre-ebike I would ride with my partner weekly. When I go back through my Strava stats and make a comparison of speeds prior to owning the ebike, I was faster on the analogue bike now in 2022 than before. I had always attested to the fact that pushing a heavier ebike at those speeds meant I was fitter, but nobody believed me (and maybe not even I did!). But for me this was clear evidence: I was faster and fitter than I had been before. Even with a few kilos extra from Covid lockdown times!!
But let me add two more bits of unscientific data for you. I have bursitis, tendonitis and a possible labral tear in my right hip that causes pain. Riding the ebike I have noticed to be far more gentle on my hip. After I dismounted the analogue race-geometry bike I had instant throbbing in the hip that lasted all day, a sign for me I was better on the ebike for injury prevention! And the second of those last two points…it is just so much damn fun on my ebike. I feel like a 10-year-old kid every time I ride. Yes, I feel like a kid anytime I get on a bike, but I pay the price afterward on my analogue bike with injuries creeping up on me. The ebike is exciting, and fun, and has led me to do more adventurous riding than previously.
As energy prices increase and the world strives for more sustainable choices in transport, ebikes will play a big role. As stated in Bicycling.com and reported by research company NPD:
“E-bike sales have also surpassed non-e-bike sales in terms of popularity and growth (though not actual numbers quite yet), reports market research company NPD. With 240 per cent growth in sales in the last year, e-bikes are outstripping even road bikes.”
Though there is nothing like the satisfaction of climbing to the top of a large hill by your own power, we cannot deny the adrenalin rush an ebike can deliver in equal amounts. Nor is there any denying the fact that if an ebike gets a person riding who may never have thought about doing so before, then it’s a great thing. It improves fitness, mental health and lowers emissions. Whether young or old, injured or able-bodied, ebikes are not cheating…they are enablers!
Unscientific my test may be, fakery no! My little test has satisfied me and most definitely satisfied my ride partner who was actually a little bit taken aback that I could ride at those speeds with no problem, far more easily than either of us expected. ‘You did really well’ he said. But he couldn’t help himself, ‘You should ride the Tarmac more often’. Why I asked, ‘because it’s better for you’ he said….my eyes rolled, here we go again!
P.S. Okay, so some of you ride faster than me and may think the speeds stated above are a bit slow. Please remember I am comparing my speed to my speed, not my speed to your speed or anyone else’s. And if you are slower than the speeds above, it doesn’t matter. Compare your speed to your speed, not mine.
NOTE: Full declaration I am a Specialized ambassador. My race-geometry analogue bike referred to is a Specialized Tarmac SL6, and my ebike is a Specialized Turbo Creo Expert.
Höchsmann, C. , Meister, S. , Gehrig, D. , Gordon, E. , Li, Y. , Nussbaumer, M. , Rossmeissl, A. , Schäfer, J. , Hanssen, H. & Schmidt-Trucksäss, A. (2018). Effect of E-Bike Versus Bike Commuting on Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Overweight Adults: A 4-Week Randomized Pilot Study. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 28 (3), 255–265. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000438.
https://www.bicycling.com/news/a39838840/ebikes-are-outpacing-electric-car-sales-in-the-us/: Molly Hurford, April 2022
Great article Tina. Very inspiring. I ran into a bunch of e bikers recently having so much fun on a week long cycling tour. Also have a mate who rides a Specialised E Bike with us on our Saturday group ride. Its great to see him be able to continue riding with us and yes he is good to sit in behind for a good draft. I’m all for e-bikes simply because it gets more people out riding and gives this that have some medical issues the chance to keep on riding.
Great article. I will be using an E Bike for the first time on a group ride in Maine in June. I am hoping that this will allow me to keep up with the group especially on the hills.
I’m almost 64. My 70yr old husband got an e-bike last year and talked me into one. I felt like I was giving in, giving up, just wouldn’t work as hard as my road or mountain bike. But like you, i was pleasantly surprised and absolutely love riding the e! We ride more and it’s honestly more enjoyable. I want to stay fit but I also don’t think I need to get my heart rate thru the roof climbing the hills in my neighborhood. Still getting a workout but not wiped out for the rest of the day when we ride.
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