The E in E-bikes isn’t for Easy

August 24, 2022 - Defence Stories

Q:  I injured my knee 25 years ago and needed surgery.  Physiotherapy helped and I took up cycling to stay fit.  Recently, my knee gets sore if I cycle too far or do too many hills.  Someone suggested I try an E-bike and I love it.  While this is terrific, I am concerned E-biking will substantially reduce the quality of my workouts.  Cycling Sam

A:  Dear Sam:  I am glad E-biking is helping you stay physically active.  E-bikes, or Pedal Assist Bikes, have been around a long time but only recently have become popular. They come in various styles to accommodate riding on roads or trails.  E-bikes have a small battery powered electric motor that only works when you are pedalling.  The motor provides a benefit similar to cycling with a tail wind.  You can adjust the amount of pedal assistance you get depending on how hard you want to exert yourself.  Some E-bikes offer a full throttle option but relying on this function provides none of the benefits of exercising.

E-bikes offer a number of advantages, including:

  1. The amount of pedal assist is adjustable.  If you are tired, going uphill, or cycling into a headwind, you can increase the level of assistance.  As your fitness improves, you can decrease the amount of assistance.
  2. They are very helpful if you need to carry children or cargo (groceries, camping gear) with your bike.
  3. Some people use E-bikes instead of a second car, realizing considerable savings.
  4. They allow you to cycle farther and faster.
  5. They provide a moderate level of exercise – less than normal cycling but more than walking.  The farther and the faster you ride, the greater the fitness benefits.
  6. They produce no emissions.
  7. They can help inactive people get moving again.

E-bikes also have some disadvantages, such as:

  1. They are approximately twice as expensive as a normal bike and more costly to repair and maintain.  Their batteries have a limited life span and are expensive to replace.
  2. When their batteries are drained, they are harder to ride than a normal bike.
  3. Their weight and speed make them harder to steer than a normal bike. 
  4. They have a higher injury rate than normal bikes – one study showed double the number of hospitalizations.  Take the time to test drive your e-bike until you are comfortable with how it handles and steers.  Remember to wear appropriate safety equipment.

Bottom Line:  E-bikes offer many people who cannot or do not want to use a normal bicycle the opportunity to get some exercise.  E-bikes are not skinny motorcycles – you need to pedal them. The amount of pedal assist you select is up to you and can change as you get fitter and stronger. Movement is medicine – even if it is pedal assisted.

Dr. Darrell Menard OMM MD, Dip Sport Med

Dr. Menard is the Surgeon General’s specialist advisor in sports medicine and has worked extensively with athletes from multiple sports.  As part of the Strengthening the Forces team he works on injury prevention and promoting active living.

Strengthening the Forces is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.

Page details

Date modified: