Ebikers Not Exercising Hard? Guess Again

They tend to ride longer than regular cyclists and get more physical activity, study finds.

Male adult riding ebike on road pathway
Ebikers travel farther on average than traditional cyclists, researchers at the University of Zurich found.Pedego

If some spandex-clad roadie snob or aggro mountain bike brah ever calls you "lazy" or a "cheater" for riding an ebike, researchers at the University of Zurich have some persuasive new data you can throw back at them.

The researchers conducted an online survey, updated every two weeks, of 10,000 cyclists and ebike riders (including ebikers who additionally ride traditional bikes) in seven European cities with varying degrees of bicycle use and cycling infrastructure: Antwerp, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; London, England; Örebro, Sweden; Rome, Italy; Vienna, Austria; and Zurich, Switzerland. The researchers monitored the participants’ travel frequency in terms of days per month, trips per day, travel duration, travel distance, and other factors.

Among the key findings was that although ebikes require less exertion to pedal, ebikers in the study logged 9 percent more physical activity (measured as “metabolic equivalents of tasks”) from their riding than traditional cyclists due to the longer distance and duration of their trips. The study also found that cyclists who adopted an ebike had a negligible drop-off in their physical activity because they tended to travel longer distances with electric assist.

“These findings counter the often-raised concern that ebiking may result in a substantial reduction of physical activity for traveling due to the electric assist of ebikes, which reduces the required physical effort,” the study’s authors wrote.

Additional findings include:

  • Ebikers were on average significantly older than cyclists (48.1 versus 41.4 years old), had greater car access (68 percent versus 51 percent), and had a higher average body mass index (24.8 versus 23.8, neither of which is considered overweight or underweight by the World Health Organization).
  • Ebikers and cyclists use their bikes with similar frequency (14.5 days per month for the former versus 14.0 for the latter), but ebikers used public transport less often than cyclists (7.7 days per month versus 10.4 days).
  • Ebikers' average ebike and bicycle trip duration (35 and 41.9 minutes, respectively) was significantly higher than cyclists' average trip duration (25.6 minutes).
  • Ebikers had longer trip durations for both ebikes (9.4 kilometers) and traditional bicycles (8.4 kilometers) than cyclists' average bicycle trip duration (4.8 kilometers).
  • Average daily travel duration was similar for ebiking among ebikers and cycling among cyclists (32.2 versus 30.3 minutes), but ebikers also reported 13.4 minutes of cycling in addition to their ebike use.

In their conclusion, the study’s authors wrote: “[T]his analysis supports the notion to accept, or even promote, e-bikes as a healthy and sustainable transport option based on ebikers’ travel behavior and self-reported mode substitution. Planners should be aware that ebikers travel longer distances than cyclists. Thus, ebikes might be used for longer commuting trips than non-electric bicycles. To accommodate (or promote) this new demand and to avoid conflicts with other road users in urban areas, cycling infrastructure should be expanded and may need to be adapted to accommodate higher speeds and address safety needs.”