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UN Omaha Exercise Physiology Lab co-directors (left to right), Dr. Kris Berg, Dr. Dustin Slivka with pair of Currie Technology iZip electric bicycles
UN Omaha Exercise Physiology Lab co-directors (left to right), Dr. Kris Berg, Dr. Dustin Slivka with pair of Currie Technology iZip electric bicycles

University of Nebraska Omaha Prepares for E-Bike Physiology Research

University of Nebraska Omaha researchers prepare to put the physiological benefits of electric assist bicycles to the test this summer.

Today, I had the opportunity to visit the University of Nebraska Omaha's Human Physical Exercise and Recreation building or HPER. There I met with the co-director of the University's Exercise Physiology Lab, Dr. Kris Berg (left in the above photo) and Dr. Dustin Slivka (right). We met to discuss the timing of how to begin a long-term human physiology study to investigate the health and fitness benefits, if any, of riding an electrically-assisted bicycle.

Previous studies outside the United States in Australia and Europe strongly indicated that contrary to expectations, having electric-assist, in combination, with rider physical effort, actually may produce better overall fitness results than riding a conventional pedal bicycle.

Drs. Berg and Slivka agreed last year to lead the study, which we believe is the first of its kind in North America. Both are well-published researchers in the area of not only human exercise physiology, in general, but in cycling, in particular. They are thorough and methodical researchers, as was highlighted in our conversation today, which was my first chance to see the two iZip Path electric bicycles that Currie Technology graciously donated to the project; both a men's bike and a women's model.

We discussed the roadmap for the project, which will begin modestly with the lab gaining some familiarity with the bikes. Dr. Slivka says he plans to begin commuting with one of them yet this month, measuring his heart rate under various pedaling modes: no-assist; PAS or pedal-assist, which is utilized in Europe; and TAG, a hybrid mode that permits some throttle-assist without having to pedal.

The plan for now is to first gain familiarity with the bikes through May and begin riding some test routes using GPS for later computer simulation in the lab. Gradually, through the summer more university staff will be introduced to the bikes and, once an additional piece of equipment is acquired -- a special crank set with embedded strain gauges, running about $2,500 -- the lab can begin indoor tests to determine the amount of energy the bike is contributing relative to the rider; and in the process, setting the base line for larger human trials to begin in late summer or early fall after the Institutional Review Board at the University of Nebraska Medical Center has approved the lab's formal application.

The goal of the project is to better understand exactly the amount of physical energy a rider will expend riding electric-assisted bicycles in terms of oxygen uptake and resultant calories burned. Obviously, many people would appreciate some mechanical assistance on hills and against headwinds, but does this help their overall wellbeing or not? That's what both ePEDALER and the University want to find out. I am confident I know the answer, especially after an email I received this morning from Alan Page in Melbourne, Australia. I trust he won't mind my publishing a portion of it here:

He writes…

My e-bike is a 27spd Jamis Coda Sport, with 200w 36v hub motor and 14Ah Li battery; weighing about 22kg all up with bell, lights, rack and mudguards.

I started riding 34km (69km round trip) to work using the e-bike 5 years ago. I retired 2.75y ago, and now do more unassisted riding… I do 100km Audax rides, and quite a bit of MTB lately. I had a 54km MTB ride on forest access trails with 9 km of single track last weekend, with 8 of us out...

My e-bike got me bike fit, and since retirement I've moved into many other forms of unassisted cycling. The e-bike is great for carrying loads, or commuting a long distance with a pannier for change of clothes/shopping, and beating hills and afternoon 20 kph sea breeze headwinds.

Ultimately and ideally, this is where we want to see all of us get to, where we're again fit enough and strong enough to not need any assistance, or at least have it there when we need it.

Before closing, I'd like to ask you to consider helping Dr. Berg and Slivka acquire the strain gauge they need. Please let them know if you can contribute in-kind or donate cash to make this acquisition. Dr. Berg can be reached at kberg@unomaha.edu.

Keep watching this space for future updates.

Posted By: Bill Moore [09-May-2013]

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