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Stromer ST2 similar to that ridden by Adam Alter
Stromer ST2 similar to that ridden by Adam Alter

Same Great Workout : More Evidence

The evidence is mounting that riding an electric-assist bicycle is not 'cheating' or 'being lazy.' Adam Alter commutes 40 miles from Round Rock to Austin, Texas and when he can, it rides a bike. So, when he switched to an electric-assist model, he decided to measure the physiological results. Here's what he discovered.

Back in March of last year, I wrote about Taylor La Salle's master's degree research project at the University of Nebraska Omaha. With the generous assistance of Currie Technologies, I arranged for the university's Human Exercise Physiology or HEP lab to receive a pair of iZip electric bicycles. The objective of the research was to measure what impact riding an e-bike would have in terms of human effort expended. Intuitively, everyone thinks that using electric-assist equates to less physical effort. You're just being lazy if you ride an electric bike, goes the meme.

What La Salle discovered surprised him and the department. You can read about his findings on my blog entitled, "Same Great Workout, Just Faster and More Fun".

Of course skeptics immediately questioned the study, pointing out that he used the same, heavy electric bike for both the non-assisted ride and the assisted ride, which was over a hilly, 3.5 km course just east of the campus. Surely the result would have been different had the test subjects, 8 male students and 7 coeds, used a conventional bicycle for the non-assisted segments. Fair enough, but now there's Adam Alter's findings.

Alter lives in Round Rock, Texas and commutes 40 miles to his job in Austin. If he drives his GMC Yukon, he figures it costs him $40 bucks a day, with $24 spent just on parking. Time spent behind the wheel is about 7.5 hours each week or about 1.5 hours per day. When he rides his bikes, a Cervelo R5 or Specialized Sirrus, it takes him between 2.6-2.8 hours or 13.5 hrs per week. So, the actual difference between riding his bike and the SUV is roughly 6 hours time-wise.

Then he switched to electric-assist, first riding a Focus S10 and then a Stromer ST2. Since Alter works for BSX Insight, a company that makes and uses specialized human performance monitoring equipment, he was able to instrument himself and the bike and over the course of 11 weeks and 2,000 miles measure the results in terms of heart rate, power expended, speed and time. Below are the graphs from his research. You can read more about his findings on the Electric Bike Report website.

Bike vs. eBike Effort graph

Bike vs. eBike Efficiency graph

As with La Salle's study, Alter discovered that while the actual amount of effort expended is nearly identical for both manual pedal bikes and electric-assist models, the e-bikes turned out to provide a more efficient expenditure of energy, as well as cut his commute time by 3 hours a week. What La Salle found by studying a larger group of individuals is that the perception of effort is dramatically less, even though they were getting nearly the same level of exercise.

Bottom line: you're not being 'lazy' or 'cheating' riding an electric bike. You're being smart and you're using your time more wisely, with the added benefit of getting a good solid workout to boot.

Can I say, "I told you so"?

Posted By: Bill Moore [10-Jan-2016]