The E-Bike Experiment is Over

At the end of 2018 I purchased my first e-bike, you can read about that here. It was a revelation, particularly given the huge climb I have on my way home, it was literally no sweat riding up that hill. But I just sold it and replaced it with the bike above and I’m as happy as the rock about that! So why did I sell it, read on…

The e-bike was great, it’s a fantastic form of transportation, particularly if you have a hilly commute. The trouble was it was too good, despite riding more, I lost fitness, which when my primary hobby is riding my mountain bike, it was becoming an issue. I’d replaced riding my regular commuter a few days a week to the e-bike most days a week, primarily in turbo mode, because, well why wouldn’t you, it would be stupid to have that power and not use it. But for me at least, riding the e-bike more was resulting in less exercise.

If you don’t already cycle regularly and are interesting in cycling more, an e-bike can help but it really depends on where your baseline is. If you’ve been relatively sedentary, an e-bike will help you get more exercise, but if you were already cycling a reasonable amount on a regular bike, changing to the e-bike could decrease the exercise you get. Lets look at the numbers…

My commute is just over 10km, with around 50 metres of climbing in the morning and almost 400 metres in the evening, below are some typical stats for my morning and afternoon ride on both bikes:

So almost the same time in the morning, a little bit more effort on the two or three small hills, I sometimes stand up and sprint on those, hence the high hear rate, sometimes I sit and spin my way up at a lower heart rate. In the afternoon, three times the number of calories are burned on the regular bike, and average and maximum heart rates are much higher.

If I were to ride the e-bike 5 days per week, I’d burn 1,765 calories per week. I’d burn more than that in just two days on the regular bike (1,804 calories). 3 days on the regular bike would burn 2,706 calories, 4 days 3,608 calories, and 5 days 4,510 calories, so from a pure energy used perspective 5 days of e-biking is equivalent to about two days on the regular bike.

More importantly though in relation to maintaining fitness, is probably the reduction in average and maximum heart rate on the e-bike. Focusing on the afternoon, average heart rate is 99 on the e-bike and 142 on the regular bike, maximum heart rate is 116 on the e-bike, and 164 on the regular bike. While i’m no expert, the phrase use it or lose it probably has some truth to it, and I was no longer pushing myself as much. The difference in level of effort shown by my heart rate on the regular bike (pink line below) and e-bike (green line) is quite obvious. (Same route, GPS distance is out a bit between them).

So there you have it, a somewhat convoluted way of saying e-bikes make things easier. Big surprise!

So back to a regular bike, i’ll be keeping my commuter for rainy rides or where I’d have to leave it locked up outside, but one out, one in, and something to make the hill climb more enjoyable if that’s possible was in order. Enter the Norco Search carbon gravel bike which comes in at about 20 lbs. It has opened my eyes to the capabilities of a high quality drop bar bike. The new bike is a pleasure to pedal, its quiet compared with the rattly commuter, it’s light, it wants to go, and is getting me riding longer rides, its easier to take on the gravel trails up the mountain, and fitness is returning… as long as we’re still allowed outside!

Thoughts on how we move around, whether by walking or cycling, transit or automobile, and how urban design influences that.