by Rob Potts February 02, 2023


Bicycles have been a popular form of transportation and exercise for nearly 150 years here.  In the last few years, the rise of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, has given people another option for getting around and staying in shape.  Now, when this new generation of bikes came out a several years ago, a lot of people said that it’s cheating.  Why this generation?  Well, it’s only been the last several years that the E-bike and battery technology got to the point where the quality and performance really made E-bikes a legitimate alternative to both regular bikes and cars.

Is it cheating?  One question that often arises when comparing regular bikes to e-bikes is whether you can get as much exercise on an e-bike as you can on a regular bike.  I’d say the answer is both yes and no. It depends on you, the bike and how you use it.  I’ll both include my personal story with articles and studies I found, which definitely align with both my experience and that of friends that also have E-bikes.  There do not appear to have been very many studies done, and I've included all I found.  

For me personally.  I got my first E-bike a little over a year ago.   It’s a mid drive Kona mountain bike.  I got a mountain bike so I can ride all surfaces.   A mid drive because a mountain bike really has to be mid drive to perform well on the mountain bike trails.  But other than that, I like the natural feel of a mid drive much more than a rear hub drive.  Both are and can be great.  Rear hub works better for some and mid drive better for others.  But we have another article for that.  As to whether which is better for exercise – mid drive or rear hub driven?  I couldn’t find any studies comparing the two.  I’ll have to go on my experience.  In short, a mid drive generates the power at the pedals and the rear hub at the rear wheel.   So in the rear hub drive bikes, you get the feel of being pushed along as you pedal.  Yes, it works in conjunction with your riding, but most rear hub drive bikes have only 1-2 sensors, while mid drive usually have 5-6 sensors, so they really mimic what you’re doing with your pedals.  Having ridden many miles on both types, I’d say I can get a significantly better workout on a mid drive bike, as I can really mimic my riding style on a regular bike.  I’ve not been able to pull that off on a rear hub bike.   I just like the feel of a mid drive better.   Again, rear hub are great for many and also give us the option of significantly more affordable options.   Our entry level rear hub drive bikes start around $1,300, compared to $2,100 and up, for mid drive bikes.

Before I got my E-bike, I had a road bike, gravel bike and mountain bike.   I enjoy mixing up my riding and don’t like just doing one style all the time.  One interesting thing about that is it means I’m in better overall shape, but have trouble keeping up with the faster road bikers or mountain bikers (or even the middle of the road bikers).  Now, a lot of that is probably the physical / athletic limitations I have compared to others!   But at least a significant factor is that mountain and road bike fitness is very different.   With mountain biking, you climb hills / pedal hard, reach the top, then coast down.   So it’s a bit like interval training.  Road biking is much more continuous and the hills are usually a lot longer.  So arguably, road biking improves my fitness for mountain biking more than the other way around.  But the fact that I do a variety of types of riding with limited time, means I never get good at one.   That doesn’t matter to me, but sometimes I do want to keep up with faster riders.  The E-bike has fixed that issue.

For me, riding on an E-bike for a year, what’s my result?  I rode a lot more miles the last year compared to previous years.  On a mountain bike trail nearby that I enjoy, I’ll usually ride 1, 6 mile lap.  Sometimes 2, but I know if I do that, I’ll be overly tired.  When I ride my e-bike on it, I always do 2 laps.  I only use the pedal assist on a few of the bigger hills, and have it off the rest of the time.  The end result – I usually bike twice the miles, am more tired than if I rode one lap on my regular bike, but not as tired if I rode two.  The same goes for my paved trail and gravel riding.  I pretty much ride 50 – 100% more that day than I would on a regular bike, as I’m both going faster and the pedal assist takes some of the pain out of the hills.  When I look at my data on my Garmin, the heart rate spikes are simply not as intense as on a regular bike.  From what I can tell, it seems to be my heart rate was about 90 – 95% compared to a regular bike, with the main reason being that I cut out the spikes. 

I also started commuting to work 2-3 days a week on my E-bike.   It’s not something I would do that often on a regular bike as I often don’t want to get to work too hot and sweaty and some days I just don’t feel like riding hard.   Since I have an E-bike, if I want to take it easy I can put it in high, average 18 – 19 miles per hour on the roads no matter the hills.   Or if I want a better workout, turn it off or use it in low.     Another factor is that much of my riding is with my wife.   She got an E-bike before I did.   Instantly, she was wanting to ride more days of the week, ride more miles the days we went out and at a faster speed.  So E-bikes are a great equalizer that frankly just makes riding more fun, meaning we do it more often.  Especially after a hard day at work when maybe you don’t want to go on a conventional bike ride, knowing the E-bike allows you to ride as easy or hard as you want.   The fact that she was now riding further and faster, meant that I was able to as well.  

The end result of all this.  I got in better shape with an E-bike compared to the previous several years.  The reason is simple.  I rode more miles.   I’d say the one drawback is not doing long steep climbs on my road or gravel bikes means that my leg strength is arguably not what it could be if I wasn’t on an E-bike.  But my cardio has much improved.   It’s definitely improved my running cardio as well, compared to previous years.

This is similar to my experience with others who have gotten E-bikes.  The pedal assistance can be adjusted to match the rider’s level of exertion, so the rider can choose to pedal with less effort and get less exercise, or to pedal harder and get more exercise. This makes e-bikes a great option for people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy cycling due to physical limitations or age-related issues.  We have seen E-bikes open up the doors to hundreds of people who wouldn’t otherwise ride, and to those that already were, they’re simply biking more.

However, the nature of e-bikes means that riders are likely to get less intense exercise compared to riding a regular bike.  Especially at high settings.   Most I know use the bike off or on the lowest setting on level ground and then use it on medium to high settings to get up hills.    So you do miss out on the intense pedaling uphill compared to a conventional bike. This can make it easier to cover longer distances, but it also means that the rider is not working their muscles as much as they would be on a regular bike.   In addition, some e-bike riders may be tempted to rely more on the electric assistance and pedal less, which would further reduce the amount of exercise they get. On the other hand, some e-bike riders may choose to ride in a more strenuous manner and get more exercise, but this would depend on their individual riding style and goals.  Plus, any time on your bike is better exercise than in a car!

E-bikes do have some advantages over regular bikes when it comes to exercise. For one, they allow riders to cover longer distances, which can provide an opportunity for more exercise and a greater overall calorie burn. This can be especially beneficial for people who live in hilly areas, as the electric assistance can help them tackle steep inclines without getting too tired.  Another advantage of e-bikes is that they can encourage more people to start cycling and get active. People who might not have considered riding a regular bike due to physical limitations or other factors may find that an e-bike provides the perfect solution. This can result in more people getting regular exercise and improving their overall health and well-being.  They start out using more pedal assist and as they get in better shape, continue to reduce that.

What does the internet say?  We included links to a few studies.  No since rewriting what they said – we’ll just summarize it and link to their studies/articles.    Here’s a link to a BYU Study.  


- According to the BYU Study, They  measured the heart rate of experienced mountain bikers on standard versus E-bikes. When riding an E-mountain bike, the riders hit 94 per cent of the average heart rate compared to a conventional bike.   

- The same study found paved trail riders achieved 89% of the average heart on an E-bike, compared to a regular bike;

A Second Study Link

Here, the researchers found that the participants who rode regular bikes had a higher heart rate than those on E-bikes.  However, those on E-bikes burned more energy due to going on longer rides.  

"Conclusions: E-bikes may have the potential to improve cardiorespiratory fitness similar to conventional bicycles despite the available power assist, as they enable higher biking speeds and greater elevation gain."

A Third Study Link

Summary findings:  “Conclusions: E-bikes may have the potential to improve cardiorespiratory fitness similar to conventional bicycles despite the available power assist, as they enable higher biking speeds and greater elevation gain.”

A Fourth Study Link - Calories Burned

"Participants burned, on average, 344 to 422 calories per hour on an e-bike, versus 505 calories per hour on a regular bike — not total calories."

- Now, I'm going to make a very general unscientific assumption here.   The first E-bike article referenced, the participants seemed to exert themselves about 90% as much on an E-bike as a regular bike.   This would have been a mid drive bike and enthusiast riders.  The fourth study cited, was on a rear hub bike.   It sounds like the participants burned about 75% the calories on the E-bike compared to the regular one.   This would go along with my anecdotal evidence that you'll get more exercise on a mid drive bike.  


So what’s the verdict based on all this?  

  • You can get an easy to hard workout on an E-bike, depending on how much you ride and what level of pedal assist you use; 
  • You’ll likely get a better workout on a mid drive bike compared to a rear hub;
  • You’ll likely ride more often, expending more energy and burning more calories;
  • Your rides won’t be as physically intense as a regular bike ride.  So if you are already a bike rider, you may lose some leg strength; 

We think if you get one, you’ll ride more often, more miles when you do and have more fun.   If you goal is to lose weight, then E-bikes can help as the net result is you'll likely burn more energy compared to a conventional bike.   Many will even be able to replace some car rides and save some money.  More smiles per hour. 

 Two Additional Studies. 

  1. "Physical Demands and Energy Expenditure during Electric Bicycle and Conventional Bicycle Riding" (Baumeister et al., 2018) - This study found that the physical demands of e-bike riding were similar to those of conventional bicycle riding, but with less physical exertion.

Source: Baumeister, J., Freimuth, M., Platen, P., & Struder, H. K. (2018). Physical demands and energy expenditure during electric bicycle and conventional bicycle riding: A randomized crossover study. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(9), 1733-1742.

  1. "Comparison of Energy Expenditure and Physiological Responses During Exercise between Electric and Conventional Bicycles" (Lin et al., 2017) - This study found that e-bike riding resulted in a lower energy expenditure compared to conventional bicycle riding, but the physical demands of e-bike riding were lower, resulting in a lower perceived level of exertion.

Source: Lin, L. Y., Hsu, C. H., Shih, C. C., Chen, Y. J., & Cheng, T. H. (2017). Comparison of energy expenditure and physiological responses during exercise between electric and conventional bicycles. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 6(4), 394-401.


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