Thursday, 10 November 2011

electric bikes – just a lazy way of cycling

This article has been kindly supplied by Victoria Sowter of BEBA. Across the UK most journeys are under 10 miles, a distance that can very easily be covered on an electrically assisted bicycle. National Travel Survey data shows that conventional pedal cycling tails off dramatically at around 5 miles1. Research carried out by many people2 reveals hilliness to be the most significant physical barrier to taking up cycling. Whilst conventional cycling has its role, electrically assisted bicycles are also appropriate for many journeys. There seems, however, to be a general perception that electric bikes are somehow -˜cheating’ or just a lazy way of cycling. Health research does not bear this out, with several studies concluding that the use of pedelecs (i.e. those electric bikes that assist with pedalling) counts as -˜moderate’ exercise. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) recommends that adults should aim to achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on five or more days of the week.

An Australian study3 showed that on a pedelec or electric bikes the test subject maintained a heart rate intensity that is predominantly in the target range (ie moderate exercise) where cardiovascular benefit is gained, fats are used in producing energy and no lactic acid build up occurs. In contrast, riding the conventional pedal cycle provided the strongest cardiovascular and fitness workout. The intensity, however, was often so high that carbohydrates would be used for energy along with lactic acid build up. Similarly, a Dutch study 4 asked twelve habitually active adult subjects to cycle 4.3 km on a track at an intensity they would normally choose for commuter cycling, using three different support settings: no support (NO), eco support (ECO), and power support (POW). Oxygen consumption and heart rate were simultaneously measured. The results showed that the intensity of cycling on a pedelec, in all three measured conditions, was sufficiently high to meet the guidelines for adults of moderate intensity physical activity.(The NO setting was predominantly -˜vigourous’.) The authors concluded that subjects would need to cycle the distance used in this study (4.3 km) at least four times a week per round trip when using the ECO or the POW mode to meet the combined recommendations for physical activity expenditure of a minimum of 5 x 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. A Swiss study 5 looked in detail into health issues and concluded that pedelec use helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, type II diabetes and colon cancer. Not only healthy participants have been studied. A study of 20 healthy but sedentary subjects (10 male and 10 female) also showed improvements to general condition; stating -œthe conclusion remains that the electric supported bicycle can help overcome the barrier towards physical activity- 6 . This ability to overcome barriers is significant. In a survey of 4000 respondents on procrastination7, health related matters such as starting a healthy diet or getting fit were identified as being put off; ranking second out of a range of 12 major life domains. The Government’s recent White Paper -˜Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon – Making Sustainable Local Transport Happen’8 identifies -˜nudges’ in behavioural change and gives examples of providing travel information and free cycling training. Electric bikes could also be counted as such and help overcome procrastination. Research also shows high levels of use, providing further health benefits. A 2008 Dutch study 9 involving 1448 respondents concluded that respondents owning electric bicycles cycled further, faster and more frequently than other respondents.

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