This post may contain affiliate links, which help to keep Discerning Cyclist rolling. Learn more.
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are a bit of a hot topic among the cycling community. There are those who love them — for the ease with which they can take on big hills, long distances, hot days or tough rides — and those who loathe them because they see them as ‘cheating’ when compared to regular bicycles.
However, e-bikes were invented for a reason, and their popularity endures because of their many benefits: easy rides, higher top speeds, fun journeys and a lower carbon footprint than cars and public transportation.
In fact, the New York Times reports that market research from NPD group found that e-bike sales boomed 145 per cent from 2019 to 2020, more than double the rate of regular bikes. Deloitte has also projected that from 2020 to 2023, 130 million e-bikes would be sold globally.
So if they’re so popular, why do some cycling purists really dislike them? And are electric bikes really that good?
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of electric bikes and dive into why some people don’t like them, joining the debate on whether electric bikes are a genuinely good way to get around, or whether they are simply ‘cheating’.
Why Do People Dislike E-Bikes?
People dislike e-bikes for a variety of reasons: they may see them as ‘cheating’, they may not like being overtaken by someone with assisted pedal power, or they may be concerned about them degrading roads and trails quicker than regular bikes.
There are also some people who dislike e-bikes because they are worried about safety. One of the most common misconceptions about e-bikes is that their motors enable them to get up to dangerous speeds, quicker than you could ever get on a regular bike.
Thankfully, there are laws in place to prevent this from happening. In order to be road-worthy, e-bikes must have a speed limiter installed to stop them going over a certain speed with motorised assist, with a max speed of 15.5mph in the UK, Europe and Australia, and between 20 and 28mph in the US.
While the idea that they might be ‘cheating’ is entirely a personal opinion, there are plenty of valid reasons why this is not the case. Just because e-bikes tend to be less physically taxing than regular bikes does not make them any less valid as a mode of transport — in fact, they are actually more useful in plenty of circumstances.
Is an Electric Bike “Cheating”?
No, riding an electric bike is not ‘cheating’! While some cyclists may argue that this is the case, just because e-bikes take some strain out of cycling does not mean that they are not a ‘real’ way to cycle — they can be better and more efficient when tackling tougher rides or commuting by bike.
It’s easy to see why some people might think electric bikes are cheating. If a seasoned cyclist is being passed by someone going faster and with less effort on an e-bike, they might feel rattled — but that has more to do with their ego than with the electric bike itself.
Obviously, e-bikes do make cycling slightly faster and easier thanks to motorised assistance, but with most e-bikes this assistance is small and stops once you reach the maximum speed at which the speed limiter kicks in. The motor will not turn the pedals for you, so your heart rate will still rise and your muscles will still need to work.
Studies have shown that physical activity gains from active travel are similar in e-bikers and cyclists, and that riding 3 miles on an e-bike meets the sufficient exercise activity level recommended by the World Health Organization and the ACS, so you can certainly still get fit and lose weight while riding an e-bike.
It’s also been found that e-bike riders tend to ride further and tackle tougher hills than they might otherwise, because perceived exertion is less, so they are more likely to hop on their e-bike to get to work than take their car: a healthier and more environmentally friendly choice.
Who is the Target Market for E-Bikes?
E-bikes are in high demand from a variety of demographics: commuters, delivery riders, and people who might otherwise struggle to ride a non-electric bike, for example older riders, overweight riders or unfit riders.
When you pedal on an e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a little boost, giving you more power and speed with less exertion. This can be a very valuable tool for people who want to cycle but don’t want to, or cannot, provide the kind of power needed to get up hills or over long distances with just muscle power.
For commuters, an e-bike is perfect for taking some of the strain out of cycling to avoid getting to the office sweaty and exhausted. While city commuters will rarely have to deal with rough terrain, the e-bike will reduce the effort needed to go up inclines and to cover several miles of road on an early morning.
The same goes for delivery riders: if you’re riding around all day, covering many miles in a single shift, the little bit of help the e-bikes motor can provide can go a long way in ensuring comfort and reducing exhaustion while still offering a good workout.
Speaking of workouts, e-bikes can also be a great solution for older riders, unfit riders, or those who are overweight and looking for a way to get into cycling. They offer the same physiological benefits as non-electric bikes — a cardiovascular workout, building muscle, and improving mental health, to name a few. They also lower the level of perceived exertion so riders feel less tired, and are more likely to make cycling a regular habit.
Are Electric Bikes Good?
For cyclists who want to hit higher speeds, tackle tougher hills, and get around with ease, e-bikes are great. They offer many of the same physical and mental health benefits as non-electric bikes while taking some of the strain out of cycling.
Additionally, the popularity of e-bikes and the extra demographics they serve when compared to regular bikes is only a good thing for the cycling community. More riders on the roads, regardless of whether they are on electric bikes or regular bikes, means a bigger demand for improved cycling infrastructure, awareness around cycling, and education around safety, which will only mean a better experience for everyone.
For example, with more cyclists taking to the roads, there’ll be a stronger argument for more cycle lanes in cities. An increase in cyclists would also lead to conversations around the relationship between motorists and cyclists, and a general greater understanding of the benefits of cycling, both to the rider and to the environment. There’s no denying that these would all greatly benefit the entire cycling community!
At the end of the day, only you can decide if an e-bike is right for you. The truth is, while electric bikes are a dream for some riders, others would rather stick to pure muscle power, and that’s okay. It certainly doesn’t mean that e-bikes are ‘cheating’, they simply offer a different riding experience — and make the sport more accessible to all.