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Pedal Power by Nick Veasey
  • Writer's pictureAnnette Culshaw

That's Cheating!

Wherever we go on our bikes people stop to chat and to ask about the bikes. They are naturally curious and the conversation invariably goes something like this….

“Nice bikes… are they electric?”

When we affirm this, the next comment is almost always… “That's cheating!”

As an E-Bike rider it is a frustrating question and shows how deep are the misconceptions about electric bikes. The next time someone says this to me I think I am going to doff them!

Is it cheating if you use an electric toothbrush instead of a ordinary brush? Is it cheating if you cook on an electric stove instead of an open fire? Is it cheating to use a hair dryer rather than letting your hair dry natuarally?

There is a myth that electric bikes operate like a scooter or moped, but this simply is not true. E- Bikes are pedal assist, which means that the motor simply boosts your power whilst you are pedalling. You still have to pedal. This means that you put in the effort, but you can go faster and further for the equivalent effort. The e-bike's motor cuts out once your speed gets over 15.5mph. Which means that you'll still be doing serious speed cycling on your own leg power, with no electrical assistance. Bob & I often get up to speeds of 16-20mph on straight stretches of road.

Whom would you be cheating, in any case? Presumably the critics mean other cyclists who are pedalling without assistance. The argument that you’re somehow less worthy because you’re not trying as hard is ridiculous, because you can draw that arbitrary line anywhere. Is derailleur gearing cheating because it’s easier than riding fixed-wheel? Is riding a fixed wheel bike cheating because it’s easier than riding a penny farthing?

Is it cheating to ride a fixed wheel bike instead of a penny farthing?
Is it cheating to ride a fixed wheel bike instead of a penny farthing?

Cheating at what, anyway?

People ride bikes for four reasons…To get fit; For fun; For transport; For racing.

It is true that if you were racing on an E-Bike against normal bikes, then this would be cheating. However, this is the most important point: E-bikes are not cheating because cycling is not always a competition. For most of us it's a fun, brilliant way to get around or commute and spend time outdoors.

E-bikes don't give you some kind of unfair advantage because you're not cycling for a trophy. You're not in a race as you ride to work or the shops, or take a spin around the park. You're simply out on your bike, cycling, getting fresh air and enjoying yourself.

It's true that riding e-bikes is easier than riding a normal bike. It's more convenient and less effort to go twice as far and further. But...this is the best thing about it — it makes cycling more accessible.

So yes, electric bikes make cycling that bit easier, but this only makes people more likely to do it. We should celebrate anything that stops people being put off by cycling, especially if it helps achieve what we all want — more people cycling, getting fit, having fun and fewer people using cars.

Some people simply don't find the thought of slogging to get up hills appealing. They want the fun of being out on a bike without it feeling like an endurance challenge. The truth is that even fit, experienced cyclists can reach for the car keys when faced with a long, tough journey that involves plenty of steep hills. So if E-bikes help people get up hills or bike around to run errands, that can only be a good thing.

They're also great for keeping cyclists active while they have injuries, or helping people keep cycling as they get older.

And electric bikes are great for commuters, because you can get there in good time without breaking a sweat. You can cycle in your work clothes without the fear of smelling like you've just finished an all-day gym session.

E-bikes get people exercising

Some people consider cycling to be all about getting exercise, which makes them think that e-bikes are cheating. But that's missing the point. The electric motor is there to help you. And you can dial up or down the assistance and even turn it off if you want more of a challenge.

Several studies have shown that e-bikes have huge health benefits because they make you more likely to cycle in the first place. One study at the University of Brighton offered e-bikes to commuters and found many more of them would now cycle to work.

But other research has shown that e-bike riders work just as hard as regular cyclists — the motor just helps them go faster. A study from the University of Nebraska found that e-bike users expended the same amount of energy as manual bike riders and simply completed the circuit faster. Most importantly, they didn't feel like they'd exerted as much effort as the manual riders, even though they had.

This is why e-bikes are so good for exercise — you don't feel as drained after riding one. The same findings have been shown by an American rider who alternated between e-bikes and normal bikes for his daily commute, while wearing a range of tracking devices. After weeks of testing, he found that his heart rate and energy exertion were the same with both bikes, he just cut his commuting time by 4 hours a week using the e-bike. Essentially, he used the same effort from his legs and the motor helped him get home quicker.

All of this shows that you work just as hard riding an e-bike — you'll just go further or arrive quicker. And you'll be more likely to get the bike out again the day afterwards.

You can't cheat at having fun, seeing the world, trying out bike trails or cruising up hills. You're not competing at the Olympics every time you go out on your bike — it's meant to be fun.

Electric bikes are brilliant — they remove the everyday barriers that stop people cycling, like feeling out of shape, the dread of a steep climb or just being tired after a long day.

And don’t forget, they are such fun! If you haven't tried one just hire one for the day and you will be smiling all day.


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