Can you burn a lot of calories while cycling on an electric bike?
I have often wondered about burning calories on an electric bike, because I sometimes use a regular bike and sometimes use an electric bike (I prefer the electric bike for very hilly routes and very long rides).
Ron Wensel and his son Claudio make Pedal Easy electric bikes
Ron was an engineer for decades, and he has used his experience to develop a very competitively-priced (around $1,500) range of lightweight, long-range electric bikes. The lightweight bikes are integrated with a small, high-efficiency battery and motor.
These very efficient electric bikes don’t LOOK like electric bikes. As you can see, the small, light battery is cunningly concealed in a saddle bag. The motor in the rear hub is so small that most people would not notice it. And the bikes are nicely specced with mid-range Shimano components. The frames are built to be super strong but lightweight.
Total weight of Pedal Easy electric bikes, with battery and fenders, is as low as 28 pounds.
The electric assistance on these Pedal Easy bikes is controlled with a throttle. Because the bikes are so light, you can choose to use them as regular bikes (pedaling only) or on full throttle (no pedaling at all) – or somewhere in between.
Ron decided to develop these bikes four years ago, after he had survived four heart attacks. He wanted to keep on cycling, but his doctor warned him not to let his heart rate go over 140. With these electric bikes and his heart rate monitor, Ron can still do group bike rides and even go on long-distance biking vacations with his wife: he just wears a heart rate monitor, pedals the bike like a regular bike – and then uses the throttle whenever his heart rate is close to his “danger zone” of 140 beats per minute.
Keeping your heart rate under control with an electric bike
Ron took the electric bike on two one-hour rides over moderately hilly terrain. On the first ride he used throttle assist for the tougher parts. This first graph produced by his heart rate monitor shows the one-hour ride WITH throttle assist. As you can see, Ron was able to keep his heart rate under 140 (the red zone starts at 140).
A few days later Ron did the same bike ride on the same electric bike, but without throttle assist. As you can see, his heart rate went well above 140 – sometimes even as high as 170 beats per minute. Fortunately, he survived this test.
Testing calories burned on electric bikes
Ron’s heart rate monitor supplied some very interesting information about calories burned on the two bike rides. This graph shows both bike rides, with the number of calories burned on both rides. Notice that when Ron used the throttle assist to protect his heart, he burned up 444 calories during the one-hour bike ride. When he did the bike ride without throttle assist, he burned up 552 calories during the one-hour bike ride. This shows that using the electric bike resulted in burning only 20% less calories. Burning 440 calories in an hour is a big deal – done regularly, this kind of calorie burn could result in significant weight loss.
I find this exciting for two reasons:
- It shows that heart disease patients can use electric bikes to keep on cycling, while still following their doctor’s orders about keeping their heart rate fairly low.
- It shows that you can burn up a very large number of calories while riding an electric bike.
Thanks to Ron Wensel for the information in this post. Check out his electric bikes at Pedal Easy. You can also read more about the health benefits of electric bikes in his paper presented to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Note: I am currently test riding one of these bikes, trying it out on my daily bike commutes (and I am very happy to know that I am still burning about 1,000 calories per day on my bike commute). My first impression of the bike was “Awesome Commuter Bike!” – and here is my full review of the Pedal Easy electric bike.