The National Park Service (NPS) has been at the forefront of the e-bike debate in the United States by permitting these modern marvels of micro-mobility on trails in national parks where regular, "analog" bike use is allowed.
The park service has produced a detailed literature overview of nearly 60 e-bike studies. The literature review revealed the following conclusions related to the health and wellness of e-bikers.
Health and Wellness
"This theme considers effects of e-bikes on physical activity and the resulting effect on health and wellness."
"Riding an e-bike has similar positive results for a rider’s overall health and wellness as a traditional bicycle.
Health and Wellness Key Findings
"The health and wellness benefits of riding a bicycle have been well-documented, including improving a person’s physical and mental health and cognitive function. Existing literature generally shows that riding an e-bike has similar positive results for a rider’s overall health and wellness as a traditional bicycle. Although riding an e-bike requires less physical exertion than a traditional bicycle, it still provides enough exercise to stimulate the heart, lungs, and circulatory system to provide health benefits and reduce the chance of sedentary lifestyle diseases."
"Furthermore, e-bikes provide mobility to those with physical limitations that may otherwise prevent them from bicycling. This is discussed further under the Accessibility theme, but the health and wellness benefits associated with this are also well-documented particularly for those who have difficulty performing the level of exertion required to ride a traditional bicycle. E-bikes may allow persons to access areas they otherwise may be unable to reach, provide ease in use, and improve the overall experience for enjoying the activity and surrounding landscape."
"Additionally, research has found e-bikes have a positive effect on cognitive ability and mental health, notably among older users. A study specific to eMTBs showed that eMTB users achieved 94% of the average heart rate of
traditional mountain bike users on a 6-mile study track.
Combined with the fact that eMTBs provide a lower barrier to entry, geared towards older people or people with physical limitations, eMTB use could enhance the physical activity of many people that would otherwise not consider traveling to NPS lands to enjoy a bike ride."
Health and Wellness Areas for Further Research
"Most of the research on the health benefits of riding an e-bike is based on short durations of usage. Longer term observational studies may further inform understanding of the health effects of riding an e-bike, in comparison to other methods of exercise and micromobility modes.
Furthermore, additional research could explore the health effects on specific demographics, in particular for older riders who tend to use e-bikes more than other age groups. Additional research could also focus on the health impacts related to mode shift due to the easier mobility of e-bikes."
Academic Research – User Conflicts: Most Other Trail Users Cannot Differentiate Between a Traditional Bicycle and an E-bike on Trails
Academic Research – Safety: E-bikes Generally Travel at Speeds Similar to Traditional Bicycles on Roadways, Off-street Paths, and Natural Surface Trails
Academic Research – Nature and Environment: E-bikes Have Order-of-Magnitude Lower Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions than Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles
Academic Research – Equality: The Gender Discrepancy Between E-bike Users is Proportionally Lower than that of Traditional Bicycle Users in the United States
Academic Research – Access: E-bikes Provide a New Option to Cycle Regardless of Physical Fitness, Age, Disability, Recent Injury, High Altitude, or Challenging Terrain
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"E-bikes, like other forms of active transportation, can improve individual and community health. This theme of the literature review considers the effects of e-bikes on both physical and mental health and well-being."
Bourne, J., Sauchelli, S., Perry, R., Page, A., Leary, S., England, & C., Cooper, A. (2018). Health benefits of electrically-assisted cycling: a systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-018-0751-8
"E-bikes have been highlighted as a method of active travel that could overcome some of the commonly reported barriers to cycle commuting. This literature review identified seventeen studies (11 acute experiments, 6 longitudinal interventions) involving a total of 300 participants.
There was moderate evidence that e-cycling provided physical activity of at least moderate intensity, which was lower than the intensity elicited during traditional bicycling, but higher than that during walking. There was also moderate evidence that e-cycling can improve cardiorespiratory fitness in physically inactive individuals. Evidence of the effect of e-cycling on metabolic and psychological health outcomes was inconclusive. Longitudinal evidence was compromised by weak study design and quality."
Castro, A, et al. (2019). Physical activity of electric bicycle users compared to conventional bicycle users and non-cyclists: Insights based on health and transport data from an online survey in seven European cities. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S259019821930017X
"This study compared physical activity levels of e-bikers and traditional bicycle users (cyclists) and analyzed differences across e-bike user groups based on the transport mode substituted by e-bike. Physical activity, transport, and user related parameters were analyzed.
Data from the longitudinal on-line survey of the Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches (PASTA) project were used. The survey recruited over 10,000 participants in seven European cities. Physical activity levels were measured in Metabolic Equivalent Task minutes per week (MET min/wk). Physical activity gains from active travel are similar in e-bikers and traditional cyclists.
E-bikers reported significantly longer trip distances, commute distances, and total daily travel distances, however the MET min/wk was offset by the power assist feature of the e-bike. The physical activity of e-bikers who switched from traditional bicycling decreased, while those switching from private motorized vehicle and public transport increased."
Hall, C., Ho, T., Julian, C., Whight, G., Chaney, R., Crookston, B., & West, J. (2019). Pedal-Assist Mountain Bikes: A pilot Study Comparison of the Exercise Response, Perceptions and Beliefs of Experienced Mountain Bikers. JMIR Form Res. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6711045/
"The study aimed to compare traditional mountain bike and eMTB by investigating two questions:
What proportion of exercise response is retained for an experienced mountain biker while using an eMTB when compared with a traditional mountain bike? and (2) What are the perceptions and beliefs of experienced mountain bikers toward eMTBs both before and after riding an eMTB? In this study, participants rode a 6-mile study loop twice, once using a traditional mountain bike, and once using an eMTB.
The study loop included approximately 700 feet of elevation gain spread throughout the ride with the most intense climbing section averaging a 5% incline over a distance of 1 mile. Upon completing the study loop on their initially assigned bike, participants’ heart rate and Strava data were saved. Participants also completed both a pre- and post-ride questionnaire. The average heart rate during eMTB use was 94% of the average heart rate during traditional mountain bike use.
Therefore, eMTB use in this study achieved a majority of the exercise response and exceeded established biometric thresholds for cardiovascular fitness. Participants overwhelmingly perceived the potential effect of eMTB use to be positive on both pre- and post-eMTB ride questionnaires. Despite the measured benefit, participants’ perceived exertion while riding the eMTB was low."
Fishman, E. & Cherry, C. (2015). E-bikes in the Mainstream: Reviewing a Decade of Research. Transport Reviews. Transport Reviews. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280572410_E- bikes_in_the_Mainstream_Reviewing_a_Decade_of_Research
"The focus of this study was on transport rather than recreational e-bike use. The study found that one of the primary reasons that people purchased an e-bike was to replace vehicle trips (11% in North America, 60% in Australia, 25% in Kunming, China) as well as public transportation trips in cities with high-quality transit systems.
The study also noted that e-bike users achieve the necessary physical activity to help reduce the chance of sedentary lifestyle diseases. High powered e-bikes (undefined but similar to Class 3) had similar physical activity to walking uphill and standard powered e-biked (undefined but similar to Class 1) achieved higher physical activity than walking uphill. The study compared biking 5.1 km uphill versus walking 1.7 km uphill."
MacArthur, J., Dill, J., & Person, M. (2014). Electric Bikes in North America: Results of an Online Survey. Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3141/2468-14
"This study included a survey to understand whether e-bikes could reduce barriers to bicycling such as trip distance, topography, time, and rider effort. The survey included responses from 553 existing e-bike users across North America. Results suggest that e-bikes enable users to bike more often, to travel longer distances, and to carry more cargo with them. Additionally, e-bikes allow people who otherwise would not be able to bike (because of physical limitations or proximity to locations) the ability to bike with electric assist."
Leyland L., Spencer, B., Beale, N., Jones, T., & van Reekum, C. (2019). The effect of cycling on cognitive function and well-being in older adults. PLOS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211779
"This study investigated the effect of outdoor cycling, with e-bikes and traditional bicycles, on cognitive function, mental health, and well-being in older adults. Participants were put in 3 groups, non-cycling controls, traditional bicycles, and e-bikes, and their cognitive function and well-being were measured following cycling at least three times a week for 30 minutes in duration for each cycle ride. Results found that both cycling groups improved cognitive and executive function, and an improvement in mental health, with potentially larger effect for e-bike users compared to traditional cyclists."
This is an interactive version of the NPS study. We have copied the text of the study verbatim on this page under Section 105 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The text and conclusions of the study are those of the NPS.
Krista Sherwood (Conservation & Outdoor Recreation Division) and Wayne Emington (Park Facility Management Division) are the points of contact for this outstanding literature review. The NPS is not affiliated or associated with E-bike Lovers.
Download the NPS study here.