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Pedal power: how e-bikes are getting people back on track

A new wave of pedal power has hit our bike tracks. Electric or ‘e-bikes’ have risen in popularity in recent years, with cyclists reaping a myriad of mental and physical health benefits.

The beauty is in the boost – e-bikes have a motor that kicks in when you need more power to climb hills, ride longer distances or simply summon the motivation to get on your bike. If you used to ride a bike but haven’t for a while, or you’re new to regular exercise, e-bikes can be an ideal solution.

Deakin University PhD student Jenna McVicar from the Faculty of Health provides a strong insight into the key health benefits of riding an e-bike.

Helping you get you back on your bike

If you’re not a confident cyclist or you’ve lost confidence due to injury, e-bikes can encourage you to get back on your bike, McVicar explains. ‘Having an e-bike supports people who may be unsure if they can complete a ride.’

As part of her research into e-bikes, McVicar asked participants – many of whom had cycled in the past, but lost confidence – if they were more confident riding e-bikes.

‘Once they started riding the e-bikes, they admitted it was great and found they really enjoyed it,’ she says.

Some participants had been injured in the past, which affected their ability to ride – not to mention their confidence. ‘We had people who used cycle but because of injuries they put off cycling,’ McVicar says. ‘An e-bike has given them that confidence to start riding again.’

Sparking an increase in wellbeing

You’re instantly drawn to the physical benefits when it comes to the health benefits of riding a bike. However, there is so much more than just the physical aspect.

‘E-bikes help people to be more physically active, but they also provide an overall general increase in wellbeing,’ McVicar says.

While a key benefit of riding a bike is the physical activity, there’s also the mental health benefits of cycling, as well as the social health benefits if you choose to cycle with friends.

McVicar explains a recent study was conducted in Queensland where participants admitted they found themselves to be much happier after taking up cycling on e-bikes. A big part of this was due to the social interaction, which they previously weren’t getting prior to riding.

‘A Queensland study found people were starting to feel happier after they’d began riding e-bikes as they had become more social riding with friends and had the chance to meet other people’, says McVicar.

It can also be a mental boost for those who previously would have turned down a bike ride due to potentially not having the confidence to ride with others.

‘E-bikes are helping people who may find conventional cycling daunting for many reasons.

‘They may have previously used a standard bike but no longer do, therefore the thought of jumping on a conventional bike can be quite daunting,’ McVicar explains.

Learning to ride an e-bike

Riding an e-bike gives you a boost – to your confidence and your ability to traverse hills and longer distances – but the mechanics are much the same as riding a conventional two-wheeler.

‘One of the big misconceptions with e-bikes is you don’t have to pedal, but you do have to pedal,’ McVicar says.

You can choose how much your e-bike assists you with four different assistance levels. Government regulations cap your top speed, so don’t expect to travel faster than a car or bus.

‘There’s an odometer on the handlebars which includes a plus and a minus, and you just press up or down to determine your assistance level,’ McVicar says. ‘All e-bikes in Australia are regulated, so the assistance will turn off once you reach 25km/h.’

When it comes to charging an e-bike it’s very straightforward. Every e-bike comes with a battery pack, so as long as you make sure your bike is charged before you ride, you won’t have any issues.

Shimano and Bosch e-bikes that are available in Australia have a battery life of at least four hours when fully charged.

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Jenna McVicar
Jenna McVicar

PhD student,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

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