Electric bicycles as a new active transportation modality to promote health

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Nov;43(11):2204-10. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31821cbdc8.


Electrically assisted bicycles (EAB) are an emerging transportation modality favored for environmental reasons. Some physical effort is required to activate the supporting engine, making it a potential active commuting option.

Purpose: We hypothesized that using an EAB in a hilly city allows sedentary subjects to commute comfortably, while providing a sufficient effort for health-enhancing purposes.

Methods: Sedentary subjects performed four different trips at a self-selected pace: walking 1.7 km uphill from the train station to the hospital (WALK), biking 5.1 km from the lower part of town to the hospital with a regular bike (BIKE), or EAB at two different power assistance settings (EAB high, EAB std). HR, oxygen consumption, and need to shower were recorded.

Results: Eighteen sedentary subjects (12 female, 6 male) age 36 ± 10 yr were included, with V·O 2max of 39.4 ± 5.4 mL·min(-1)·kg(-1). Time to complete the course was 22 (WALK), 19 (EAB high), 21 (EAB std), and 30 (BIKE) min. Mean %V·O 2max was 59.0%, 54.9%, 65.7%, and 72.8%. Mean %HRmax was 71.5%, 74.5%, 80.3%, and 84.0%. There was no significant difference between WALK and EAB high, but all other comparisons were different (P < 0.05). Two subjects needed to shower after EAB high, 3 needed to shower after WALK, 8 needed to shower after EAB std, and all 18 needed to shower after BIKE. WALK and EAB high elicited 6.5 and 6.1 METs (no difference), whereas it was 7.3 and 8.2 for EAB std and BIKE.

Conclusions: EAB is a comfortable and ecological transportation modality, helping sedentary people commute to work and meet physical activity guidelines. Subjects appreciated ease of use and mild effort needed to activate the engine support climbing hills, without the need to shower at work. EAB can be promoted in a challenging urban environment to promote physical activity and mitigate pollution issues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling*
  • Electricity*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Switzerland
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Transportation / methods*