I stopped by the Icebox our cycling and skiing store here in Fraser, CO to talk with Brian about lower gears on my Merlin. (Fraser is one of the coldest places in the US hence the name Icebox.) The bike is my favorite: in my 40s, I rode it to win the Furnace Creek 500 qualifier for the Race Across AMerica (RAAM) and to finish solo RAAM. In my 50s, I led my John Hughes and Friends bike tours through the mountains in Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington. To handle the climbing I fitted the Merlin with a long arm rear derailleur and big cassette. In my 60s, aware of my aging knees, I changed to a triple chain ring. Now in my 70s, the Merlin is a good ride on flat and slightly rolling roads. But I live in Colorado and love riding in the mountains. Currently I’m climbing on my MTB. I’ll have the Merlin set up with gears comparable to my MTB.
My friend Andy only rode classic Italian racing bikes. He’s my age but can’t handle the narrow range of gears so he quit riding. My friend Don, also my age, bought an e-bike and rides most days. He lives in Boulder and rides to a coffee shop in a nearby town, to a county park and once to Denver and back.
I have a few more good years on my trusty titanium Merlin and then I’ll get an e-bike. And eventually a trike.
You decide how hard or easy to ride
An e-bike is just a progression from putting lower gears on the Merlin. E-bikes have a battery and a motor and adjustable pedaling assist. They aren’t motor scooters. When I get an e-bike, I’m just changing technology. Just like shifting gears on the Merlin or the MTB, on the e-bike I can shift the amount of power assist.
A tool for fun
Each of my bikes is a tool for a different kind of riding: The Ti Merlin for road riding, the steel Novara for credit card touring and the aluminum Trek for mountain biking. My cycling self-image is of a big grin on my face — it doesn’t matter which bike or where I’m riding. The different bikes increase the types of riding I can do and as I age the variety becomes more important. An e-bike will be another tool to keep that smile on my face.
A tool for fitness
For cardiorespiratory exercise the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:
- Frequency: For moderate-intensity activities, accumulate at least 30 or up to 60 (for greater benefit) minutes per day in bouts of at least 10 minutes each. Exercise most days of the week to total 150 to 300 minutes per week. For vigorous-intensity exercise, accumulate at least 20 to 30 minutes of continuous activity or more per day of activities to total 75 to 150 minutes per week. Or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
- Intensity: On a scale of 0 to 10 for level of perceived exertion, an RPE of 3 to 4 for moderate-intensity and an RPE of 7 to 8 for vigorous intensity.
Researchers studied 101 healthy adult men and women in Hamburg, Germany, who agreed to alternate riding either a standard bicycle or an e-bike over two separate two-week periods. The results were published in July in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The New York Times reported:
“The volunteers chose his or her preferred e-bike model, with most picking road bikes having top assisted speeds of about 20 miles per hour. The researchers also provided their volunteers with activity monitors, heart rate monitors and a specialized phone app where the riders could record their trips, distance and how physically draining each ride had felt.
“The scientists did not offer their volunteers any suggestions, however, about where, when or how often to ride, says Hedwig Stenner, a research associate at the Institute of Sports Medicine at Hannover Medical School, who led the new study. The researchers wanted to see how people, on their own initiative, would use the different bikes and whether their riding would change with the e-bikes.
“Electric assistance did change their habits, the researchers found. In general, the men and women rode more often during the two weeks with e-bikes, averaging about five rides a week then, versus three a week with the standard cycles. Interestingly, the distances of most people’s rides did not budge, whichever type of bike they rode; their rides were not lengthier on the e-bikes, but they were more frequent.
“Their heart rates also differed. In general, people’s heart rates were about 8 percent lower when they pedaled e-bikes, but still consistently hovered within the range considered moderate exercise. As a result, during the two weeks when the volunteers rode e-bikes, they accumulated sufficient minutes of moderate physical activity to meet the standard exercise recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate activity. When they rode the standard bikes, they did not.
“Most also reported liking the pedal assist, Ms. Stenner says. More than two-thirds of the participants told the researchers they enjoyed the e-bikes and could imagine using them “for many years,” according to a final study questionnaire.”
There are two key points:
- Using e-bikes the volunteers met the ACSM recommendations; using standard bikes they did not.
- Participants could imagine using e-bikes for many years.
In other words e-bikes are a very effective tool for maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness for many years.
Endurance is the result of volume of riding at a conversational pace, hours in the saddle. In the above study on e-bikes the volunteers didn’t increase how long each ride was; however, they averaged five days a week instead of three. You could improve your endurance simply by riding more frequently.
The ACSM recommends 1:15 – 2:30 hours of vigorous exercise as an alternative to 2:30 – 5:00 hours of endurance exercise a week. Through vigorous exercise you can slow the loss of power that otherwise comes with aging. With the control on an e-bike you could cut out the pedal assist, ride hard to a landmark and then dial in the pedal assist to recover. You could hammer hills you couldn’t climb on your regular bike. You could even do structured intervals.
As we age it becomes harder to ride because “I should.” Riding with others is a great motivator. With an e-bike, you can ride with younger friends on their conventional bikes (as long as they accept an e-bike). An e-bike extends your riding range. You can ride longer and/or hillier routes.
Because an e-bike significantly extends your riding range it frees you from the same old roads around home.
This column in the New York Times explains e-bike choices.
It’s your choice
Dr. Gabe Mirkin wrote a column on Why You Should Consider an E-bike. For some of us as we age, an e-bike is a useful tool and toy. My view is that if you’re on a bike and pedaling then you’re cycling whether it’s a racing bike, cruiser, dual-suspension mountain bike, commuter, recumbent, or e-bike. Some riders think differently and won’t ride an e-bike. That’s okay, too.
Like other types of bikes there are pros to e-bikes, some of which are described above. And cons.
- They’re heavy
- Battery life is limited
- Maintenance may be tricky
- They may attract thieves because they’re popular
- They may be dangerous if ridden incorrectly
Basically e-bikes are like other bikes and the same tips apply:
There are also major differences. The bike can accelerate more quickly and go faster than you are used to going (unless you’re a racer). The bike is heavier. The bike handles differently. You might go into corners faster. You need more stopping distance because of the weight and the speed. Start by practicing controlled acceleration, skillful cornering and safe braking in an empty parking lot.
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process includes interviews with Elizabeth Wicks, Gabe Mirkin, Jim Langley, Andy Pruitt and eight other male and female roadies ages 55 to 83. They describe their exercise programs in terms of the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendations. They describe many ways to adapt positively to the aging process. Anti-Aging provides programs to meet all of the ACSM recommendations on cardio, intensity, muscle strength, strong bones, balance and flexibility.Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It’s your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is available for $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.