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Why I’m considering using an e-bike to supplement my training

Four cyclists on electric bikes ride up a hill with a sunset behind
(Image credit: Trek bikes)

E-bikes are awesome. There are a million reasons why, and most of them have to do with the simple joys of riding a bike. But the rest have to do with riding further, faster, and easier thanks to a little bit of battery power. 

While some ride their bike for leisure, I prefer riding mine to train and I’m always chasing the next power PR or a big race result. When I first thought of getting an e-bike, I was sceptical. 

“E-bikes are cheating” is a common phrase uttered in cafés and coffee shops, and written into rule books. True bike racers used to scoff at the thought of an e-bike, but that trend is changing. E-bikes are become less stigmatised, and for good reason. They are not the choice of elite road racers, but rather the working class, “normal” bike rider. Someone who struggles up hills or wants to get in shape. Or someone who wants to ride a little bit further or a little bit faster. There are countless reasons to get an e-bike, but here, I’m going to tell you why I’m considering getting one to supplement my training.

Ride further and faster

We’ve all been limited by our fitness at some point. Whether it was bonking on a long ride, being forced to walk up a climb, or choosing the middle distance in our local Fondo, it’s not fun to admit that you just aren’t strong enough. But with an e-bike, that can all change. With an e-bike, you’ll no longer be limited to the confines of your physical ability.

E-bikes come into their own on a hilly mountain bike loop. How many times have you loved a descent so much that you ride back up just to do it one more time? But after that, you’re exhausted, and as much as you’d love to rip that descent again, there probably isn’t a ski lift to bring you back to the top.

An e-bike can help you up that climb two, three, or even four more times. You’ll still get a great workout because an e-bike is not a motorcycle, it just offers you a bit of assistance – E-bikes give the potential, but you still have to do the work.

Just because you’re on an e-bike doesn’t mean it’s easy – it doesn’t have to be. A study from Brigham Young University (BYU) put experienced mountain bikers through a few different trials riding e-MTBs and regular MTBs. The results showed that even though they completed the loop significantly faster, the participants on the e-MTBs reached heart rates and nearly identical effort levels (~90-94%) to when they were on regular MTBs.

With multiples modes of assistance, you can get as much or as little help as you want from your e-bike. If you’re cruising down the tarmac with a nice, breezy tailwind, you don’t need the motor on full blast. But as soon as you hit the steep climb, you can turn it up to the max if you need it.

Practice bike handling skills

Today’s e-bikes are built with all the same technology and materials as their unmotorised counterparts – the only difference is the battery and motor. The location of which can vary between bikes, but it’s most commonly put on the downtube. This makes for a heavier, but well-balanced ride that feels pretty close to a regular bike.

As we’ve already said, e-bikes can help you ride further and faster. Now think about that second part. Have you ever noticed how different your bike feels at high speed? How taking a corner at 50km/h feels a lot different than 30km/h?

This is where the e-bike comes in. Serious cyclists and bike racers will know that handling and technical skills are just as important – if not more so – than pure power in racing. Especially if you are racing an XCO or a cyclo-cross race, you know how important it is to be comfortable in the corners. An e-bike can help you reach higher speeds and approach corners, descents, and trails with a new high-speed perspective, and more importantly, they can do so without you needing to exert a race-pace effort, meaning you can approach the corners with maximum clarity of mind, rather than the blurred vision that comes when riding at 180bpm+. 

Explore new roads, routes, and climbs

Going hand-in-hand with the ability to ride further and faster, is the ability to ride new roads and climbs. We all have that invisible bubble around our home. Whether it’s 15km or 50km, there’s a certain local loop that you rarely venture outside of. As we get fitter and faster, that loop expands, but ever so slightly. With an e-bike, that range suddenly explodes, and we have an unprecedented amount of roads to ride on.

Perhaps there is a climb – or even a mountain – right by your house. But it’s so steep and so long that you’ve never been able to complete it. With the help of an e-bike, you can finally conquer those climbs that you’ve been dreaming of and enjoy the view at the top. You will be able to challenge yourself in new ways with just that little bit of assistance.

Base miles by commuting to work

I’ve never commuted by bike before. Whether I lived 5km or 25km away, I could always come up with excuses. Work was always too far away, or I couldn’t get there fast enough. It was hot in the summer, and I didn’t want to show up to work covered in sweat. 

With an e-bike, that will change. I can get to work faster, with the option of doing more or less effort than I would on my normal road bike. I can ride further and faster with my e-bike, and save the perspiration-causing effort for another day. In the summer, I can cruise to work with little effort, and still enjoy a beautiful ride outside. Another study from BYU had participants commute to work on a regular bike and then an e-bike. After multiple rounds of trials, the participants said they are much more likely to commute to work on an e-bike – and use e-bikes for everyday activities – instead of a traditional bicycle.

When I commute by bike, every minute I spend commuting is time spent training. Whether I'm riding in zone one with maximum assist and enjoying some active recovery, or I'm riding in zone four up a climb, I'm working on my fitness, rather than sitting in a car. 

I am also saving money on gas, my car, and parking. This doesn’t have a direct correlation to my training, but it certainly enhances my life in other ways, and also helps to reduce my carbon footprint.

Mental health

One of the most underrated benefits of e-bikes is their positive effect on mental health. There’s something to be said about having a little bit of assistance when the going gets tough. Perhaps you are exploring a new route, and there is an exceptionally steep climb. It can be demoralising to be forced to get off your bike and walk.

Maybe you are commuting home from work, but this morning’s weather forecast was wrong. A cold front came through, it’s sprinkling rain, and now you have a 45kph headwind all the way home. These kinds of rides can be soul-crushing. But having that little bit of assistance to get you home is a game-changer. It can help turn your mood around at the worst of times and help you through the toughest parts of rides. E-bikes are awesome.

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Zach is a freelance writer, the head of ZNehr Coaching, and an elite-level rider in road, track, and e-racing. He writes about everything cycling-related, from buyer's guides to product reviews and feature articles to power analyses. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science at Marian University-Indianapolis, Zach discovered a passion for writing that soon turned into a full-fledged career. In between articles, Zach spends his time working with endurance athletes of all abilities and ages at ZNehr Coaching. After entering the sport at age 17, Zach went on to have a wonderful road racing career that included winning the 2017 Collegiate National Time Trial Championships and a 9th place finish at the 2019 US Pro National Time Trial Championships. Nowadays, Zach spends most of his ride time indoors with NeXT eSport.