Tell us more about yourself and the author team.
As a research team, we have investigated health promotion through e-bikes since 2015. In the beginning, we concentrated on the use in the operational setting. We did an observational crossover study with 101 employees in four different companies in Hanover, Germany (PMID: 32635352). In the present prospective observational study, we significantly enlarged the sample and examined 1879 e-bikers and conventional cyclists and the impact of e-bikers on physical activity. Here we also documented the accident for the first time to see that the topic needs to be given much more attention. Therefore, we are currently conducting an accident study in which we record single-vehicle accidents and near accidents. Here, interviews are added to the questionnaires to get more details. Recruitment has already ended. The observation phase will continue until next year. We are looking forward to the results and hope we will contribute to safer cycling. We are a young and bike-enthusiastic team at the Institute for Sports Medicine. The bicycle is our daily companion; we keep ourselves fit and healthy by cycling, so the research results have high practical relevance for the cycling community and for us.
What is the story behind your study?
Parallel to our research results, a real e-bike boom has set in, and the sales of e-bikes in Germany from 2015 to 2021 almost quadrupled from 540.000 to 2.000.000 (https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/152721/umfrage/absatz-von-e-bikes-in-deutschland/). This shows the relevance of the topic and the increased need for research, including long-term studies. We want to use the current bike boom to counteract the increasing lack of exercise.
In your own words, what did you find?
E-bikers generally cycled less frequent, for a shorter overall duration and at lower intensities than conventional bike users. E-bikers use their bikes mainly to alleviate physical strain during cycling and promote health. They were more likely than conventional bike users to replace their cars with e-bikes for different journeys. The risk for road traffic accidents and near accidents was similar among bike groups. In general, the expected health effects of cycling might be higher for bicycle users compared with e-bike users. Yet, e-bikes might enable regular cycling for individuals who are limited by age- or illness-associated constrictions and would not otherwise consider conventional cycling.
What was the main challenge you faced in your study?
The biggest challenge was recruiting a large sample; the test persons were distributed all over Germany. The provision of activity trackers and the measurement phases in winter made it even more difficult. The recruitment problems prompted us to adapt the study design. In another publication, we are currently working on the “old design” to evaluate the long-term use one year after purchase.
If there is one take-home message from your study, what would that be?
As a replacement for private cars and for people with physical limitations, an e-bike could be an important part of promoting exercise and health. A trained use and safe handling of the bike should be guaranteed as well as the selection of an appropriate level of motor support.
So take your bike for a healthy ride.