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I recently bought an e-bike and use it much more than my conventional "fun bike" (still need to do some maintenance on it), and was wondering how complementary it could be for endurance training compared/in complement to a regular bike. Or in another words, are there cases where the motor can be used to "improve" a training program?

There are some obvious observations that can be done, as riding is less strenuous, and so one can ride longer, but that's only empirical and may actually apply more to an audience that is "starting" cycling.

A concrete case I'm thinking about is "Zone 2 training", where the motor can be used to avoid reaching zone 3 during a session for people living in regions with elevation changes.

But are there other cases?

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    If you are using it for the daily commute I would avoid putting too much pressure on the batteries. Modern batteries can handle a decent number of charge/discharge cycles, but there is still a limit.
    – FluidCode
    May 3, 2023 at 20:57
  • So you want to do commute but ride faster while putting in only enough work/effort for zone2 training? I couldn't ride slow like that if I tried!
    – Criggie
    May 3, 2023 at 21:20
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    @Criggie to commute, I want to have a folding bike that is more compact than a Brompton, as comfy as a 29er and as light as a road bike. And of course with sufficient assistance to remove the need the need to take a shower at destination. But that should rather be another question.
    – Rеnаud
    May 4, 2023 at 5:22
  • Many e-bikes have a mode where the help is minimal, essentially just enough to counter for the heavier weight. It is somewhat similar to riding a regular (clunky) bike. So for example you can do the normal mode while commuting to work (no need to shower), then the minimal mode on the way home for exercising.
    – Lundin
    May 17, 2023 at 14:00
  • @Lundin sure, it's possible to exercise, even in "normal mode" in fact: once you are over 25km/h, assistance is stopped. The question was in fact more to see if one can take advantage of the motor for some specific structured trainings.
    – Rеnаud
    May 17, 2023 at 14:32

6 Answers 6

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Absolutely, an E-Bike is a tool no different to any other tool - indoor trainer, gym, a different biking discipline (e.g. MTB for a road rider). When used correctly, it can improve training out comes. Also consider training is 90% about the mindset, if an E-Bike improves the mindset, it improves the training.

Specific use cases I can think of - as you have suggested - wanting an endurance ride and having long hills meaning staying in the target zone is hard. Training in a location with windy conditions (we often have 30km/h+ winds), where busting you gut for a max speed of 20km/h does you head in no matter what the power meter is telling you.

Also consider the case where you might otherwise decide not to train today. maybe you are not feeling 100%, no sure if it is the night before or coming down with something nasty - with an EBike can head out, if you don't perk up, turn up the motor and head home. Thinking of the couple of times I have bonked - the thought of an option to turn up the power and get home is very appealing. More importantly, times I have spared myself and arrived home feeling I should have/could have put in a bit more. With an ebike, of you overcook it, you still get home comfortably.

An e-bike might allow you to train with much fitter and faster riders than you without holding them back. This may open you up to a larger group of people for training rides. The social benefits might outweight the direct training benefit.

You would need to be careful not to cheat yourself out of quality training time. Use of the assistance would need to be thought through and well planned. It could easily become an excuse.

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    May I summarize/paraphrase: the way to use an e-bike is to always keep it turned off, so you have a proper hard pedalling task but also the assurance that if you ever end up over your limit and destroyed, the battery will be there to save the day? Sounds fair. If anybody actually used their e-bike this way, they'd have my respect... May 3, 2023 at 22:28
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    @leftaroundabout actually, there's a growing segment of the market (light assist e-bikes - SL range at Specialized, Orbea Rise, Canyon Endurace:ON) that can be used in that spirit. For example the Specialized Turbo Vado SL weighs 16.5 kg fully equipped, the endurance Creo SL weighs 13.7kg.
    – Rеnаud
    May 4, 2023 at 5:13
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    Otherwise, looking at my case (lightish hardtail with gravel tires), I actually noticed (confirmed by the heart sensor of my watch) that I'm actually doing more effort below x% slopes (didn't measure), because the bike is so comfy that it gives the impression that I'm slower than I am (compared to the fun bike), so have the reflex to push harder, and the 25km/h limit is quickly reached and there's more resistance (tires+aero). Uphill, a 250W limit provides of course some help, but it's also limited and there's always the temptation to push hard as well (but not as hard than with the fun bike).
    – Rеnаud
    May 4, 2023 at 5:20
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    Renaud, I think we have a similar experience. I drive a Tern GSD with belt and IGH plus class 1 (20mph) and this heavier bike, less efficient drivetrain, make plenty of opportunity for a workout even with assist. Very different to my all road bike, which simply takes far less power to move. The ebike is a slow bike but it's acceptable because the effort is variable.
    – SamA
    May 4, 2023 at 11:33
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    @Michael sure, but will you put in the same 200 W? Most of the e-bike riders I encounter certainly don't seem to. I would struggle to motivate myself to full workout power as well. There's no better incentive than a seriously steep hill, where the power is needed to get to the top, and every watt one is too lazy to squeeze out is punished by a linear increase in time to get to the top. On the flat it's all too easy for the aching muscles to coax the brain into taking it a bit slower ("hey, those marginal watts just go into air resistance!"), and a motor has even more of such an effect. May 5, 2023 at 11:42
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Perhaps tangential to your question, but one way an ebike can be part of cycling endurance training is by enabling you to use the bike instead of a car or transit for more of your trips. You can expand what you do with the bike and get more time in the saddle, so that you are in better condition for your fun rides, with or without electric assist. I find that it is easy to cruise comfortably and choose assist levels according to the grade and how hard I want to work. For a challenge, riding in support of a slower rider, you could try pedaling your heavy ebike without assist to help you get a workout at the slower pace. If it's fun and gets you more time in the saddle, it will improve your conditioning.

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Mountain biking. Especially training for downhill and enduro races. There you don't really need exceptionally good endurance for climbs, but mainly for the descents at race pace. These not only strain your legs, but your whole body. When training, it makes a difference whether you can fit 2 descents with the normal bike or 4 with the E-MTB in your daily after-work ride.

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  • Most of the e-bikes cut off the engine above a certain speed.
    – FluidCode
    May 4, 2023 at 11:51
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    @mustermax: I think the point of this answer is that the motor helps you get back up the hill much quicker, so you can spend more of your time doing descents (which train your body differently than the ride back up). You don't need or want the motor while you bomb down a hill. May 4, 2023 at 16:12
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Mountain biking uphill. E-bike may allow you to do the climbing you would otherwise not initially have the courage for, but the battery capacity is still limited. While the first idea is to set the maximal level of assist and start easily, the engine quickly becomes the strategic resource that must be carefully managed in order to get a little higher. It becomes important to calculate, where you would benefit most from the extra help of the engine. Overused - and it is over this time, turn around and enjoy downhill return. If the train station is not right next to the mountain, you get a bit of extra training from making way back with flat battery.

Maybe at some point the fitness reaches the level when extra weight of E-bike does not justify the additional help it provides but for the untrained rider this is definitely not immediately.

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I'm 65 and got completely out of condition after a major surgery, (recover required I had to remain in-bed, flat on my back, don't engage muscles. I chose an e-bike so I can push myself further and know that I'll be able to get home even if I pushed too far, as I can use the motor to assist on the way home. Likewise, if I pick a route with too many or too steep uphills, I can assist just enough to make a successful workout.

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turn the motor off. You'll be carrying extra weight, which will make a difference going uphill, improving your strength.

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