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I've heard a few people claim that there's a fundamental difference in the type of workout you get with a eMTB vs a regular MTB. I rented one for a couple of days once and I got a better workout than on my regular bike. Some of that I attributed to the novelty of it. But on a normal riding day, my goal would be to keep my cadence at a certain level. I'm not going to push myself less just because I have pedal assist. I'm just going to go farther and higher than without.

My question is: Is there any actual science showing differences in workouts between the two types of bikes?

The only thing I can show to support that I wouldn't get an inferior workout on an eMTB is the fact that I don't take it easy when I could. For example, going downhill. This screenshot is from my ride today, and it's pretty typical-my heart rate is about the same downhill as it is on the way up. I'm extrapolating here, but I don't see why a similar outcome wouldn't happen on any other bike. Is there significantly more to it than heart rate?

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You are handling a heavier bike going down so it could be more work. Obviously electric motor assist is independent of the level of rider input although due to psychology and other factors it may impact how much effort a rider exerts. My only concern with ebikes is all the extra watts doing more damage to trails that are intended for non motorized use. I dont care what people ride or how fast they go for their given efforts as long as everyone does their part to keep trails in good shape.
 

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I share your concerns. In my totally unscientific perspective, it's the hooves and boots in my area that do more damage per capita than bikes. One horse going up a muddy trail does more damage than a dozen bikes on the same trail in the same condition.
that horse is heavier than a hiker and puts more watts down on the trail. so they do more damage.

if an ebiker runs twice the distance on their ride then they did twice the trail damage that would normally occur from that individual.

im not too concerned about bikes doing damage to bike trails. but from a scientific view point you cant argue the facts. its just a very small effect.

more important

imo

is why do they make e bike specific components that are supposed to be stronger.

im 255lbs.

there is no way a 165lb guy on an ebike needs more brakes than i do!

guess ive been risking my life on unsafe equipment all this time. lol.

actually i expect its just them trying to extend component durability and diminish the perceived effect of the heavier bike to the rider. making ebikes easier to accept mainstream.

eg. no comments like. its good but too bad the bike has such poor braking compared to what im used to.
 

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It’s impossible to track fitness differences scientifically between the two types of bikes. Every person it will vary depending on a million different factors. For example, I never stand up and sprint on my ebike. But I also take far fewer breaks after climbs when on my ebike. Stuff like this will vary from rider to rider.
 

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Fitness could probably be the same in theory if you put the same amount of workout into ride (except you would ride longer).
But in RL on my local trails all i see on e-mopeds is clueless unfit middle-aged riders fully equiped like MX riders with matching colors bike+clothes+helmet. Running on Turbo mode all the time.
And they bought e-stuff primary to avoid workout and they don't care about fitness 😁
 

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The limit to how fast one can go is in the trail, not in the rider or the bike.
If you are on an easy trail, the ebike can go very fast. If you start to add turns and obstacles, the ebike speed gets closer to the pedal bike speed. If you are very fast on an ebike, you have to ride farther/longer so that your workout is the same duration as on the pedal bike to make it equivalent. It could be the same workout, but I doubt it works out that way very often.

I know 2 guys who are the same size, but one guy is faster. The fast guy pedals while the other rides an ebike. At some point, the pedal guy gets tired and they switch bikes. As a team, they can ride much longer than as individuals, and they both get about the same workout.

-F
 

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The limit to how fast one can go is in the trail, not in the rider or the bike.
If you are on an easy trail, the ebike can go very fast. If you start to add turns and obstacles, the ebike speed gets closer to the pedal bike speed. If you are very fast on an ebike, you have to ride farther/longer so that your workout is the same duration as on the pedal bike to make it equivalent. It could be the same workout, but I doubt it works out that way very often.

I know 2 guys who are the same size, but one guy is faster. The fast guy pedals while the other rides an ebike. At some point, the pedal guy gets tired and they switch bikes. As a team, they can ride much longer than as individuals, and they both get about the same workout.

-F
Another example of your point is steep climbing pitches. On a regular bike, you may not have a choice but to go over your threshold to ride up it. An ebike can potentially have enough power to get you up without you going anaerobic. And anaerobic work is super taxing on your body (in a good way for building fitness). Assuming identical pain tolerance, I suspect most people will avoid maximal efforts when given the choice.
 

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Another example of your point is steep climbing pitches. On a regular bike, you may not have a choice but to go over your threshold to ride up it. An ebike can potentially have enough power to get you up without you going anaerobic. And anaerobic work is super taxing on your body (in a good way for building fitness). Assuming identical pain tolerance, I suspect most people will avoid maximal efforts when given the choice.
Good point! I have tried to duplicate that anaerobic effort that only comes with steep, nasty climbs by simply shifting into a high(er) gear on a more moderate climb, but it's not the same. And I know that those anaerobic climbs make me a better rider, but only the oldest trails still have them, so they are hard to find.

-F
 

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I have a good body of data on this from riding both my MTB and eMTB on the same trails many times. Rough estimate is 15-20% less physical effort for 10-15% higher average speed. I've had outlier rides (and an eMTB race) where my HR was pegged every bit as hard as if I was on my MTB or 'cross bike.

Also, terrain is a limiting factor to the point that, unless you turn off your motor completely, you're just not going to need to put in the same effort as on a regular MTB. For example, a twisty bit of singletrack where your speed and traction limit you more than fitness. On those trails, the eMTB is usually less effort. Again, you can turn down the assist if you want a hard workout on trails like that, but if you have both an MTB and an eMTB, just ride the MTB that day.

I've found that I average 80% of my rides on the regular MTB and 20% on the eMTB. That changes a bit seasonally - when training for events its more MTB of course, and in the winter it's a bit more on the eMTB.
 

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In my experience, with the only data I have to go on being a heart rate monitor, the emtb ride is just a slightly less intense, but longer workout. I tend to ride my emtb about the same way as I ride my regular mtb. I pedal about as hard as I can at any given moment and use the assist just to pick up more speed when I can to get more miles.

The result is a longer ride with a more consistent heart rate throughout the entire ride, whereas my heart rate tends to spike more in the red zone and come back down more often on the regular mtb. They're both good workouts, just a different kind of workout.

One thing I will say though, is that if you're riding higher speed trails that are rough and chunky on an emtb, my arms and shoulders tend to be much more fatigued than they are when I ride those same trails on a regular mtb, likely due to manhandling a heavier bike through the rough stuff at the slightly higher speeds.
 

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I live in Utah and have numerous routes with 3000+ feet of climbing.
I probably will get an ebike at some point. I was going to get one next year for my 70th birthday.
If they don't make climbing easier, I'm NOT getting one!
Make no mistake, and emtb will make climbing much easier on your legs, especially if you want to do the climbs in the full power mode.
 

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On an unscientific test I rode my bike up a hill. Then I rode an e-bike up a hill, at the same speed as my normal bike.
Normal bike over 3.8kms and 170m
Heart Rate average was 161bpm
Heart Rate average ebike 127bpm
So maybe 20% easier?
Your 20% less effort riding an eBike, based on heart rate, is exactly the number I came up with after many years of riding the same trails and then switching to eBikes.
 

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ebikes take out the hard part if the ride, so it's way easier
What's the hard part? Come ride with me and I can guarantee the hardest part will be the downhills. Uncontrollably steep chutes with no run out, loose off-cambers on the edge of a cliff, mandatory jumps and gaps, step downs, road gaps, etc. The climbs are just to recover and get the heart rate back down from all the butt puckering moments many experience. With or without an ebike.
 

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Training load is quantified nowadays by something call TSS. (Training Stress Score). If is basically a measurement of how hard a training session is. If you know your threshold heart rate and upload your ride to a training analysis software it give you a numeric value of training load.

Last week I did the exact same ride on my XC-hardtail and E-bike. The scores were 98 for the hardtail and 86 for the E-bike. But because I did the ride faster on my e-bike the training load per hour of riding was pretty well the same.
 
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