To Drive or To Use The Human Engine? (bike purism redoux)

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend in the bike industry. He said he doesn't like e-bikes because he likes using his human motor.

My question in response to this: does he like car motors better?

Because the reality is, most of us drive for most of our errands. It is a rare soul indeed who bikes for all errands and work trips even 50% of the time (or 25% for that matter).

The choice: I had it, you have it

This morning I had that same choice. I wanted to go mountain biking at one of the local trails. It's about six miles away, with a good climb to get there. I only had about two hours to spend.

So, while a bike purist would say I should ride my mountain bike to the trail, then do my biking, then ride back – the reality is that would have left only 15 minutes for mountain biking at best. My mountain bike (or its engine, me) just isn't that fast on the road.

The next alternative was taking the car. I have an electric car, and that would have gotten me there with plenty of time to bike – and with moderately high efficiency. But it always feels weird to me to drive a car in order to go biking – especially locally.

Bike Purism is Limited

However, for a bike purist, those are the options. And that's why most people choose to just drive the car, for most of their trips.

See, most people are bike purists and they don't even know it. They've been convinced that biking should be "hard" and "work" or it's not "real" biking.

Me, I strum a different tune. I think that biking should be easy and fun, except for the times when one chooses for it to be hard and work. (I do chose that, sometimes – like when I'm out on the trail).

The solution?

The solution? I mounted up my mountain bike to the back of my newly built cargo-e-bike, and zipped over to the place where the trail is. I had a great 45 minute ride on the trail, and a great 25 minute ride on the ebike each way. It was a beautiful fall morning.

The e-bike averaged ~23 miles per hour, even with hauling my mountain bike uphill.

The cool part? My ebike contributed 320 watt hours, and I kicked in 127 watt-hours. So while the bike did far more work, I still burned upwards of 400 calories, just on the ebike ride!1

More exercise, less energy, more fun!

In total, my Apple Watch recorded 619 kCal burnt for the whole adventure. Far more than if I'd driven there.

The other bonus is electricity (or fuel) used. While my electric car is equal to getting 90mpg – it still consumes well over 200 watt hours per mile. My e-bike consumed 20 watt hours per mile, which is 1/10th of the energy used up.

I’ll take it any day

I'll take energy savings, more calories burnt, more fresh air, and avoiding using the car over "bike purism" any day.

I get where it's coming from, but unless one has unlimited time and energy to spend being a bike purist, it's just not practical in the real world for most of us.

  1. Human watt-hours were measured by a torque sensing bottom bracket and Cycle Analyst from Grin Technologies ( I multiplied by 4 to accommodate the <25% efficiency of human muscles converting from food calories to energy output. The conversion factor from watt-hours to calories is 0.86. ↩︎

6 thoughts

  1. Nice to see the new article.
    I ride a Stromer ST2 and have 7600 miles on it in the last 18 months.
    It’s been a lot of fun.

  2. Wow I am glad that you have a new article here.
    I loved your You Tube videos too they were very educational.
    Myself I got rid of my car about 4 years ago and mostly get around by cycling ( I also ride an electric assisted bicycle too).
    As to electric cars I am more interested in getting an Organic Transit Elf Velomobile or a PEBL Velomobile perhaps.Just the way that heavy mass motor vehicles are so horribly energy inefficient,costly and destructive to humans and the environment that they greatly offend me personally.

  3. Hey Jon, thanks for the feedback – and I’m impressed at you going totally car free. Here in our area that’s a bit hard to do, between snow, mountains, etc… but I’m doing the best I can, and it’s nice to take less car trips, and spend more time in the “slow lane” enjoying the fresh air, exercise, and scenery.
    Keep on bikin’!

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