Can you get fit on an e-bike. Yes, you can! In fact, incorporate a few fairly simple elements into your riding routine and you could end up boosting your fitness and ride handling skills without really feeling like you're doing anything much at all.
Without getting lost in the weeds of complex training theory, all you really need to achieve a high degree of fitness for mountain biking is to go really hard fairly regularly, then go relatively easy most of the time. It’s called polarised training and it’s really effective at inducing the physiological adaptations we’re after in order to become much fitter and faster on our bikes.
The problem? It’s really hard, if not impossible, to do quality polarised training on an analog mountain bike as most of your rides, even when actively trying to take it easy, end up being kinda tough. Not tough enough to elicit the peak performance gains we’re after, and not easy enough to promote recovery or aerobic base fitness. The end result is your fitness gets lost on no man’s land and you fail to make progress.
It’s why lots of pro riders use other modes of training, like running or road riding, as the terrain doesn’t dictate the intensity of the workout to the same degree.
Unfortunately, other training modes mean less time on the mountain bike, so they do nothing for the specific skill development of mountain biking. And this is where the e-bike is invaluable. Go for a big ride on the weekend, where you are forced to use a lower power mode, just to cover the distance, and you’ll probably be working really hard, especially if you run out of battery. Then, during the week, you can pop out for a couple of shorter rides using the higher power modes, which, depending on the terrain, can make it surprisingly difficult to get your heart rate elevated at all. It’s why e-bike riders need to wear warmer clothes.
So if you thought that getting an e-bike was going to make you less fit, used wisely, it can actually make you fitter and faster without it ever really feeling like you are actively training. And because you get more ride time, your skill on the bike will improve more rapidly too. Sure, if you just ride in Turbo or Boost all of the time, your fitness performance is likely to decline, so we’ve outlined some fun strategies to mitigate that, and guarantee you get all the fun, where the fitness benefits come along for the ride.
1. Take a hill climb challenge.
One of the great things about full-power e-bikes is that they make technical climbing really fun. Or, at the very least, the challenge is enough to distract you from your heavy breathing, elevated heart rate and aching legs. So find a steep technical climb that takes about 30 seconds to a minute to ride on your e-bike and get after it. Mark your highest point, roll back down, then repeat four to five times.
Better still, take turns at attacking the climb with your riding partners. Not only will the healthy rivalry spur you on, the extra rest will guarantee that you’re fully recovered to give it your all on your next attempt. The climb doesn’t even need to be crazy steep, just technical enough to give you a full body workout. And in addition to improving your high-end fitness, you’ll also be training your balance and technical climbing skills too.
2. Manage your battery capacity
If you want to keep the intensity of a ride relatively constant, it’s a good idea to start your ride in one of the lower power modes. Not the easiest thing to do, I know, especially when the display is showing 100% battery capacity. But reserving the higher power modes, and ultimately your battery capacity, for the more challenging climbs on your ride will pay dividends as your ride progresses and fatigue starts to set in.
In fact, there’s no better feeling than having enough battery capacity left to turn up the level of assistance of the motor for the last 30 minutes of your ride, just as your legs are starting to fade. Time it right, and the extra boost from the motor means that you can finish every e-bike ride on a high.
3. Take Easy Days
Everyone loves an easy day, right? And with an e-bike that’s totally possible without it having to be a flat, boring ride. If you have a heart rate monitor, or a smartwatch with heart rate, you can set upper and lower limits for a Zone 2 workout then use the e-bike’s power modes to ensure that you stay within your prescribed heart rate for the duration of your ride.
Even better, if you have a Specialized Turbo Levo you can link your heart rate monitor to the bike with the Mission Control app, and the app will automatically metre the power output of the motor to keep you in the right training zone. Smart, right?
Just resist the temptation to make all of your rides easy days, otherwise you will lose a lot of fitness. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor a good approximation of a Zone 2 ride is one where your breathing rate means you could hold a conversation, albeit a slightly laboured one. The key here is to not go into the red, as it will disrupt the metabolic and cardiovascular adaptations Zone 2 training is designed for.
4. Reverse XC riding
XC racers tend to smash the climbs then let their heart rates recover on the descents, but we are going to flip the script. Instead, cruise up the climb in Zone 2 on your e-bike, then without resting drop straight into the descents with maximum intensity – ideally evelaving your heart rate to Zone 4 or 5.
Not only is this a really fun way to ride, it gets you used to riding at maximum intensity, rather than simply doing a hill repeat or interval on a stationary bike it requires increased concentration and precise use of your riding skills.
Lap out the same trail multiple times, looking for better lines or working on a specific riding technique.
5. Boost your riding skills
It’s undeniable that getting fitter and stronger will make you faster both up and downhill, but one of the real beauties of having an e-bike is that you can work on your skills while still feeling physically and mentally fresh. This can’t be overlooked because as Vince Lombardi famously said: “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect”.
So by minimising fatigue you can practise the same section of trail, corner or jump, over and over again without your form getting sloppy due to increased fatigue. Best of all, the e-bike will reduce the time between repeat exposures to the same skill so you’ll improve faster too. Subscribe to the theory of 10,000 hours to mastery? Well, an e-bike will get you there in half the time.
Looking for more electric mountain bike tips? If you really want to get the most out of your bike, make sure you’ve mastered these essential eMTB skills. And if you don’t want to splurge all your cash to go electric, check out our tried and tested best budget electric bikes.