Cycling in the UK and the Netherlands

The Netherlands and the UK are European regions with very different cycling cultures. Levels of cycling in the Netherlands are much greater than in the UK (1% of all trips in UK versus 27% in NL) largely a result of the Netherlands having a long history of implementing a ‘multifaceted and mutually reinforcing’ set of policies focused around supporting and promoting cycling.

Dutch owners of e-bikes therefore benefit from favorable conditions for cycling and are able to use the existing network of approximately 35,000km of cycle paths. Regional authorities are also investing in ‘bicycle highways’, which offer direct connections between urban centers and there is a strong push to encourage e-bike use for commuting through the ‘Beter Benutten‘. This includes providing employees with an e-bike free of charge for a trial period.

eBike Rider

In the UK, where cycling infrastructure is much less developed, the government is developing a Cycling Delivery Plan (CDP) that will outline long-term investment program for cycling. Under section 21 of the Infrastructure Act 2015 it is now obliged to produce a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) specifying objectives, and more importantly, the financial resources that will be made available, and to review this every five years. The UK Department for Transport is starting to consider the potential of e-bikes as part of an overall strategy for sustainable transport.

In September 2015, The Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle Sharing Pilot Scheme awarded £700K of funding to various cycle-hire schemes across the UK to enable them to expand their fleet with electric bikes. See this Cycling Weekly article for the best spots to cycle in the U.K. The Netherlands is now one of the biggest markets for e-bike sales in Europe.

Around 1 million e-bikes are now in ownership out of a total stock of 22 million cycles and e-biking now accounts for around 12 per cent of total distance traveled by cycle — roughly equivalent to 1.5 billion kilometers per year. Average journey distance covered by e-bike is 5.5 kilometers – one-and-a-half times further than conventional cycling (3.6 kilometers). In terms of use by different age groups, e-biking accounts for one third of all cycling kilometers traveled by adults age 65 and above, 6 per cent for adults aged up to 50 years and only 1 per cent for adults aged up to 35.

Older riders report using e-bikes for leisure and shopping whilst for younger adults commuting plays a more significant role. In the UK sales of e-bikes have also been increasing, though the absolute and relative numbers are much smaller compared to the Netherlands. A total of 30,000 e-bikes were sold in the UK in 2012 (compared to 175,000 in the Netherlands) roughly equating to 0.5 sales per 1000 population and only 0.8% of total cycle sales. Unfortunately, unlike the Dutch National Travel Survey, the UK National Travel Survey does not discriminate journeys by e-bike and therefore usage characteristics are difficult to assess.

Interested in a better electric bike? Read an opinion on that here.