A significant contemporary phenomenon that may have a profound impact on mobility patterns is the emergence of the electrically assisted pedal cycle or what is more commonly known as the e-bike. E-bikes typically incorporate a battery, which can be charged at an ordinary domestic power socket, linked to an electric motor in the bicycle transmission system.
The rider controls the level of power assistance typically using a handlebar mounted computer display panel and controller. The term e-bike is generic and includes a combination of different electrically powered two-wheelers some of which function by simply turning a throttle. The focus of this paper is the pedal assisted variety of e-bike (or pedelec) which only functions on condition that the rider also pedals. Pedelecs are the most common variety of e-bike within Europe and are regulated at 250 Watts maximum continuous rated power output and maximum speed up to 25 kilometers per hour. They are permitted on cycle paths and other infrastructure specifically designed for pedal cycling.
There is evidence that e-bike sales are rising across Europe and are expected to continue to grow while sales of conventional cycles hold-steady. Authorities will need to consider where e-bikes fit within wider policies to promote sustainable mobility because this growth could have a significant impact on requirements for planning and designing cycle infrastructure. For example, e-bikes could replace short and medium distance car journeys and contribute to reducing traffic congestion and pollution in urban areas because they place less demand on road space and produce zero emissions whilst in operation.
E-biking could also contribute to healthy mobility by enabling riders to incorporate moderate exercise into everyday travel routines. They could also help to increase accessibility for people unable or reluctant to use conventional cycles (e.g. older people and those with physical limitations). Before jumping in and buying an electric bike you should carry out your due diligence. Get active on an ebike forum like eBike Owners. Read through their existing postings on the forum, and start your own forum threads to get responses to any unanswered questions you may have. Many posts might include reviews of electric bikes, but you should supplement that information by visiting an ebike review site such as the Electric Bike Universe. Spend some time on this review site and pour through the reviews to narrow down your choices to the models that might meet your particular needs.
Despite this potential there are concerns that e-biking may wean people away from conventional cycling rather than tackling car use and that promoting ebiking is distracting authorities from focusing on implementing good quality cycling infrastructure. There is also concern about the potential risk of traffic injury to riders or other road users unaccustomed to their higher speeds. Finally, although e-bikes produce no emissions at source, there are environmental challenges posed by the manufacture and disposal of waste batteries.
Increased level of research interest in e-bikes has paralleled growth in sales. Over the past decade studies have focused on e-bike design and performance; sales trends; user demographics; safety; and environmental impact but only recently, has attention turned to motivations for purchase and impact on travel behavior and personal health and well-being.
Early adopters of e-bike technology in California are reported to be older, better educated and with higher than average income than the US population corresponding with demographic profile of a study of Australian e-bike users while a study of Austrian e-bike users has shown that they were more likely to have lower educational and income levels than the general population. The desire for increased speed and reduced physical exertion is reported to be the main motivation for the purchase of e-bikes particularly among those with physical limitations. A few studies also suggest the desire to substitute car journeys is also a driver.
The limited evidence that is available on the impact of e-bikes on travel suggests that ebikes may increase participation in cycling, increase the number of trips and distance cycled and encourage users to replace car trips. Experts reveal, however, that early adopters of e-bikes in Austria were mainly car owning older people for who the only shift from car trips to e-bikes seems to take place for leisure trips with no discernible effect on commuting or shopping trips. Questions remain, therefore, about the magnitude of effect of e-biking in substituting car journeys and indeed whether they are impacting household car ownership. Remember to visit an e-bike forum as well as an e-bike review website before purchasing your own electric bike.
There is also growing interest in the role that e-bikes can play in promoting health and evidence that they can confer positive health benefits. Although energy expenditure per unit time for e-biking is lower than conventional cycling it can contribute to providing minimum physical activity requirements and have positive influence on physiological parameters in untrained men and women. Evidence is less clear on the psychological benefits of e-bikes although some studies have reported the sense of enjoyment conferred on their users.
Take a read of this article to read about the best places to cycle in the U.K.