A first of its kind study of speed pedelec users has found that average cruising speeds often sit comfortably below the maximum assisted limits.
Known as Europe’s speed pedelec hotspot, the Flanders region of Belgium hosts the 365SNEL project, which enables users to be exempt from the norms regulating these high powered electric bikes elsewhere in Europe. Notably their use is permitted on cycle paths, plus a provision of a €0.24 tax-free cycling allowance is offered to users. This creates interesting conditions for assessing real world use.
The study assessed 2022 rides, as recorded by 98 participants from ten companies with a GPS ride tracker returning usage data. The 15 speed pedelecs used had motor power ranging from 250W to 800W.
What the researchers discovered is that men tended to cruise on the largest stretches of open path or road at a mean speed of 38.2km/h (23.7mph/h), while women generally sat at a cruising speed of 33.5km/h (20.81mp/h). Women tended to have more variation in speed profiles, versus men who tended to hold a more consistent speed for longer spells (though it should be noted that the men were generally assigned the higher powered motors within this test).
Those assigned the lower powered motors likewise “fail to consistently achieve speeds above 40 km/h.”
For all participants the mean cruising speed was a full 5km/h lower than the maximum permitted assistance, which the researchers suggest “points to potential over-regulation of speed pedelecs according to their expected maximum speed.”
There was no discernible difference in speeds whether the trip was tagged as a commute or leisure ride, something which may indicate a confidence in arrival time on the commute.
On this the authors write: “Policymakers can therefore facilitate active travel with its commensurate physical and mental health benefits by investing in and designating routes for higher-speed (active) travel, and conversely reserve other routes for slower travel modes”.
Key conversations for the bike industry have revolved around safety at speed and tampering to achieve greater speeds on unregulated bikes. On the latter point the bike business has come out strongly against unregulated electric bikes and warned companies not to participate in modifications. As for the former, the discussion remains open, with some arguing speed should be proportionate to space, many happy with the eBike trade as it is and others suggesting a marginally higher speed would actually be safer on the roads.
As for studies into the subject of safety aboard electric bikes with a higher power output, a previous European Commission backed Guy et al. study into road safety risks for L-category vehicles wrote that “The results of these studies were inconclusive regarding safety aspects of speed pedelecs, although initial statistics suggest that speed pedelec users had proportionally more injuries than (e-)bike users.”
The former papers authors are Bert Herteleer, Nikolaas Van den Steen, Lieselot Vanhaverbeke and Jan Cappelle.