A new study out of Norway shows that electric bikes cause people to cycle longer and more often. The effect was strongest on women. In a time when we really need to find viable and sustainable transportation alternatives, decrease traffic congestion, and get more exercise, this is really good news.
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Aslak Fyhri at the Institute of Transport Economics summarized:
“People travel twice as much on the electric bike [as on a regular bike], both in terms of kilometres, amount of trips, and as part of the total transportation. The effect of having an electric bike was particularly strong among women. They did far more trips with their e-bikes than men did. Men, on the other hand, often went for longer trips once they were out cycling.”
The researchers randomly selected participants and divided them into two groups. The experimental group of 66 people were given unlimited access to an electric bike, while the control group of 160 people had to use their own regular bike.
Dramatic Increases in Cycling
The experimental group had been cyclists before, but with the electric bikes they increased their daily cycling trips from an average of 0.9 to 1.4 trips per day. They doubled the average length of their trips from 4.8 to 10.3 kilometres (3 to 6.4 miles).
With the electric bikes, they were meeting almost half of their transport needs with bikes. Considering that at the moment, only 5% of all travel in Norway is done on bikes, this shows the massive potential of electric bikes to transform transportation.
In the control group, the amount of cycling stayed the same.
The electric bikes removed a lot of the practical obstacles to cycling
Researcher Fyhri says:
“In order to cycle to work every day you have to prepare, take care of logistics and perhaps change and shower when you arrive. To many people it is too much of a project. With an electric bike you reach greater distances in less time, and you may wear your ordinary clothes or a suit jacket since you don’t sweat. Many of the shorter trips done by car today may potentially be done by e-bike.”
The effect of the electric bikes increased with time, indicating a learning effect among users. I have seen that with Maggie and myself. Over time we started to realize that a lot of things we thought we needed our car for – such as our weekly food shopping – were actually possible with our electric bikes. Maggie now does ALL her short trips on her electric bike.
It’s Still Exercise!
Anyone who thinks riding an electric bike is not exercise has probably never ridden one. It’s not a moped – it’s a bike that can help you when you need help. The way I use my electric bike, I am exhausted after my 50 km (30 mile) round-trip, very hilly commute. I use the engine as little as possible, and it is switched off much of the time. And of course, the bike weighs 35 pounds, not 20 pounds. All in all, I am most definitely exercising.
But when I hit steep hills or long hills (or steep, long hills), the engine is definitely on. It would take me hours to do this commute on a regular bike, and I simply would NOT do it for long. Although bike commuting is often fun and exhilarating, you can also burn out very quickly when your bike commute is too hard.
Bike commute burnout happened to me recently. All of a sudden, I was back on transit, just feeling unable to face the stress of the BC Parkway (7/11 Trail). Now I have found an easier bike route from New West to Vancouver. It is longer, but faster because it is less dangerous. And I am enthused again, looking forward to my commute instead of dreading it.
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You need to have a route that is not too psychologically tiring (i.e. dangerous and stressful); and it should not feel like you are pushing yourself close to the point of physical collapse. That’s where an electric bike can make all the difference.
Obviously, it is possible to use a very powerful electric bike to avoid pedaling at all. In fact, there is a guy on a Stromer on my route who does that, and he passes me every day. But he is still using alternative transportation, and he is still keeping one car off the road. And perhaps when he starts to feel old age creeping up on him, he will start turning down the electric bike and turning up the human power!
The point is, an electric bike keeps a car off the road and at the same time gives you choices about how much exercise you get on your commute. Those who want exercise can get it by turning down the power or turning if off. Those who are feeling exhausted or have an injury or an impaired heart can still cycle, but use more assistance.
The net result is that electric bikes cause people to spend more time on a bike getting SOME exercise, and less time in a car getting NO exercise.
The proof lies in the numbers, as shown in this latest research. Here is the original journal article: Aslak Fyhri, Nils Fearnley. Effects of e-bikes on bicycle use and mode share. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 2015; 36: 45 DOI: 10.1016/j.trd.2015.02.005
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