Fact sheet

Pedelecs and speed pedelecs

Summary

Pedelecs are popular. Initially especially elderly people bought pedelecs, but meanwhile pedelecs have also become popular with other target groups. It is not precisely known if cycling on a pedelec has a greater crash risk than cycling on a regular bicycle. The injury severity, however, is greater in pedelec crashes. The elderly have a slightly greater risk of falling or having another accident involving a pedelec. To a large extent this is due to their greater vulnerability, but the faster speed and pedelecs being quite heavy are also to blame: as a result, elderly users sometimes experience difficulty in mounting and gaining speed and in slowing down and dismounting. For some time 'speed pedelecs' have been on the market in addition to pedelecs, and they can travel a lot faster. There are various options to make riding a pedelec safer: a lighter weight, a lower center of gravity and easier mounting and dismounting. It is also safer if the bike gives (light) pedal assistance immediately after mounting and starting the journey. There are also special pedelec courses for the elderly. Whether or not these courses are effective, is yet unknown.

Facts

What is a pedelec, speed pedelec, or e-bike?

Pedelec is the collective name for electric powered bicycles that offer pedal assistance. It refers to a bike that only delivers power when the cyclist pushes the pedals. This is the origin of the word pedelec; submitted by Pedal Electric Cycle. In this fact sheet, we distinguish two types of pedelecs: the ‘regular’ electric bicycle and the relatively new ‘speed pedelec’. An electric bicycle stops giving pedal assistance at speeds higher than about 25 km/h, a speed pedelec offers no pedal assistance at speeds higher than 45 km/h. From a legal point of view, pedelecs are ‘normal’ bicycles. A speed pedelec is presently regarded as a light moped, but according to European regulations it will be qualified as a moped from 1 January 2017.

Occasionally pedelecs are incorrectly referred to as e-bikes. According to European regulations (Bike Europe, 2014) e-bikes are not pedelecs (electric bicycles with pedal assistance), but powered two wheelers with an electric engine on which cyclists do not need to pedal in order to move, but can move faster if they also pedal. Except that they have no internal combustion engine, but an electric engine, these vehicles are light mopeds (maximum speed not exceeding 25 km/hour) or mopeds (faster than 25 km/hour, but not faster than 45 km/hour). For more information see SWOV Fact sheet Moped and light-moped riders .

How popular are pedelecs?

According to data supplied by BOVAG en RAI Vereniging (Kerncijfers tweewielers 2016) 983,000 new bicycles were sold in 2015, of which 276,000 were pedelecs and 3,500 were speed pedelecs. This means that more than one in every four newly purchased bicycles is a pedelec or a speed pedelec. Statistics Netherlands, estimated the number of pedelecs in the Netherlands to be 1.4 million in 2014. Pedelecs are especially popular with older cyclists: in 2014 the group of 65-to 75-year-olds travelled 34% of all their bicycle kilometres on the pedelec. With 45%, this was even more for cyclists of 75 years and older (Schaap et al., 2015; see also Vlakveld, 2016). However, the use among other target groups is increasing. More and more commuters, for example, use the pedelec. Speed pedelecs have not been long on the market and are especially popular with people in their thirties. They take the speed pedelec instead of the car to travel to work.

How safe are pedelecs?

It is not known precisely whether and how much the risk is higher for cycling on a pedelec than on a regular bicycle. The estimates vary widely. Cyclists on a pedelec are more seriously injured in a crash than cyclists on a regular bike. This is the finding of the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), where the A&E department records the bicycle type since July 2014. When patients of equal age on a regular bike (no race bike) and on a pedelec (no speed pedelec) in that database are compared, patients on a pedelec more frequently sustain severe and multiple injuries and they have more serious brain injury than patients who rode a regular bicycle (Poos et al., 2017).

According to an estimate of the Dutch cycling association Fietsberaad (2013) the risk of a crash with a pedelec does not seem to be higher than a crash with a regular bicycle for cyclist younger than 60 years of age. This risk seems to be somewhat higher for cyclists older than 60 years of age. From 75 years and older the risk of a crash is significantly higher for cyclists on a pedelec than for cyclists on a regular bicycle (Fietsberaad, 2013). There is also another estimate. On the basis of surveys Schepers et al. (2014) [i]come to the conclusion that– controlled for gender and age – per distance travelled cyclists on an pedelec are nearly two times more likely to be treated in the A&E department as a casualty of a traffic crash than cyclists on a regular bike.

A higher crash risk with a pedelec can in part be attributed to the higher speed, and in part to the fact that electric bikes are quite heavy compared with a regular bicycle. This more frequently causes (especially older) cyclists to have trouble with mounting and gaining speed and with slowing down and dismounting (Davidse et al, 2014). In addition, the place of the auxiliary engine and battery on the bicycle also play a role: the lower and more to the middle the centre of gravity, the better the balance at low speeds (Budde et al., 2012). Another possible risk is the faster acceleration which may surprise other road users (Dozza et al., 2015). The higher speed also leads to more overtaking manoeuvres on the bike path. Most cyclists on a pedelec travel at an average speed of 17 km/hour. On a regular bicycle the average speed is 15 km/hour (Vlakveld et al., 2015). Not much research has so far been done into the speed of speed pedelecs. A recent German study registered an average speed of 24 km/h (Schleinitz et al., 2017). A Dutch study among 28 speed pedelec users found a cruising speed of 35.2 km/h under the most favourable conditions; it was not possible to distinguish by bicycle path or road and other external features (de Bruijne, 2016; for more information also see Vlakveld (2016)). In 2017 the results will be available of a 2016 SWOV-study which measured the speeds of conventional pedelecs and speed pedelecs in combination with video recordings. A relation with external conditions can therefore be established in this study.


[i]The respondents were cyclists who, according to the hospital registration, were cycling injuries  treated in the A&E department and were sometimes admitted to hospital.

How frequent are crashes involving pedelecs?

According to police registration, in 2014 there were 15 fatalities among cyclists on a pedelec or speed-pedelec, and 118 fatalities among cyclists on a regular, non-powered bicycle. Statistics Netherlands data indicates that in 2014 12% of the total bicycle distance was travelled on a pedelec. At an equal crash rate we would have expected 16 fatalities among pedelec riders in 2014; the number was 15. Proportionately, therefore, in 2014 the number of fatalities among pedelec riders was not higher than the number of fatalities on regular bicycles. It should be mentioned that the police has registered crashes with pedelecs in a separate category only since 2013 and it remains to be seen whether this is done accurately. On the basis of one year it is impossible to determine whether the risk of a fatal crash is higher on a pedelec than on a regular bicycle. That can only be determined with any certainty when a series of years shows that the fatality rate is not higher (Vlakveld, 2016).

It is unknown how often pedelec crashes with serious road injuries occur. Non-fatal bicycle crashes (such as a fall or a collision with a bollard; see see Reurings, 2012) are not or barely registered by the police, especially if no other (motorized) road users are involved.

How do crashes with pedelecs occur?

Most crashes with pedelecs occur when the rider mounts and begins to ride (gaining speed) and – in particular – when the rider dismounts (Davidse et al, 2014). This mainly involves keeping balance: pedelecs are both faster and heavier than regular bicycles. The risk of a crash is highest for riders older than 75 (Fietsberaad, 2013). However, this can also be the result of self-selection. It is possible that especially elderly people with a strong decline in muscle strength opt for a pedelec, while at the same time their sense of balance or their reaction speed, for example, also decreases (Brisswalter et al., 1997).

How can the safety of pedelecs be improved?

There are various possibilities to make pedelecs safer for elderly people: a lighter weight of the pedelec, a lower centre of gravity and easier mounting and dismounting, for example with a saddle that can be raised and lowered automatically. It is also safer if the pedelec gives (light) pedal assistance immediately when starting off (Vlakveld, 2016). There are also special pedelec courses for the elderly; it is not yet known whether these are effective. Finally, a bicycle helmet can prevent much of the head and brain injury (Bike Europe, 2015).  See SWOV Fact sheet Bicycle helmets for more information.​

Is helmet use mandatory on a pedelec or a speed pedelec?

The Netherlands has no mandatory helmet use for the pedelec (pedal assistance up to 25 km/h), because this is considered a 'normal' bicycle. For the speed pedelec (pedal assistance to 45 km/h) mandatory helmet use applied from 1 January 2017. According to European regulations, the speed pedelec is since then categorized as a moped (until 1 January 2017 it was classified as a light moped). The speed pedelec helmet can be an 'ordinary' moped helmet that complies with the ECE22.05-standard, or it can be a helmet that meets the NTA8776:2016 standard which has been developed specifically for the speed-pedelec (Schepers et al.; 2016) This helmet has a number of specifications that differ from the 'regular' bicycle helmet (see Figure 1). For more information see SWOV Fact sheet Bicycle helmets.

Figure 1.  Specifications for the pedelec helmet and for the speed pedelec helmet (Source: Volkskrant; NEN, BBB Cycling).

 

Publications and sources

Bike Europe (2014). All you need to know on EU regulations for – e-bikes – pedelecs – speed pedelecs. Whitepaper, November 2014. Reed Business Information.

Bike Europe (2015). Development starts for special speed e-bike helmet; Call for stakeholders. In: Bike Europe. Geraadpleegd 20 December 2015 op http://www.bike-eu.com.

Brisswalter, J., Arcelin, R., Audiffren, M. & Delignieres, D. (1997). Influence of physical exercise on simple reaction time: effect of physical fitness. In: Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 85, nr. 3, p. 1019-1027.

Budde, A., Daggers, T., Fuchs, A., Lewis, T., et al. (2012). Go Pedelec (vertaald uit het Duits). IBC Cycling Consultany, Gemeente Utrecht, Utrecht.

Davidse, R.J., Duijvenvoorde, K. van, Boele, M.J., Duivenvoorden, C.W.A.E., et al. (2014). Fietsongevallen met 50-plussers in Zeeland: hoe ontstaan ze en welke mogelijkheden zijn er om ze te voorkomen? R-2014-16A. Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid SWOV, Den Haag.

Dozza, M., Bianchi Piccinini, G.F. & Werneke, J. (2016). Using naturalistic data to assess e-cyclist behavior. In: Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, vol. 41, Part B, p. 217-226.

Fietsberaad (2013). Feiten over de elektrische fiets. publicatie 24, versie 1. Fietsberaad, Utrecht.

Poos, H.P.A.M., Lefarth, T.L., Harbers, J.S., Wendt, K.W., et al. (2017). E-bikers raken vaker ernstig gewond na fietsongeval: Resultaten uit de Groningse fietsongevallendatabase. In: Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, vol. 161, nr. D1520.

Reurings, M.C.B., Vlakveld, W.P., Twisk, D.A.M., Dijkstra, A., et al. (2012). Van fietsongeval naar maatregelen: kennis en hiaten. R-2012-8. Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid SWOV, Leidschendam.

Schaap, N., Harms, L., Kansen, M. & Wüst, H. (2015). Fietsen en lopen: de smeerolie van onze mobiliteit. KiM-15-A08. Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid (KiM), Den Haag.

Schepers, J.P., Fishman, E., Hertog, P. den, Klein Wolt, K., et al. (2014). The safety of electrically assisted bicycles compared to classic bicycles. In: Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 73, p. 174-180.

Schepers, J.P., Jager, K. de & Hulshof, R. (2016). Speed-pedelec wordt bromfiets: wat verandert er en wat zijn de gevolgen. Notitie, versie 1. Fietsberaad, Utrecht.

Schleinitz, K., Petzoldt, T., Franke-Bartholdt, L., Krems, J.F., et al. (2017). The German naturalistic cycling study - Comparing cycling speed of riders of different e-bikes and conventional bicycles. In: Safety Science, vol. 92, p. 290-297.

Vlakveld, W.P., Twisk, D., Christoph, M., Boele, M., et al. (2015). Speed choice and mental workload of elderly cyclists on e-bikes in simple and complex traffic situations: A field experiment. In: Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 74, p. 97-106.

Vlakveld, W.P. (2016). Elektrische fietsen en speed-pedelecs; Kennis over de verkeersveiligheid. R‑2016‑7. Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid SWOV, Den Haag.

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Updated

24 May 2017