Fact sheet

Pedelecs and speed pedelecs


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 a different type of 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. There are various options to make riding a pedelec safer: a lighter weight, a lower centre of gravity and easier mounting and dismounting. Special pedelec courses for the elderly are also organised. As yet it is unknown whether or not these courses are effective.

In addition to regular pedelecs, 'speed pedelecs' have been on the market for some time now, and they can travel a lot faster. From 1 January 2017 the speed pedelec is categorized as a moped, which means that helmet use is now also mandatory for speed pedelec riders and they must now use the combined cycle/moped path or the roadway. Research has not yet made clear which place on the road is most suitable for speed pedelecs: the roadway or the cycle path. It is clear, however, that the speed pedelec is not homogeneous with other traffic, both on the cycle path and on the roadway, in terms of speed (and mass on the roadway). This can lead to potentially dangerous situations on both locations.


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. Since 1 January 2017, a speed pedelec is categorized as a moped.

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/h) or mopeds (faster than 25 km/h, but not faster than 45 km/h). For more information see SWOV Fact sheet Moped and light moped riders.

How popular are pedelecs?

According to data from BOVAG and RAI Association (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 also increasing. More and more commuters, for example, use the pedelec. Speed pedelecs have not been on the market for a long time and are mainly used by male commuters; two thirds (65%) use the speed pedelec instead of the car (De Bruijne, 2016). In June 2017, more than 10,000 speed pedelecs had been registered with the Netherlands Vehicle Authority RDW. Eighty seven percent of the owners are 40 years or older.

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 pedelecs 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 startle other road users (Dozza et al., 2015). The higher speed also leads to more overtaking manoeuvres on the cycle path (Davidse et al, 2014). Most cyclists on a pedelec travel at an average speed of 17 km/h. On a regular bicycle the average speed is 15 km/h (Vlakveld et al., 2015). A speed pedelec travels at an average speed of 29 km/h on the cycle path and of 32 km/h on the roadway of a 50 km/h road (Stelling-Konczak et al., 2017). See also under At what speeds do speed pedelec riders travel?

[i]T he 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. Furthermore, pedelec riders older than 50 years of age appear to be more frequently involved in crashes that occur while overtaking than cyclists on regular bicycles in the same age group (Davidse et al., 2014). They tend to travel faster on a pedelec than on a regular bicycle and are therefore more inclined to overtake other cyclists.                                                                 

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 (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 it mandatory to wear a helmet on a pedelec or 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).


At what speeds do speed pedelec riders travel?

A speed pedelec offers pedal assistance up to a speed of 45 km/h. Different studies report different speeds that are actually ridden. A German study reported an average speed of 24 km/h (Schleinitz et al., 2017). A Dutch study among 28 speed pedelec riders (then categorized as light moped riders) found a cruising speed of 35 km/h in rural areas and 33 km/h in urban areas under the most favourable circumstances. No distinction could be made between speeds on the cycle path or on the roadway and between different external conditions (De Bruijne, 2016; for more information see also Vlakveld, 2016). A comparison of three types of cyclists (cyclists on regular bicycles, cyclists on pedelecs and speed pedelec riders) before the change in legislation, showed an average speed of speed pedelec riders in urban areas of 27 km/ h and of 30 km/h in rural areas (Stelling et al., 2017). A recent study into the behaviour of speed pedelec riders after the change in legislation shows that on the roadway (of 50 km/h roads with a separate cycle path in urban areas) they used an average speed of 32 km/h. Where, against the traffic regulations, they cycled on the cycle path, their average speed was 29 km/h (Stelling-Konczak et al., 2017).

Where is the best place on the road for speed pedelecs?

Research has not yet found evidence to indicate the best place on the road for speed pedelecs – the roadway or the cycle path – in the absence of a cycle/moped path. It is clear, however, that the speed-pedelec is not homogeneous with other traffic in terms of speed (and mass on the roadway), both on the cycle path and on the roadway. On the cycle paths in urban areas the average speed of speed pedelec riders is higher than that of other cycle path users: 29 km/h (Stelling-Konczak et al. 2017) versus 21 km/h (including light moped riders and measured during peak hours; De Groot-Mesken et al., 2015). Speed differences between the different cycle path users can potentially lead to dangerous situations. In addition, bends and obstacles (such as edges or poles) may present an additional risk for the speed pedelec rider at higher speeds.

However, the average speed of speed pedelec riders on the roadway [i] of 32 km/h is lower than the limit of 50 km/h (Stelling-Konczak et al. 2017). The difference with the actual speeds travelled by other traffic is not clear. Speed differences between road users on the roadway can lead to dangerous situations in which the speed pedelec rider is extra vulnerable due to his/her limited mass and protection in comparison with car traffic. The analysis of camera images by Stelling-Konczak et al. (2017) indicates that the speed pedelec rider on the roadway encounters some negative reactions from drivers (such as honking or calling, and flashing lights). On average, once in every 2 km travelled a situation occurs that indicates problems with traffic flow: drivers overtaking speed pedelec riders where it is not possible or not allowed, driving closely behind the speed pedelec rider, braking clearly, or cutting off the speed pedelec rider. Some speed pedelec riders continue to cycle on the cycle path: 23% of the distance they legally had to cycle on the roadway, they used the adjoining cycle path.

[i] On urban 50 km/h roads with a separate adjoining cycle path.

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., Doumen, M.J.A., et al. (2014b). Letselongevallen van fietsende 50-plussers; Hoe ontstaan ze en wat kunnen we eraan doen? R-2014-3. 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.

Groot-Mesken, J. de, Vissers, L. & Duivenvoorden, C.W.A.E. (2015). Gebruikers van het fietspad in de stad. Aantallen, kenmerken, gedrag en conflicten. R-2015-21. SWOV, Den Haag.

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.

Stelling, A., et al. (2017). Naturalistic cycling study among Dutch commuter cyclists: comparing speeds on pedelecs, speed-pedelecs and conventional bikes. In: RSS2017 - Road Safety & Simulation International Conference, 17-19 October 2017, The Hague.

Stelling-Konczak, A., et al. (2017). Speed-pedelec op de rijbaan. Eerste praktijkonderzoek naar gedragseffecten. R-2017-13. SWOV, Den Haag.

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

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.

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18 Sep 2017