Smart e-bikes

Understanding how commuters and communities engage with electrically-assisted cycling
Dr F Behrendt (PI), Dr S Cairns, Mr D Raffo

This project will focus on electrically-assisted bicycles – also known as pedelecs and e-bikes – that have a small electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery to help propel machine and rider. The amount of assistance reduces with increasing speed and cuts out altogether once the rider reaches 25kmph, or if pedalling ceases.

The aim of this project is to understand how people engage with (smart) e-cycling and the issues for policy, design/product development and research that could lead to a higher uptake of e-bikes in the UK, and thereby potentially reduce carbon emissions. The project is positioned at the intersection of more traditional cycling research, mobile media studies and user-centred design, and aims to understand electric cycling as a unique mode of transport, with distinctive potential and challenges in the UK context.

In the UK, research on e-bikes is in its early stages, with pilots in this area currently commencing at a small number of locations, highlighting the timeliness of this research. In line with increased market shares of electric bikes in some European countries (e.g. Germany, Netherlands and Austria) and Asia, there have also been a small number of relevant international research projects, which can inform our approach to the UK context.

The project will involve a fleet of about 35 ‘data e-bikes’, with 6 of these additionally kitted out as ‘smart e-bikes’. Mobile technology such as a GPS/GPRS tracking units will be attached to the bikes in order to monitor their use. The ‘smart e-bikes’ will be further augmented with video cameras, mobile phones and other sensors to collect more qualitative and ethnographic data. These bikes will be distributed to trial participants through communities in Brighton, in partnership with Brighton and Hove Council. During the trial, we aim to work with 2 workplaces (focusing on the issues faced by commuters) and 4 community groups (focussing on issues relating to the aging population). Our methodology will bring together traditional transport monitoring (e.g. surveys and focus groups), qualitative and ethnographic methods from media studies (such as interviews and participant observation) and design methods (such as user-centred and inclusive design).

We conceptualise e-bikes as a mode of transport in their own right: as different to cycling, scooters, electric cars – yet with insights from research in all these areas. This research project will engage with the challenging context of embodied mobility, where the participant’s interaction with the e-bike and the urban context has to be integrated with mobile media in safe and productive ways. There will also be insights from understanding the fleet of e-bikes as an Internet of Things – and the possibilities emerging from linking mobile technologies with a mode of transport. It will also be useful to directly develop recommendations on a range of issues (ergonomics, safety, cycle storage, on-road facilities, theft prevention, employer policies, networking) whilst working with a manufacturer, a local authority and several employers who may be interested in implementing any conclusions.

The research is of importance because of its potential to contribute to meeting carbon reduction and public health objectives; it offers the chance to explore the game-changing potential of an innovative transport option; and because it brings together conventional monitoring and new ways of exploring travel behaviour.

Leave a Reply