Sandpit: Smart e-bikes - understanding how commuters and communities engage with electrically-assisted cycling

Lead Research Organisation: University of Brighton
Department Name: School of Art, Design and Media


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.

Planned Impact

This project will involve engagement with a wide range of actors, and provide the opportunity for impact through a range of mechanisms. In particular, these include:
- Trial participants - who will be directly involved in considering and using e-bikes
- Project partners - notably, we have already had positive discussions about collaboration with Brighton & Hove Council, the bike manufacturer Raleigh, the local community group Bike for Life, a local bike retailer - and through Brighton and Hove Council, we also hope to work positively with businesses who are part of their Business Travel Network, and with Age UK.
- Advisory panel - we aim to assemble a small advisory panel of key people in order to learn from their expertise, and to ensure rapid dissemination of key findings into key communities (for example, the national cycling policy debate).
- Wider board - we will aim to make positive contacts with all those involved in other relevant trials (particularly in the UK), and use the project website as an appropriate interface mechanism
- More general dissemination - we will develop a website, together with a number of publications and presentations, and the phasing of the work this should enable early dissemination of results from the review activities as well as the later dissemination of results from the trial.
Impacts for public policy
By linking current understanding and developments in both new technologies and active travel options, we aim to gain insights that will be persuasive in the public policy debate and in influencing key stakeholders. Findings will be linked both to the e-bikes, and the factors that encourage e-bike use, which may include design modifications and product development, marketing messages, the nature of bike facilities in public space, and the ways in which organisations (such as local authorities and workplaces) can incentivise and safely encourage use. We hope that the results will be of particular relevance to public policy debates on: encouraging a shift to less polluting forms of transport; encouraging physical activity amongst those who are currently relatively inactive in order to achieve health gains; enabling older people to retain mobility and independence for longer; understanding the wider social context and personal issues that determine travel choices. The project will draw on experience from the UK and abroad, with particular insights from Europe and Asia. The international context may be particularly important, given the interest in technology transfer between countries to combat climate change - and the potential for positive interactions with Asia could be of particular value.
Impacts for the private sector
We envisage that there are 3 areas where industry could benefit from the results of the research - and the direct nature of the trial may provide the opportunity to have a very immediate impact. These are as follows:
Cycling products: We envisage working with one e-bike manufacturer, but liaising with others about the nature of available products, & possible developments. We envisage that the trial should lead to specific recommendations about how products could be developed to be more appealing in function and use. The trial may also lead to potential insights about pricing marketing & new approaches to ownership that the industry may find valuable.
Mobile technologies: mobile technologies are a particularly fast growing industry sector. This project may indicate new opportunities for the industry to provide products to those who are cycling, & to maximise the appeal of their existing offerings to those who are travelling actively.
Employers: there is already a considerable body of evidence about the benefits to employers of encouraging employees to walk or cycle to work as a result of reduced sick leave. This project may indicate new ways in which employers can help to make those choices attractive, with direct benefits for their own productivity.


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Cairns S (2017) Electrically-assisted bikes: Potential impacts on travel behaviour in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice

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David Raffo (2013) an electric future? in 10th Annual Cycling and Society Symposium

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Frauke Behrendt (2012) Media Cycling: Embodied and Multi-Sensory Mobile Media Practice in The Media, Communications and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA) Conference

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Frauke Behrendt (2013) Smart E-Bikes Research - How Urban E-Cycling and Media Mobilities could Shape Future Sustainable Cities in RE.WORK Cities Summit - Combining entrepreneurship, technology & science to re-work the future

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Frauke Behrendt (2012) Smart e-bikes in Urban Age Electric City Conference. Panel 'Business as Usual or Disruption: New Urban Technology'.

Description This project has involved a series of trials with a fleet of 30 networked e-bikes in 2012 and 2013 in Brighton. The project lent out these electrically-assisted bikes to 80 commuters and 12 community participants and used them in public events. Data has been collected through surveys, interviews, focus groups and the Smart e-bikes monitoring system (GPS and assistance data).

For the commuter trial, initial workplace surveys revealed high levels of interest, with about 40% of those replying being keen to participate in the trials. This included interest from groups which are traditionally less likely to cycle. such as women, older age groups, non-white ethnic groups, those who are currently relatively inactive, car owners/users and those living 3-10 miles from work.

On the commuter trial, three-quarters of those who were loaned an e- bike used them at least once a week. Across the sample as a whole, average usage was 15-20 miles per week, and was accompanied by an average reduction in car mileage of 20%.

For the commuter trial, nearly half the respondents who classified themselves as doing less than 30 min of physical activity (moderate or vigorous) per week asked to be part of the trial. Of all respondents who asked to be part of the trial, 42% had a BMI indicating that they were overweight or obese and 59% reported that their overall physical activity increased (including 29 of the 43 participants who reported doing less than 2.5 h weekly physical activity before the trial).

Our results are consistent with the results of the European literature which shows that when e-bikes are made available, they get used; that a proportion of e-bike trips typically substitutes for car use; and that many people who take part in trials become interested in future e-bike use, or cycling more generally.
The 'smart e-bikes' project showed that e-bikes bicycles have the potential to increase the appeal of cycling in the UK, and to encourage cycling participation by a relatively wide demographic, thereby providing a potential policy mechanism for helping to widen the appeal of cycling in terms of who cycles, not just overall cycling volume.

The project coined the concepts 'e-velomobility' and 'smart velomobility'. E-velomobility covers practices, systems and technologies of electrically-assisted cycling where velomobility's pedal-power combines with e-mobility's electrical assistance to propel the rider. "Smart velomobility" is concerned with networked practices, systems and technologies of cycling and can also be called "intelligent cycling", drawing on velomobility, Smart Mobility/Intelligent Transport (ITS), Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Other European countries have had very successful programmes to encourage e-bike take-up and use. The smart e-bike research project identified how policy activities are important to support uptake of e-bikes in the UK:

-Finding ways to reduce the (initial) costs of using an e-bike, such as hire schemes, or purchase discounts, or increasing the cycle-to-work tax break, would all help to increase use of this mode, together with mechanisms to enable people to trial e-bikes before committing to use.

-Integrating new modes of transport such as e-cycling with smart technologies such as the Internet of Things extends their appeal to some users and can contribute to data collection for smart cities.

-Compared with electric cars, e-bikes may represent a more cost-effective option, with a better chance of making a major difference to travel habits, while also increasing health and wellbeing.
Exploitation Route Encouraging more people to cycle via the promotion of electrically-assisted bikes could have multiple public and private benefits including lowering carbon emissions, reducing congestion as well as improving health and wellbeing. E-bike innovation is therefore of key interest for policy and industry at local, regional and national level. Our results are of interest to the health sector, for example for future interventions or research of public health (see impact section). The open-source Smart E-Bike Monitoring System (SEMS) we developed could be replicated on other fleets (for data comparison) and/or extended with more sensor to collect evidence on air quality, sound mapping, heart rate, etc. The SEMS could also be of interested for the fleet management of public e-bike hire fleets., private e-bike lease fleets, and for e-bike last-mile delivery of goods. Our overall research is also relevant for developing new forms of e-bike ownership, e.g. around lease and hire schemes. The SEMS also highlights the importance and potential of e-bikes and fleets of them for smart cities and the Internet of Things. The smart e-bikes send data in real time to our server and bike users can access the data via a web/mobile interface. The data can also feed into dashboard interfaces and social media. Future integration could be developed with smart houses, smart/sustainable energy, charging stations, and with regards to integration with other modes of transport.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Transport

Description Impact is emerging with regards to policy, health and industry: Policy The project submitted a document titled 'Electrically-assisted bikes' in response to the 2014 'Call for evidence on Government measures to support uptake of ultra low emission vehicles from 2015-2020'. The team's overall contention is that OLEV should make electrically-assisted bikes a priority component of their 2015-2020 programme, and our report suggests ten potential policy measures that would support their uptake. DfT funded 'University Campus e-bikes' Project lead Dr Frauke Behrendt successfully applied with Dr Anne Mandy for Department for Transport funding (£35,464) for the 'University Campus e-bikes' project in Eastbourne. This project is an example for the impact of the 'smart e-bike' research findings. The project has been consulted by Brighton and Hove City Council during the process of writing local travel strategies with major interest now growing in the potential of electrically-assisted bikes. A pilot 'e-cycling training module' training was developed in collaboration with Maria Robinson from M-Cycles (a local cycling business). Bikeability is 'cycling proficiency' for the 21st century, designed to give the next generation the skills and confidence to ride their bikes on today's roads. The project will influence the national Bikeability curriculum, offering an emphasis on e-bike skills and especially aimed at adults. This in turn feeds the aim of several national institutions to encourage more people taking trips by bike more often and more safely. "We are starting to work in partnership with Frauke Behrendt from the Smart e-bikes research project to put together a CPD (continuing professional development) trainer training module to submit to the Department for Transport for possible inclusion in the Bikeability suite. This will extend our reach to adult audiences and respond to the growing public interest in e-bikes." David Dansky, Director of The Association of Bikeability Schemes CIC Health The project was invited to submit evidence to the NIHR Horizon Scanning Research and Intelligence Centre's review on mHealth interventions that promote behavioural change, and this has been included on p42 and 82 ( Several county councils have been in touch with us to discuss the possibility of working in partnership with us on projects around the public health impact of e-bikes. Nanette Mutrie, Professor of Physical Activity for Health at the University of Edinburgh is a member of the 'smart e-bikes' project's advisory panel and states: "Use of such bikes will therefore be of potential health benefit to all those who need to increase their levels of physical activity and who use them in preference to undertaking less active types of travel or activity." Industry Project findings informed a funded consultancy (5k Green Growth Innovation Voucher/Knowledge Transfer) for a start-up e-bike shop in Brighton. Several local companies have consulted the project researchers on their business and developing innovations, for example regarding the tracking of fleets and goods. One of them is ReCharge, with Founder Sam Keam stating: "The smart e-bikes project has supported us in developing our vision for more sustainable urban logistics Brighton struggles with congestion, air pollution, lost business productivity and a reduced quality of life because there is too much traffic - a fair chunk of which is vans whizzing around delivering goods."
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Healthcare,Retail,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description E-Cycle Training: Electric Bikes Brighton Experience. Report
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Electrically-assisted bikes. Response to Call for evidence on Government measures to support uptake of ultra low emission vehicles from 2015-2020.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Title Smart E-bikes Monitoring System - SEMS 
Description The Smart E-Bike Monitoring System (SEMS) is an open-source platform for the acquisition of usage data from electrically-assisted bicycles (also called pedelecs). The system can monitor location, rider control data and other custom sensor input in real time. SEMS is designed to run from the e-bike battery, and requires no intervention from the rider. The SEMS data feeds an online interface for (1) data analysis and (2) for riders to view their own data. The smart e-bike monitoring system is designed as an autonomous, modular and flexible system - the basic system can be replicated by other researchers and can be extended with modules to explore various issues in e-bike research. The source code and hardware design are publicly available for non-commercial use under the GPL. The repository is part of documenting and communicating it. We have open-sourced the monitor system so that it may be used by other e-bike and GPS monitoring projects. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact SEMS has allowed us to monitor in detail how much trial participants have used their e-bikes (GPS) and how they used the assistance levels, for 100 trial participants, each using the bike for 6-8 weeks in 2012 and 2013. This data forms part of our empirical analysis of e-bike use. 
Description 'Urban Governance Futures: Scenarios for London', invited participant to the Foresight Seminar by LSE Cities and MacArthur Foundation. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Discussion points contributed by us sparked workshop debate that continued during the networking after the workshop closed.

Ongoing networking with industry practitioners and policy makers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Keynote at Cycling and Society Symposium 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited Keynote at Cycling and Society Symposium 2016, reach at the live event, through video on youtube, and through the event website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Participate in Stakeholder Advisory Group of Cycle Boom Research Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation of our experience influenced Cycle Boom's research design around e-bikes

A public health representative from Oxfordshire County Council contacted the project to discuss potential future collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Present at Active Travel Forum, Brighton and Hove City Council 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 20 practitioners involved in public health and active travel (Health Promotion Specialist of the Public Health Team, Brighton & Hove City Council, local GPS, etc) attended a talk on the health benefits of electrically-assisted bikes.

Several of the participants subsequently advised on developing a NIHR bid.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013