Speed pedelecs (s-pedelecs) are electric bicycles offering pedal assistance up to 45 km/h. S-pedelecs may contribute to a more efficient and green traffic system. However, their potential to reach high speeds has raised road safety concerns. In the Netherlands a new legislation bans s-pedelecs from bicycle paths in urban areas. On the roads with a maximum speed limit of 50 km/h with adjacent bicycle paths, s-pedelec riders must use the roadways instead of the bicycle path. The impact of this legislation on the behaviour of s-pedelec riders and other road users as well as the possible consequences for road safety are yet unknown. Therefore, this naturalistic riding study investigated the safety-relevant behaviours of s-pedelec riders, i.e. speed characteristics while riding on the roadway, the extent of non-compliance with the ban on using bicycle paths, and speed and speed adaptation while using bicycle paths. Furthermore the study explored factors possibly influencing rider behaviour (the s-pedelec’s motor-power, riders’ beliefs and perceptions) as well as negative reactions of other road users encountering s-pedelec riders. 28 participants used a s-pedelec (a 350 W type or a 500 W type) for everyday trips for at least a fortnight. The s-pedelecs were equipped with two action cameras with integrated sensors and GPS. The results showed that mean speed on 50 km/h roadways was 31.8 km/h, which is far below the road’s speed limit. The mean speed did not differ between s-pedelec types, but the speed distribution did. The ‘500 W riders’ travelled 31.7% of the total distance in the 41–50 km/h speed band, as compared to 6.9% of the ‘350 W riders’. Furthermore the 500 W riders evaluated riding on the roadway more positively than the 350 W riders. On the roadway s-pedelec riders experienced signals of hinderance of the traffic flow (on average every 2 km) and negative reactions from drivers (on average every 27.5 km). As for non-compliance riders covered on average 22.5% of the distance on bicycle paths. The more the riders disagreed with the new legislation, the more distance they covered on the bicycle path. Mean speed on bicycle paths was 28.5 km/h, and it was significantly higher for 500 W riders than for 350 W riders. Speeds between 41 and 50 km/h were also far more common for 500 W riders (14.9% of the distance) than for 350 W riders (0.5%). Compared to the roadway 350 W riders reduced their speed on the bicycle paths to a higher extent (from 31.4 to 25.7 km/h) than 500 W riders did (from 31.9 to 30.5 km/h). The frequency of harsh braking of s-pedelec riders was low and did not differ between the roadway and the bicycle paths. In conclusion, s-pedelec riders in the Netherlands frequently ride on the bicycle paths although it is illegal. On the bicycle paths their speeds are much higher than those of conventional cyclists. On the 50 km/h-roadways, however, s-pedelec riders are apparently too slow for the traffic conditions. Overall, the speed profiles of 350 W types were better suited to the bicycle paths, whereas those of 500 W types to the roadways.
Influencing factors of observed speed and rule compliance of speed-pedelec riders in high volume cycling areas: Implications for safety and legislation