Blog written by Dr. Sally Cairns. All infographics were created by Dr. Alice de Sejournet. Blog posted and formatted by Dr. Theresa Nelson.
For this blog piece, we present an initial analysis of survey results, which will be refined by further analysis in due course. This blog includes:
- Survey Background
- Ownership, Use, and Perceptions of Becoming an E-cyclist
- Interest in Future Opportunities to Use an E-bike
- Barriers to E-bike Use
- Perceived Benefits of E-bikes
- Overall Summary of the Potential for People to use E-bikes
- Related Research
The ELEVATE research project commissioned YouGov Plc to undertake a nationally-representative online survey of 2,000 adults living in England, in order to understand their experience and opinions about micromobility. The survey was conducted between 31st May and 18th July 2023. As part of the survey, one section focused on e-bikes, and respondents were given a definition of an e-bike, including an estimated typical purchase price of £1000 – 20001
1. All questions had a ‘don’t know / prefer not to say’ response option. All questions asking about agreement or disagreement had a ‘neither agree nor disagree’ option. All results were weighted to ensure that they were representative of the English adult population, based on age, gender, region, ethnicity and social grade. Where relevant, in this blog, weighted counts have been aggregated before rounding to the nearest whole percentage. This leads to a small discrepancy between graphic and text in relation to the percentage of people interested in monthly loans.
Ownership, Use and Perceptions of Becoming an E-cyclist
The survey results reveal that e-bikes are not as niche as they are sometimes portrayed. 8% of those responding were using an e-bike at least once a month (including 5% using them at least once a week), 9% were part of households that owned an e-bike and 16% had ridden an e-bike at least once. Over a quarter (27%) stated that they knew someone personally who regularly uses an e-bike. Local access was also perhaps surprisingly high. 17% of respondents said that they were aware of opportunities to hire an e-bike within walking distance of their home.
Of those who had not used an e-bike in the last month, 25% somewhat or strongly agreed that they could see themselves as being the kind of person who might regularly ride an e-bike. 33% also somewhat or strongly agreed that people who were important to them would approve of them doing so; and 56% somewhat or strongly agreed that they would find it easy to ride an e-bike if they wanted to.
Interest in Future Opportunities to Use an E-bike
From the full sample, there was considerable interest in owning or using e-bikes in the future, as follows:
- 9% of respondents said that their household was somewhat or very likely to buy an e-bike (or another e-bike) in the next 12 months
- 49% of respondents were somewhat, fairly or very interested in trying out an e-bike for a few minutes in a local park (with 48% not very or not at all interested)
- 47% of respondents were somewhat, fairly or very interested in the free loan of an e-bike for a month (with 49% not very or not at all interested)
The survey also asked about interest in trying out more unusual types of e-bike for a few minutes in a local park. The proportions who were somewhat, fairly or very interested included: 33% for a fold-up e-cycle; 31% for an e-cargo bike; 27% for an electric trike; 27% for a two-seater e-go-kart; 25% for a two-seater side-by-side e-bike; 20% for an electric rickshaw and 14% for a specialist bike that could carry a wheelchair.
Barriers to E-bike Use
In terms of barriers to use, respondents were asked about worries about theft; difficulties with storage; perceived affordability and safety of use. For those whose household did not own an e-bikes, results were as follows:
- 71% somewhat or strongly agreed that ‘if I owned an e-bike, I would worry about it getting stolen, at home or when out’ (with 11% somewhat or strongly disagreeing)
- 46% somewhat or strongly agreed that ‘storing an e-bike at my home would be difficult’ (with 39% somewhat or strongly disagreeing)
- Only 36% somewhat or strongly agreed that their household ‘could easily afford to buy an e-bike’ (with 42% somewhat or strongly disagreeing)
- 36% somewhat or strongly agreed that ‘using an e-bike is dangerous in my neighbourhood’ (with 30% somewhat or strongly disagreeing).
Perceived Benefits of E-bikes
All respondents were asked about whether they perceive e-bikes as an environmentally friendly option. 73% somewhat or strongly agreed that they are better for the environment than driving (whilst 7% somewhat or strongly disagreed); 69% somewhat or strongly agreed that they can be a realistic alternative for some car journeys (whilst 13% somewhat or strongly disagreed), and 53% somewhat or strongly agreed that the Government should do more to support their use (whilst 15% somewhat or strongly disagreed).
Those who had not used an e-bike in the last month were asked about potential advantages if they did start riding one regularly. 46% somewhat or strongly agreed that it would be enjoyable; 53% somewhat or strongly agreed that it would enable them to make some journeys more quickly; 47% somewhat or strongly agreed that there would personal health benefits; and 51% somewhat or strongly agreed that, for some journeys, there would be an advantage compared to walking or riding a standard bicycle.
For those who had ridden an e-bike in the last month (163 people), the perceived advantages were greater. 71% somewhat or strongly agreed that it was enjoyable; 66% somewhat or strongly agreed that it saved time; 73% somewhat or strongly agreed that there were health benefits; 71% somewhat or strongly agreed that, for some journeys, there was an advantage compared to walking or riding a standard bicycle. In this group, 62% somewhat or strongly agreed that using an e-bike meant that they travelled less by car.
Overall summary of the potential for people to use e-bikes
In brief, therefore, these findings indicate that interest in e-bikes is relatively strong. Approximately half of respondents could see personal advantages from using them, were interested in trying them and/or thought the Government should provide more support for them, with 25% of those who had not used an e-bike in the last month seeing themselves as people who might regularly ride one, and 9% of households already owning one. Theft, storage, affordability and traffic danger are, unsurprisingly, key barriers.
These results build on findings in other contexts, notably:
- A survey of 2,092 users and potential users of e-bikes in the UK. In this study, the following themes were identified as the main motivations for e-bike ownership and use: benefits to health and wellbeing, particularly in the context of aging, ill health or disability; improving fitness; fun and exploration; widening transport options; and pro-environmental attitudes coupled with interest in reducing car-use. Factors discouraging e-bike purchase and use included: cost of initial purchase, plus associated costs of insurance and replacement batteries; space, storage and security concerns (including fear of theft); and weight, size and manoeuvrability around physical obstacles on cycle paths, such as steps and narrow gates. Many respondents commented that heavy or high-speed motor traffic and poor quality cycle infrastructure created the same barriers to riding e-bikes as they did to riding conventional bikes. Some interviewees said, however, that riding an e-bike imbued them with greater confidence when cycling in traffic because they were able to accelerate more quickly from junctions and maintain more consistent speeds, especially up hills.
- A spatial microsimulation of the adult population within every small area in England to estimate the maximum capability to reduce CO2 by substituting private car travel for e-bike use. The work took account of area type, local car-use patterns, the geodemographics of the population and the whole lifecycle emissions of different modes. By estimating the distance that individuals of varying physical capability could potentially travel by e-bike and the extent to which they might replace private car travel, this suggested an upper limit on the possibility of reducing CO2 by substituting car travel for e-bike use of 24.4 MtCO2 p.a. (per annum) in England. This equated to an average reduction of 0.6 tonnes per person reduction in CO2 emissions or 2,578 km of car travel per person (equivalent to 38% of all car travel in 2022).
- A research project involving lending e-bikes to commuters in Brighton for 6-8 week periods. The study began with staff surveys at two major employers. Of those responding, approximately 40% were interested in borrowing an e-bike after receiving detailed information about what was involved. 80 employees were subsequently loaned an e-bike, and three-quarters went on to use them at least once a week. Across the sample of all 80 trial participants, average usage was in the order of 15– 20 miles per week, and was accompanied by an overall reduction in car mileage of 20%. At the end of the trial, 38% participants expected to cycle more in the future, and at least 70% said that they would like to have an e-bike available for use in the future, and would cycle more if this was the case.
- A review of the literature about the environmental and health impacts of e-cycling . It includes references to: acute physiological studies demonstrating that, for adults, e-cycling is at least a moderate-intensity activity and, in some cases, it may be a vigorous-intensity activity; evidence that e-cycling can increase individual physical fitness by up to 10% in both inactive adults and those with chronic disease; evidence that individuals typically ride e-bikes more frequently and for longer periods of time than conventional bicycles, increasing the decarbonisation potential of cycling; and studies showing that the long-term benefits of being physically active through active travel outweigh the risks of exposure to air pollution in high income countries.
 Based on 6,833 km of car travel per person, including car driver, car passenger and taxi/minicab mileage, according to the 2022 National Travel Survey.
 Cairns S, Behrendt F, Raffo D, Beaumont C & Kiefer C (2017) Electrically-assisted bikes: Potential impacts on travel behaviour, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 103, pp327-342, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2017.03.007.
 Bourne J, Levine JG, Landeg-Cox C & Bartington SE (2022). Environmental and Health Impacts of E-cycling, TRANSITION Clean Air Network Policy Briefing Note No.4, pp1-7, Birmingham, UK. https://doi.org/10.25500/epapers.bham.00004119.
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