We chat with researcher Patrick Rérat about electric bikes and how they are encouraging more people to take up cycling
With the current climate crisis, and the global population trying to desperately find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, it is understandable that many people have taken up cycling as a means of transport. We spoke with researcher Patrick Rérat to find out what conclusions he made in his research on the use of electric bicycles (e-bikes) and their benefits in comparison to conventional cycling.
I’m a professor of Geography of Mobilities at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. And I’m also the co-director of the Academic Observatory for Cycling and Active Mobilities.
I explore cycling practice, planning and politics; why people cycle, why they don’t, why do they use an e-bike or cargo bike or any kind of bike? Their experiences, barriers, motivations and so on. So, it’s not only the policies that a city or region can have, it’s also the contestation or the opposition to infrastructure.
What conclusions did you make in your research? Anything in particular you want readers to take away from it?
First, the survey shows that for users, e-cycling (i.e. pedaling with electric assistance) is very similar to cycling in terms of motivations to cycle, barriers, sensitiveness to infrastructure, experience. It is not “cheating” as we may hear sometimes but a way to cycle despite longer distances, the topography, having to carry children, age, etc.
Second, e-cycling, while being very similar to cycling, expands the practice of cycling both in terms of population groups (women, people over 40, parents, etc) and spaces (longer distances, flattening the topography).
What do you think is in store for the future of cycling with e-bikes?
The transport sector faces huge challenges in terms of sustainability. It consumes a lot of resources and emits many green house gases and pollutants. It is also mainly based on “passive” modes (whilst [e-]cycling is an active mode along with walking).
The e-bike has many advantages. As a bike, it does need much urban space and its ecological footprint is much better than motorized traffic (both individual and public [transport]). It is also a way to get exercise.
Policies should try to make the most of the potential of e-bikes by taking account of their needs (e.g. cycling infrastructure and parking) and putting that at the heart of planning. Indeed, the way in which we plan our cities and regions plays a crucial role in mobility.
What advice would you give to an individual interested in purchasing an e-bike?
There are many kinds of e-bikes. They vary in the level of assistance (from 25 kph to 45 kph), the form (city bike, cargo bike, mountain bike, etc). It is important to identify the distances usually covered, the reasons to cycle in order to choose an e-bike that fits one’s needs. Having said that, quite a lot of e-bike users cycle more than before and expand their practice! I would also recommend to speak with experienced e-cyclists to identify the most suitable routes, the tactics to deal with motorized traffic, the equipment to ride all year round, etc.
Do you agree with e-bike regulations?
It is important to define what an e-bike is. My research is on bikes that have an electrical assistance and require pedaling. I am not speaking of electric bikes with a throttle. They may be interesting in comparison to mopeds but they are not an active mobility.
Having said that, e-bike regulations depend on countries. There are some discussions about the age limit that could be lowered. I think that regulations should aim to promote e-bikes, given their environmental and health benefits, in comparison to all other transport modes but walking and cycling. Regulations should include standards for cycling infrastructure (e.g. wider to allow overtaking between cyclists) and cycling parking (the lack of secure parking for bikes that are more expensive is an important obstacle in urban areas).
How do you measure the impact of your research?
I look at the views, the website of Taylor & Francis is very good for that. I was also quite surprised to see the number of views for the paper published in Mobilities, which is much higher than for other features.
But other forms of impact are important as well. For instance, in one canton in Switzerland they have designed a new cycling strategy and they have used the book that is behind the paper published in Mobilities.
Also, I would say invitations I received from associations to give a talk, or media to comment on the news, or to speak about one of our projects, are an important measure of the work.
Would you encourage more institutions to enter into OA agreements?
To publish without it is quite a lot of money. We publish several papers each year in my team, and we wouldn’t have the financial means to do it open access and pay APC’s [Article Processing Charges]. I think it’s a nice opportunity to have the best; we can publish open access and we benefit from high quality journals. It’s important to guarantee the quality of papers and we have that with journals like Mobilities.
What do you think are the main benefits of publishing your research OA?
Quite a lot of people wouldn’t pay $30 to access a paper, at least outside of academia. I would also say that in academia, there are so many papers being published regularly on cycling, planning, and mobility, that if it’s not open access, that may be a barrier to finding readers. If it’s easy to find another paper on the same issue that is open maybe readers would prefer that one.
Recently I gave a talk for Salford University in Manchester and at the end of the talk it was quite easy for me to give the link to the article. I think that people who wanted to know a little bit more, were quite happy to be able to have the whole paper easily accessible.
What would you say to researchers who might be nervous about publishing OA?
You won’t change the way you write and you won’t change anything in a paper depending on if it’s open access or not. You still have to meet the academic criteria and the paper has to be accepted by an editor and by reviewers. It’s a way to reach additional audiences, like certain countries or people outside academia. And I think it’s great if we if we can do that.