Safety, speed, gender, and regulation of e-bike riders

Arising from the 2014 Cycling Safety Panel recommendations, in 2016 the NZ Transport Agency commissioned ViaStrada to research whether NZ should follow Australia's lead in adopting the European e-bike regulatory regime and whether there should be a minimum age to ride an e-bike. The research scope was broadened to include all low-powered vehicles (e.g. self-balancing devices and mobility scooters). John Lieswyn and client Simon Kennett presented to the Asia-Pacific Cycle Congress on the findings of the research. The presentation included preliminary findings of a separate ViaStrada project to measure the spot speeds and gender of e-bike and un-assisted riders.

Safety. The literature is mixed on the safety of e-bikes and low-powered vehicles, but generally speaking the safety-in-numbers benefits of e-bikes are likely to outweigh the increased risk from greater mass and higher speed capability. Some countries have a minimum age, although there is little scientific basis for this (depending on the speed capability of the vehicle). There is an opportunity to coordinate a minimum age for e-bikes with the potential footpath cycling law change. The research included an online survey that indicated safety concerns about speed and rider courtesy declined after respondents acquired their e-bikes.

Speed and gender. The rapid growth in e-bikes has prompted some concern about safety implications of more people being able to travel at a higher speed than they might otherwise be able on un-assisted pedal cycles. Some of the concern may be more an issue of public perception than actual speed differentials. The maximum speed of an e-bike rider is likely to be comparable or slower than a fit un-assisted cyclist, while average speed is governed by variables such as traffic density and intersection spacing. Published research is typically focused on average speed based on naturalistic measurements, and few studies directly compare e-bikes and un-powered bikes. Spot speed, or the speed of an individual rider at a single point along a trip, is proposed to be a more useful indicator of potential safety implications. Radar measurements at four sites in Christchurch and one site in Wellington indicated that e-bike riders travel about 5 to 7 km/h faster than un-assisted riders. Women are under-represented among all riders, but less so amongst e-bike riders.

Regulation. The research assessed the pros and cons of power limits, maximum motor-assisted speed, age, usage locations (e.g. shared paths), licensing and registration.

Speed and safety of E-bikes


John Lieswyn and client Simon Kennett presented the findings of the research and discussed next steps at the 2017 Asia-Pacific Cycle Congress in Christchurch. You can download the presentation from our website.


Where presented/published

2017 Asia-Pacific Cycle Congress, Christchurch