An electronic bike (or "e-bike") is more-or-less what it sounds like: a bike with an electric motor integrated into it. E-bikes have become quite popular in Europe and in China, especially as a substitute for cars for short distance commuting.
The Atlantic's CityLab reports on a small study of e-bike safety. Undertaken at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, the study tracked a dozen e-bikers in Gothenburg during their travels over the span of a couple of weeks.
The study appeared to confirm some suspicions about e-bike safety, namely that e-biking is riskier than regular cycling. A couple of reasons for this observation were suggested:
- E-bike riders make trips more frequently. Thus, they likely encounter more problematic situations over a given span of time.
- E-bike riders go faster than regular cyclists. Higher speed is usually associated with more risk, so this is no surprise.
The novelty of bikes moving at higher speeds seems to lead to some issues. E-bike riders may get into difficulties with pedestrians and cyclists because they are unused to travelling at speed. Similarly, motorists may be unprepared to deal with how e-bike movements differ from those typical of regular bicycles.
It might help e-bikers and others to adapt to the new situation if e-bikes were more readily distinguishable from regular bicycles. So far, e-bike design has tended to imitate that of regular bicycles, probably as a way of increasing their appeal to cyclists, the most obvious market for e-bikes.
However, it may be time for a different style strategy. With its Prius, Toyota succeeded in getting the public to associate hybrid cars with a distinctive appearance. If e-bikes are to become a distinctive category of vehicle, then a distinctive style of design would likely help. Looking distinctive would then help e-bikers and others to reconsider how to treat them on the road.
Besides, if car commuters are beginning to take to e-bikes, then a new style might facilitate this process too.