The National Park Service (NPS) has been at the forefront of the e-bike debate in the United States by permitting these modern marvels of micro-mobility on trails in national parks where regular, "analog" bike use is allowed.
The park service has produced a detailed literature overview of nearly 60 e-bike studies. The literature review revealed the following conclusions related to e-bike access.
Access to E-bikes
"E-bikes provide a new option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise because of physical fitness, age, disability, recent injury, or convenience, especially at high altitude or on challenging terrain."
- "E-bikes are commonly used by older adults and people with physical limitations that make riding a traditional bicycle difficult.
- People with physical limitations are more likely to use e-bikes for recreation and exercise than for commutes.
- Design characteristics, including lightweight construction, step-through frame, and tricycle style bikes can help make e-bikes accessible."
"E-bikes provide a new option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise because of physical fitness, age, disability, recent injury, or convenience, especially at high altitude or on challenging terrain.
Research on e-bikes and accessibility has primarily relied on surveys of e-bike users, including those with limited physical ability, to identify their reasons for using e- bikes, the types of trips they make using e-bikes, safety perceptions, and design considerations related to accessibility (i.e., adaptive e-bikes).
Many users indicated that they use e-bikes to enable them to go farther, negotiate hills with less effort, experience overall reduced physical strain, and allow them to keep up with friends and family who cycle faster. Additional research indicated that people with physical limitations often use e-bikes for exercise and recreation, rather than commuting or other utilitarian purposes."
Accessibility Key Findings
"Research has found that approximately one quarter of e-bike owners indicated they have a physical limitation (e.g., mobility, dexterity, or sensory impairments or health issues like respiratory, heart, or weight problems) that made riding a traditional bicycle difficult. Many indicated that they use e-bikes to enable them to go farther, negotiate hills with less effort, experience overall reduced physical strain, and allow them to keep up with friends and family who cycle faster."
"Some e-bike users with disabilities have identified how e-bikes have enabled them to participate more fully in work/school life.
For people with physical limitations, e-bikes are more often used for exercise and recreation, rather than commuting or other utilitarian purposes, and users are less likely to choose replacing car trips than adults without physical limitations. Similarly, another study determined that many older e- bike users began using the technology after an injury, replacing trips they would have made by traditional bicycle."
Accessibility Areas for Further Research
"Adaptive cycling is an under-researched area in general. Much of the literature on e-bikes and accessibility relies on surveys of e-bike users instead of more empirical or observational methods. There are additional knowledge gaps regarding better integration of adaptive e-bikes into bikeshare fleets such as understanding the needs of users with disabilities and how to design, finance, and operate such programs viably."
Academic Research – User Conflicts: Most Other Trail Users Cannot Differentiate Between a Traditional Bicycle and an E-bike on Trails
Academic Research – Safety: E-bikes Generally Travel at Speeds Similar to Traditional Bicycles on Roadways, Off-street Paths, and Natural Surface Trails
Academic Research – Nature and Environment: E-bikes Have Order-of-Magnitude Lower Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollutant Emissions than Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles
Academic Research – Equality: The Gender Discrepancy Between E-bike Users is Proportionally Lower than that of Traditional Bicycle Users in the United States
Academic Research – Access: E-bikes Provide a New Option to Cycle Regardless of Physical Fitness, Age, Disability, Recent Injury, High Altitude, or Challenging Terrain
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"This section summarizes available literature and articulates key findings on the potential beneficial and adverse effects of e-bikes organized according to the following common themes: health and wellness, accessibility, equity, environment and natural resources, safety, and user conflict.
E-bikes, like other forms of active transportation, can improve individual and community health. This theme of the literature review considers the effects of e-bikes on both physical and mental health and well-being."
Leger, S. J., Dean, J., Edge, S., and Casello, J. (2019). If I had a regular bicycle, I wouldn’t be out riding anymore. Transportation Research Part A, 123, 240-254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2018.10.009
This study explores the potential for e-bikes to support independent mobility among the older population in Canada that are otherwise auto-dependent. Researchers gathered perceptual and experiential data to gauge e-bike adoption among community stakeholders and older adults in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario.
Findings highlighted the importance of cycling life histories, social connection, and physical limitations to adopting cycling later in life. Contributing factors to e-bike adoption include increased convenience, reduced physical exertion, fun, and reduced reliance on a vehicle, and barriers include cycling infrastructure and road safety, regulation, and stigmatization."
Gordon, E., Shao, Z., Xing, Y., Wang, Y. (2012). Experiences of Electric Bicycle Users in the Davis/Sacramento, California Area. TRB 2013 Annual Meeting, 1(2), 37-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tbs.2013.10.006
Researchers interviewed 27 e-bike users in the Davis/Sacramento, California area. The study found three significant benefits of e-bikes relative to traditional bicycles: functionality (speed, acceleration, ability to carry cargo), adherence to green values, and enabling bicycle transportation to be feasible for more people and more trips.
E-bikes provide an option for green transportation for people who can’t participate in traditional bicycling, enabling people with certain disabilities, illness, and/or symptoms of aging to continue to bike. Interviewees included older individuals and those with physical disabilities. In a recreational context, some interviewees described using the e-bike as an “equalizer” allowing them to keep up with a spouse, friend or family member who is a faster cyclist. E-bike weight was identified as a barrier for older people."
MacArthur, J., McNeil, N., Cummings, A., & Broach, J. (2020). Adaptive Bike Share: Expanding Bike Share to People with Disabilities and Older Adults. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2674(8), 556-565. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0361198120925079
"This paper explores the market for offering e-bikes for adaptive cycling opportunities for older people or people with other physical limitations. Their research found there is an underserved market of those who feel they cannot use bike share programs due to a physical limitation.
There are several challenges with implementing an effective adaptive e-bike share program (fitting into dock systems, higher maintenance costs, sufficient bikes to spread through the system to meet user needs).
To address these challenges, the researchers propose a rental model for adaptive bikes to provide more personalized service for users. Additionally, the paper highlights what is unknown about users, systems, barriers, and opportunities and identifies areas for further research to create more equitable and accessible transportation options."
Gerow, Brian. (2020). E-bikes are Important Forest Accessibility Tools. Singletracks. https://www.singletracks.com/mtb-columns/e-bikes-are-important-forest-accessibility-tools/
"This opinion article provides a brief anecdote on how e-bikes increase accessibility for people with physical disabilities or limitations, age, current fitness level. The article was published by Singletracks, a mountain biking media outlet geared towards educating the mountain biking community. The article focuses on the author’s experience with e-bikes making mountain biking more accessible to users who would otherwise be unable to without an e-bike. The author also noted that e-bikes bring more people to trails, which means more trail funding and other benefits to the sport. This article provides an important personal experience with e-bike use for recreation rather than transportation."
MacArthur, J., Harpool, M., Scheppke, D., Cherry, C. (2018). A North American Survey of Electric Bicycle Owners. Portland State University Transportation Research and Education Center. https://trec.pdx.edu/research/project/1041
"Researchers sought to understand why people are motivated to purchase an e-bike and found that it is most often related to barriers that would prevent individuals from riding a traditional bicycle. These include reducing physical exertion, challenging topography, and replacing car trips. Additional analysis concluded e-bikes are making is possible for more people to ride a bicycle, and are generating more trips, longer trips, and different types of bicycle trips."
This is an interactive version of the NPS study. We have copied the text of the study verbatim on this page under Section 105 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The text and conclusions of the study are those of the NPS.
Krista Sherwood (Conservation & Outdoor Recreation Division) and Wayne Emington (Park Facility Management Division) are the points of contact for this outstanding literature review. The NPS is not affiliated or associated with E-bike Lovers.
Download the NPS study here.