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04 December 2023

The electric shift: Exploring ebikes’ impact on UK cycling

woman and man walking with bike

by Dr Ian Murdey, Project Manager at GO Travel Solutions

We were recently approached by a client who was interested to know if the current increase in the availability of ebikes had changed levels and patterns of cycling across the UK.

We felt confident that they had, but we weren’t sure exactly how, so we set about looking into it; this is what we found:

There’s definitely been an increase in the numbers of ebikes on our roads and streets: ebike sales accounted for more than 23% of all bicycle sales in the UK in 2020 (1), and this is good news for our health and fitness as a nation as well as for the environment – ebikes can increase active travel by 25 per cent, while reducing car travel by more than a third! (1)

The degree to which ebikes substitute for other transport modes depends partly on the primary mode of transport prior to the introduction of the ebike, but also on the geography of the journey. Users in cities with high levels of cycling often report a shift from conventional cycling, as well as car use, to ecycling; while in cities or countries with low levels of cycling the primary transport shift is from car to ebike. (2)

Perhaps unsurprisingly (after all, we cyclists do love the n+1 rule*), most ebike users also ride conventional cycles. Those who always commute by ebike are most likely to have used a conventional cycle as their main commute mode in the past, whereas those who mostly or occasionally commute by ebike were more likely to have used a car as their previous main choice of travel to work. (3)

Ebikes are also helping to open up travel distances that previously many people may have considered too far to cycle. A study conducted in seven European countries, reported that ecyclists’ average daily travel distance was 8.0 km (5 miles) compared to 5.3 km (3 miles) for conventional bike commuters. In addition, individual trip distances and duration of rides on ebikes were longer than those on a conventional bike. (2)

So what did we conclude?

Firstly, ebikes are more than likely here to stay, visit any town or city in the country and it likely won’t be long until you see someone beating the standing traffic whilst pedalling at an unexpectedly low cadence for the speed they’re going!

Secondly, this is good news: the more people who cycle by any means, the more normal it becomes, and the more people who will try it. It’s that old chestnut – the snowball effect. More cyclists equals fewer cars, fewer cars equals safer roads, safer roads equals more active travel. It’s the second old chestnut in one paragraph – the virtuous circle.

Finally, this is a win-win for everyone: active travellers experience a safer journey, drivers experience fewer traffic jams and delays, and our environment can breathe a little cleaner.

Viva la revolution (of an electrically powered bike wheel).


  2. The impact of e-cycling on travel behaviour: A scoping review, Jessica E. Bourne, Ashley R. Cooper, Paul Kelly, Fiona J. Kinnear, Clare England, Sam Leary, Angie Page, Journal of Transport & Health, Volume 19, December 2020, 100910
  3. Who uses e-bikes in the UK and why?, Steve Melia & Caroline Bartle, Pages 965-977 | Received 29 Sep 2020, Accepted 05 Jul 2021, Published online: 29 Jul 2021

*Q: How many is the right number of bikes to own? A: n+1, where n is the number of bikes you own right now.