ZIV publishes first comparative study on speed pedelec usage

In cooperation with Mobycon consultancy firm, the ZIV has published a study on the use and regulation of speed pedelecs in selected European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland). In this first study of its kind, the ZIV summarises important information on this vehicle category to create a comprehensive and objective basis for discussions with political players and important stakeholder groups.
Study background and aims
Speed pedelecs can provide important leverage to help achieve the climate goals for the mobility sector and contribute significantly to the success of the mobility transition. Particularly for commuters, who must cover greater distances, speed pedelecs offer a healthy, environmentally-friendly alternative to cars. In Germany, speed pedelecs have not been able to tap into this potential yet due to relatively restrictive regulations. Some of our European neighbours have established a regulatory framework that means speed pedelecs are currently far more widespread there. Hence the ZIV has resolved to take a closer look at the situation in these countries, their regulations for speed pedelecs and the accident statistics, whereby key questions include: Where is it safest to use speed pedelecs? And which good practices can also be transferred to Germany?

User-friendly regulations and good infrastructure are needed
Anke Schäffner | Head of Policy & Advocacy
Overall, the ZIV and the bicycle industry see the tremendous potential of speed pedelecs to offer solutions for sustainable mobility, attract new customer groups and drive technological innovation. The example of Switzerland shows that speed pedelecs are extremely popular if the regulations are user friendly and the infrastructure good. In terms of sales, speed pedelecs recently achieved a market share of around 20–25% in the Swiss e-bike market. By way of comparison: In Germany, where the regulations for speed pedelecs have been very restrictive to date, speed pedelecs only achieved a market share of 0.5% within the e-bike model group in 2022. This corresponds to sales of 11,000 units (2021: 8,000 units).
First objective evaluation
Anke Schäffner, who managed preparation of the first speed pedelec study in her role as Head of Policy & Advocacy at ZIV, emphasises the relationship between the benefits of speed pedelecs as an important building block for the mobility transition and the at times limited knowledge and anticipated dangers. A need for information exists here. «So far, we’ve seen only patchy knowledge and prejudices regarding the use of speed pedelecs and the potential dangers both for users themselves and other road users, especially cyclists and pedestrians. The study provides important insights that enable an objective assessment for the first time – also against the backdrop of the experiences and legal regulations in neighbouring European countries.»

The ZIV speed pedelec study was prepared in collaboration with the Dutch consultancy for sustainable mobility Mobycon and published in November 2023. It analyses and compares the situation in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Key findings
Potential to switch from using a car
Clear potential exists to switch to using a speed pedelec instead of a car.

Safety: roads vs. cycling infrastructure
Pilot schemes in the Netherlands have shown that when speed pedelec users are given a choice, they often prefer to use the cycling infrastructure rather than roads, as this is generally of a very high quality there. According to the Dutch respondents, this is due to the subjective perception of greater safety. The data available for each country is not yet sufficient to make general statements on whether the objective safety is also higher for speed pedelec users if they use the cycling instructure rather than the roads. Nor is it currently possible to make any clear statements on the safest place to use speed pedelecs based on the current accident statistics.

Accident risks and consequences
An increased risk of accidents for speed pedelec users compared to conventional cyclists cannot be discerned from the data that is currently available. In particular, there are no obvious clusters of accidents involving speed pedelec users and cyclists or pedestrians. The theory often voiced during debates that other cyclists and pedestrians are at risk therefore cannot be substantiated based on the study findings.
However, what is clear from the study is that the consequences of accidents involving speed pedelecs are often more serious; this can primarily be explained by the higher speeds.

Travelling speeds taking the example of the Netherlands and Belgium
Studies in the Netherlands and Belgium have shown that speed pedelec users adapt their speed to the prevailing situation, whereby the maximum permitted assisted speed of 45 km/h is rarely attained. According to analyses, the average travel speed in the Netherlands and Belgium lies between 29 km/h and 37 km/h. This is significantly higher than the average speed of conventional cyclists or e-bike users, but also well below 45 km/h.

Speed pedelec users: example of the Netherlands
One important question was who actually uses a speed pedelec. Studies from the Netherlands have provided useful insights, namely that the user group is very homogeneous. 80% of speed pedelec users are male and two thirds are between the age of 45 to 65 years. A further 18% are aged between 35 and 45 years.

Regulation: fewer restrictions encourages speed pedelec usage
The EU countries, and meanwhile also the federal states in Germany, are taking different approaches to regulate the use of speed pedelecs. New findings are being incorporated into decision-making processes and pilot schemes are being implemented to investigate the promotion of this young model group, taking safety aspects into account. The ZIV believes that changes are also necessary in Germany and that pilot schemes are welcome. The initiatives in Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia are moving in the right direction in terms of the knowledge gained and general developments within Europe.