Pedelec Commuting as a Car Alternative

Wuppertal student research project sheds light on pedelec commuting from a social practice perspective

  • News 26.01.2023

More and more people in Germany are cycling to work. Many of them use pedelecs or e-bikes. Their motorisation enables commuters to do without their cars more often or even to do away with them. In this way, the mobility revolution could be significantly advanced – but this is not a foregone conclusion. Because daily cycling requires more than just an electric motor.

This is where the Wuppertaler Studienarbeit no. 28 "Is it still 'Cycling'? Pedelec-Commuting from a Social-Practice-Perspective". The Master's thesis creates a basic understanding of the aspects which are relevant when commuting with a pedelec and engages with the phenomena which discourage people from riding. From the perspective of the "Social Practice Theory", aspects from three dimensions are decisive for daily cycling:

  • Physical objects, for example hills, traffic lights or sweat,
  • Competencies, such as road rules and balance, which are necessary to get to work safely and comfortably, and
  • Meanings, such as whether drivers are perceived as sustainable and forward-looking or rather unsporting and weak.

"The three dimensions of material, competence and meaning influence each other," explains Paul Schneider, author of the Wuppertal study and Junior Researcher in the Mobility and Transport Policy Research Research Unit at the Wuppertal Institute. "Sweat is a no-go at the workplace for many people, so many commuters end up taking the car on rainy days or in the hot summer." Although pedelec riders sweat much less due to the supportive electric motor, sweat-free cycling on rainy days requires special riding knowledge and equipment. This includes, for example, combining rainwear with a saddle bag instead of using a backpack, because the latter usually blocks the exchange of air and causes wet armpits.

Schneider conducted ten in-depth interviews with pedelec commuters in Wuppertal and Münster. He wanted to get the perspectives of pedelec riders from a hilly, car-oriented environment as well as from a flat environment with a very pronounced cycling culture.

Based on his analysis, he suggests, for example, that rain gear could be financially supported and that essential skills could be widely taught, such as riding safety training. "Targeted policy measures can help to promote daily commuting and make it attractive," the junior researcher adds. The "pensioner" image of pedelecs could also be positively influenced with appropriate campaigns.

"Wuppertaler Studienarbeiten zur nachhaltigen Entwicklung" (Wuppertal study paper) is a series which publishes scientific diploma and master theses. The theses have been supervised by the Wuppertal Institute in cooperation with the respective universities, accepted by the universities and given an excellent mark. 

The Wuppertaler Studienarbeit no. 28 is available free of charge on the publication server.

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