(MPH Dissertation) Catherine Moser
A recent study estimated that of the 1,400 million hours New Zealanders travel each year, only 1.5% of that time involves cycling (Ministry of Transport, 2018). Cycling is an active transport mode, and an increase in cycling could have environmental, physical and mental health benefits. Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are a relatively new development that provide battery assistance to minimise the effort required to pedal. By reducing exertion, e-bikes provide an alternative to conventional bicycles that may help to increase the uptake of cycling by a wider group of people. There is comparatively limited research on e-bike use, particularly in New Zealand. However, there is some evidence that while cycling is more common among men, an increasing proportion of those choosing to use e-bikes are women. This study focussed on the experiences of women e-bikers in Christchurch, New Zealand, including barriers and enablers to their e-bike use.
Methodology and methods
This study was qualitative and employed a post positivist methodology. Eight women e-bikers were recruited using flyers and snowball sampling. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews lasting between 45 minutes to an hour which were digitally recorded. These recording were transcribed and thematic analysis of the transcripts was carried out by the researcher.
While many themes were identified from the interview data, two overarching groups of themes are explored in more detail in this dissertation.
The first, “choosing and using” reflected the practical issues of choice and manipulation of e-bike features and their ongoing use of an e-bike. The women were active and intentional in the ways they used their e-bikes and how they took charge of their environment to improve their e-biking experiences. All of the women had adopted a defensive style of riding to deal with navigating shared space with other vehicles.
The second, “pleasure, empowerment and connection” explored the women’s descriptions of feelings and emotions related to their e-bike use. These included an overall sense of pleasure, enjoyment and wellbeing, accomplishment and empowerment, and positive connections to the environment and others.
This study provides insights into women’s experiences of e-biking in Christchurch, New Zealand. Although the research sought to explore barriers to and enablers of e-bike use, the study’s findings revealed that this group of women’s experiences of e-bike use were far more complex and diverse than originally envisaged.
While not necessarily generalisable to other e-bikers, these women’s experiences of enjoyment, empowerment and benefits to their health and wellbeing are important to note, as they were powerful motivators of continued e-bike use. E-bike use in New Zealand is growing spontaneously but it is still important to understand how further uptake of e-biking could be supported and encouraged, in order to maximise the potential health and environmental benefits. Improvements to e-bike accessibility, and cycling infrastructure would undoubtedly help. However, further research is needed to understand more about e-biking in New Zealand, including the size and demographic makeup of the population that already uses e-bikes and the experiences of other groups of e-bikers and potential users of e-bikes.