Skills, Phenomenology, and Motorcycles: Why following rules, then forgetting them and taking risks makes you a better rider.


It looks like there’s a bright future for personal individual electric vehicles. A good example of this type of vehicle is the simple electric scooter. Future models could expand on this concept, adding additional utility like long distance commuter range, through to more complex semi-autonomous three or four-wheel vehicles or possibly even fully-autonomous by design.


At this stage it’s difficult to know how far and fast this vehicle category will evolve, although it’s probably fair to conclude its vehicles will be electric powered. Some interesting questions for this transport category include how these vehicles will be used, what type of technology will become most popular, and how adoption of these vehicles will change travel patterns and land use. In this article we’ll look at the first question. To help answer this question we'll consider what current motorcycle travel patterns tell us about the future of personal individual electric vehicles?

There’s lots of uncertainty in predicting the future of transport, however if we look back over the last 50 years, macro level travel patterns have not really changed that much for high income, industrialised countries. For example, people mostly commute to and from work by car, at low vehicle occupancy rates, or use some form of public transport. The transport network is mostly congested at peak travel times and in many large cities, particularly the road network, throughout most of the day. A minority of travellers walk or cycle, especially for short distance trips and for education purposes, and a very small number of people choose to use a motorcycle. Over this time period few radical changes have occurred, like, for instance, when the motor vehicle gained mass acceptance at the turn of last century and helped transform transport networks and land development. Vast motorways, complex road networks, and urban sprawl resulted. Although, it’s worth noting there has been incremental change in transport technology with significant economic, environmental, and road safety benefits.

If travel patterns and transport infrastructure are to remain relatively the same over then next few years, then an assessment of motorcycle travel may give a little insight into where mobility and travel trends are heading as a greater share of trips are made by personal individual electric vehicles.


What transport category does the personal individual electric vehicle (PIEV) cover? Historically the expression "personal electric vehicle" referred to almost without exception the electric car. There were other forms of electric powered transport but the electric car dominated. However in recent years, technological advances and smart designs have allowed for the emergence of a subcategory with a strong focus on small, electric powered vehicles specifically designed for individual travel. An assessment of the available PIEVs on the market would most likely cover electric scooters, electric skateboards, Segway Personal Transporter type gadgets, electric bicycles, electric mopeds, and electric motorcycles. The on-demand electric scooters and bicycles, provided as a rental service, shows how PIEVs work in the sharing economy. The traditional ownership model is also worth considering, and bicycles and motorcycles are probably more closely aligned with any future PIEV ownership direction.


Motorcycles are vehicles designed for individual travel. As there’s reliable statistics on motorcycle trip making, motorcycle travel patterns can give an indication of what PIEV travel, especially for the longer distance commuter trip, could look like in the future.


There are a few useful transport indicators to help understand travel patterns. Luckily government agencies survey and collect this data, including, but not limited to, statistics on the average number of trips by mode (e.g., car, passenger, bicycle, public transport, etc) and the purpose of each trip, often expressed as a percentage of the total trips, and average trip distance per mode. This type of data provides a global overview of the type of trips people take and their choices regarding mobility, and to some degree, insights into accessibility, where people want to go and how they get to their destinations.

For example, based on recent transport data from the UK[1] covering all transport modes, shopping and personal business are the most common reason for travelling and makeup about 20% of the trips for each person. When we look at longer distance travel, leisure based trips, including for holidays and day trips, sport related, or for entertainment, have the highest share, as expected, of distance travelled.

The average trip length also varies significantly by the purpose of each trip. On average, education based trips are the shortest, often including a greater proportion of walking, whereas commuting trips are longer, at around three times greater distance than for education. Even for the average education trip length, estimated to be less than 5 km (3 miles), some form of motorised travel seems appropriate as the average walking speed is around 5 km/hr. This compares to the average commuter trip length of 17.5 km (10.9 miles) which for the typical commute requires motorised travel.


When we look at motorcyclists over half of their trips are for commuting or business purposes, which is significantly higher by proportion than the 19% figure reported for trips when all modes are combined. Furthermore, a lower proportion of motorcycle trips were undertaken for shopping, personal business, or education purposes. Clearly the motorcycle has higher utility for riders when commuting. Less shopping trips seems reasonable considering the lack of room to carry goods, however, it’s unclear why personal and education purpose trips would also be lower. This might reflect the advantages motorcycles have in a congested peak time road network and the lack of appeal, or minor interest that most people have in riding a motorcycle outside of commuter travel. There is also good evidence motorcycle ownership and use has declined in the last few decades. Household access to motorcycles is very low at around 2% in the UK in 2016, yet for all travel purposes UK motorcyclists spent 28 minutes and travelled 17.5 km (11 miles) per trip.  

To add more context, in the New Zealand Travel Household Survey[2] statistics show the share of total travel (trip leg) by the different transport modes is 53% car driver, 26% passenger, 17% pedestrian, 1.2% cyclist, 2.8% public transport, 0.3% motorcyclist. This is a tiny share for motorcyclists. However, the average length of a motorcycle trip is about 30% longer than the average length of a trip by a car driver. Trips for social and recreational purposes are on average longer than trips to or for work. Additional supporting evidence shows that 56% of motorcycling trips were recorded as travel to or for work or to education, when compared to 30% of car driver trips for this same trip purpose. This result also supports the type of analysis we see from the UK data, pointing towards a conclusion that motorcycles are used for longer than average trips, and strongly reflect an individualist and single destination focus typical of commuter trips. For example, pillion passenger trips make up about 5% of motorcyclist trip legs.


Motorcycle travel patterns show that with the right PIEV, private car, car passenger, and public transport trips can be easily replaced. Trip distance for the average commute (in the UK it’s 17.5 km (10.9 miles)) is suitable for a PIEV with motorcycle capabilities but not for most current types of lightweight electric scooters. However, lightweight and low powered electric vehicles fulfill a different role as a ‘short trip’ vehicle. Over time people will integrate PIEVs into their travel behaviours and with dedicated road infrastructure, lanes or a network of off-road paths, the various new forms of PIEV transport may be seen as a true alternative to the car. Currently the electric scooter as a service provides a localised urban transport option, particularly for part of a trip where the distance is too far to comfortably walk and too short to drive, is not available via public transport, and car parking is limited or too expensive. The electric scooter as a service could easily evolve and scale, along with advances in technology, to cover the type of trips a motorcycle is used for today.


The commuter trip is key. Compared to the car the motorcycle is, by proportion, more often used as a commuter mode of transport. Commuter trips are generally considered important because people tend to place a higher value on these trips, they are regular journeys and occur over roughly the same short time periods during the working week. Because road networks have a maximum capacity for traffic movements, during morning and afternoon travel periods roads can quickly approach or exceed their design capacity. The level of service provided by the road will then drop, traffic speed reduces and the length of intersection queues increase, resulting in reduced travel times, a loss in travel time reliability, and other associated travel costs like increased environmental pollution. Direct replacement of car trips with smaller motorcycle style or size PIEVs will result in less traffic congestion.*


Recent research[3] on the introduction of electric scooters in the US shows wide public acceptance of this new form of transport with strong growth rates where the services are available. Other trends include a more balanced gender use representation and indications of higher uptake by lower socioeconomic groups. Based on the early adoption of electric scooters/bicycles and the positive attitudes people have around their use, it’s conceivable PIEVs could be used like motorcycles but by a much larger proportion of the population.


Overall, it appears motorcycle travel has a rather unique travel pattern. Motorcycle trip making has a bias towards commuter, work, and business trips, and is used for longer than average trip distances. But motorcycles make up a very small proportion of all trips, and there are legitimate questions around why people choose to ride a bike compared to drive a car or use some other form of transport. Motorcycle travel does, however, provide a platform as a versatile, long distance capable individual vehicle. Not unexpectedly motorcycle travel is likely consistent with what future PIEV trips could look like, especially for longer distance commuter travel.



*“When there is little traffic on the road, it can be expected that motorcycles will take up as much space on the road as cars. A motorcycle then has a PCE [passenger car equivalents] value of 1. However, when the road becomes busier, and the speed of the traffic flow falls, motorcycles take up less space. Some motorcycles keep less distance from the vehicle in front or ride between two lanes. The passenger car equivalent of the motorcycle is consequently reduced. When traffic comes to a complete stand still, it can be assumed that all motorcycles drive between two lanes. In this case, the motorcycle has a PCE value of 0. The PCE value of a motorcycle is therefore dependent on the speed and the traffic situation on the road. Furthermore, the PCE value is also dependent on the type of road (motorway, regional road, crossroads, etc...) and on the number of motorcycles in the traffic flow.” (p.19) (Transport and Mobility Research Leuven (2011) Commuting by Motorcycle: Impact Analysis, 2011)


 [1] Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2017 ( and (

 [2] New Zealand Household Travel Survey 2009-2014 (Oct 2015) (

 [3] Populus (2018) The Micro-Mobility Revolution (July 2018) (