The speed of recreational cyclists on down grades of roadways and paths is largely unknown and misunderstood. Gorski Consulting has been conducting recent testing and observations at several locations in London, Ontario, Canada to provide some base data on this important issue.
This article focuses on the results at the following three sites in London:
- Meadowlily Road Site
- Trafalgar Bike Path Site
- Richmond Bike Path Site
Example photos from these sites are shown below.
In this typical view a cyclist is northbound on the down slope of the Trafalgar Bike Path and approaches a family that is taking up most of the width of the path.
Measurements were taken to document the magnitude of the slope at each site.
At each site coasting tests were conducted with a Trek Hybrid to demonstrate the acceleration and maximum speed of the bike. The tests were commenced from a stopped position at the top of each down slope and the cycle was allowed to coast along a set of painted markers that were used to keep track of the cycle’s speed. Video cameras were mounted on the cycle as well as along the route through the sites.
Following the coasting tests video cameras were set up along each site and the motions of independent cyclists were documented.
Results from the Meadowlily Road Site
The testing at the Meadowlily Road site was conducted over a distance of 400 metres. The table below shows the slope measurements of the Meadowlily site.
The following table shows the results of the speed (in km/h) of the Trek bike during the coasting tests.
The table below shows the results of the speeds (in km/h) of cyclists who were observed travelling along the down grade of the Meadowlily Road site.
Results From the Trafalgar Bike Path Site
The following table shows the measurements of the slope of the Trafalgar Bike Path site.
The following two tables show the speeds (in km/h) of independent cyclists travelling along the Trafalgar Bike Path site on from testing on August 24 and 25, 2018.
The table below shows the average speed of independent cyclists that were observed riding northbound on the down slope of the Trafalgar site. The table also shows data for cyclists travelling up the slope.
Results From the Richmond Bike Path Site
The following table shows the results from the Trek bike coasting tests on the Richmond site.
The following table shows the results from observations made of independent cyclists travelling on the down slope of the Richmond Bike Path site.
Comparing the slopes at each site, the Meadowlily site contains a substantial down slope over a distance of about 300 metres. In contrast a significant down slope at the Trafalgar site exists for only about 150 metres and at the Richmond site the significant down slope only exists for about 60 metres. This has resulted in differences in the maximum speeds during the coasting tests as well as during observations of independent riders. Not surprisingly the Meadowlily site created the highest speeds followed the Trafalgar site and then the Richmond site created the lowest speeds.
A slight difference in average speeds was shown between the coasting tests and the observations of independent cyclists at the Trafalgar site. This was because the independent cyclists were interfered with by a larger presence of pedestrians using the path. An example of this inference is shown in the photo of the site earlier in this article.
The data confirm that the speed of recreational cyclists is dependent on the slope of the road or path on which they ride. The steeper the slope the higher is the speed of the recreational cyclist. This conclusion is reasonable for the range of speeds observed in this study of up to 45 km/h. Beyond the speed of 45 km/h it is possible that cyclists may begin to apply their brakes as the speed may begin to become of concern, although this possibility has not been proven in this current study.
Those who develop and maintain roadways and bicycling paths need to understand this relationship between down slopes, recreational cyclists and their speeds. Because it may require a substantial distance before a cycle’s speed may be reduced after travelling down a significant down slope it is important to consider that a recreational cyclist may be travelling at an above average speed for several hundred metres past the end of a significant down slope. This higher speed will be attained by persons who may not be familiar with their cycle or who have other challenges in their ability to maintain control of their cycle. Any changes in the direction of a roadway or path and the characteristics of its surface need to be sensitive to this possibility for the safety of the cycling public.