Facilitating urban cycling using simulation

Science topics February 2016 InnovationTransportModelling and computer simulationHuman behaviourRoad safety

Nadine Chaurand - Researcher, AME Department, LPC Laboratory and Stéphane Caro - Research Engineer -  COSYS Department, LEPSIS Laboratory

Facilitating urban cycling using simulation - Ifsttar - [Translate to English:] Comportement d'un usager vélo (droits Ifsttar)

As a means of transport, cycling has many recognised benefits. As far as individuals’ health is concerned it provides additional regular physical exercise. As far as mobility is concerned, over short distances travel times by bicycle are lower than those by car, and it is easy to park and reduces urban traffic congestion. In addition, from the environmental standpoint, the bicycle is a green means of transport that generates no pollution. Consequently, measures are taken to facilitate and encourage bicycle use, and the level of urban bicycle use has been gradually increasing during the last decade in most developed countries.


Nevertheless, cycling in towns requires specific knowledge and know-how that novice riders sometimes lack. In particular, cyclists need to assess risks rapidly1 in order to select the riding behaviour with the best benefit/risk ratio. In addition, the increasing number of cyclists on the roads changes the nature of traffic and creates new situations. Thus, other road users must anticipate the behaviour of cyclists in order to react in an appropriate way and avoid accidents. It is therefore vital to understand the behaviour of cyclists in order to encourage the development of cycling and enhance cyclist safety.




A shortage of measurement tools  

Most of the research mentioned in the literature on cyclists’ riding activities is based on official data or questionnaires. However, for research into cyclists’ behaviours and their potential conflicts with other road users, we need to be able to study the actual behaviour of cyclists. Research in real environments is not always appropriate because of its cost, bias related to uncontrolled variables and the risks faced by participating cyclists.

In this situation simulation has undeniable benefits. A bicycle simulator enables us to put cyclists in a riding situation and to accurately measure their effective behaviours, while controlling the variables at play and avoiding the risks associated with a real environment.


The IFSTTAR bicycle simulator

To meet this need, a bicycle simulator has recently been developed2 as a result of collaboration between two IFSTTAR laboratories: LEPSIS and the LPC. Its design involved solving several issues in order to provide participants with an experience that is as near as possible to the real situation so as to provide reliable data. First of all, the pedalling torque is the same as that of a real bicycle and changes according to the gradient of the road. The simulator also reproduces the inertia of the bicycle in terms of difficulty starting and stopping. The feeling of wind is particularly important on a bicycle and the simulator has been fitted with a ventilation device which produces an air stream that varies according to the participant’s speed.

Evaluation of the simulator will be particularly concerned with the participants’ feelings, regarding comfort of use and immersion in the simulation. It will also consider the behavioural aspect, in terms of control of the bicycle and similarity with the behaviours exhibited in real situations.



Descriptive image showing the bicycle simulator (Rights LEPSIS IFSTTAR)

Descriptive image and a video showing the bicycle simulator (Rights LEPSIS IFSTTAR)


To improve riding practices

Once it has been validated, the simulator will be used in a variety of research areas. One initial area will relate to the environmental determinants of cyclist behaviour. These studies will make it possible to:

  • Identify the elements in the environment that cyclists consider in order to match their riding behaviour to the road environment (speed, vehicle gaps, etc.)3, and how cyclists adjust their riding practices according to the road users they interact with4;
  • specify riding situations which are considered the most risky, and to determine how cyclists anticipate these risks and what strategies (equipment or behaviours) they employ to cope with them;
  • Investigate cyclists’ riding errors and behaviours that are inappropriate for the situation and the environmental and personal factors that contribute to behaviours of this type.

A second area of research, which will be launched later, will provide an opportunity to test training and communication materials that aim to encourage the adoption of more appropriate behaviours by cyclists.

The total impact of this research will help improve cyclist comfort and safety and foster the peaceful sharing of urban space by cyclists and its other users.



Find out more...


1 Chaurand, N., Delhomme, P. (2013). Cyclists and drivers in road interactions: A comparison of perceived crash risk. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 50, 1176-1184.

2A web site presenting the bicycle simulator

3 Cho, G., Rodríguez, D. A., & Khattak, A. J. (2009). The role of the built environment in explaining relationships between perceived and actual pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 41(4), 692 702.

4 Research on cyclists’ interactions with other road users, in particular bus drivers, is already under way in the framework of the ANR Cyclope project.