Edinburgh Napier researcher Dr Mark Taylor is using his self-engineered Databike to highlight poor bike paths that could be putting cyclists’ health at risk

For civil engineer Dr Mark Taylor, his current research is a result of personal experience. “I commute 12 miles by bike on a daily basis so I’m aware how terrible some of the surfaces are. I was cycling with my daughter when she fell off after hitting a large defect. I thought, ‘How do you capture where that is and how do you deal with it?”

This led Mark to create what he is calling Databike – a standard bike fitted with an HD camera, a number of sensors and a small Raspberry Pi computer that allows him to measure the levels of vibration on cycling surfaces around Edinburgh. Preliminary results have suggested that cycle path surfaces could be improved and contribute to reduced vibration exposure.

He says: “Some paths are fine but the minute you get onto a poorly maintained surface, for example, or some of our roads, you’re getting a substantial duration of vibration exposure that’s being transferred up through your arms and into your shoulders. Continued exposure to such vibration levels over commuter journeys may lead to discomfort and potentially cause harm. However, future clinical studies will confirm this.”

Mark is keen that UK policymakers look to countries such as the Netherlands where cycling is far more prevalent among all generations as a result of good infrastructure, including safe and comfortable surfaces.

“You see lots of people from young to old, particularly lots of older people, cycling in the Netherlands but the one thing that everyone complains about here is comfort. In the Netherlands, older people are so much more mobile. They have beautifully smooth paths that are segregated away from cars. People just use it as a mode of transport – they don’t think twice about it.”

Databike in pictures

He believes that for the UK to reach this point, people have to be comfortable on the surface and that these surfaces have to be maintained in the same way as roads. One way of ensuring this is by more efficient recording of the conditions of cycle paths.

“I can ride along on Databike, measuring vibrations, recording the condition of the surface on an HD camera and cover large distances much quicker. It’s the same system as the Network Rail gauging train which drives along all their infrastructure, gathering data which is then analysed.”

Mark now plans to recruit more volunteers to gather vibration data through Databike as well as continuing to refine the Databike technology in collaboration with electronics undergraduates at the University. He is also teaming up with medical professionals to further explore the health implications from the vibration exposure he has uncovered.

“I’m focusing very much on surface and hand-arm vibration just now – that’s the health issue. The surface is the key driver as I’m a civil engineer but there are lots of spin-off opportunities to use the data for other things. That’s the value of Databike. You can bolt on whatever you need to gather data. If it’s street lights I’m interested in, I can put a lux sensor on it. Mapping the data is another bit of work. Ideally, what I had in my head is similar to the Google Bike. You ride around, gather all this data and the data could be shared with the world, a sort of Cycle Path Quality Review. You could find out what the path looks like, how good the surface is and get some data on vibration levels so you can see if it’s going to be a good way of getting to work.”

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