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How to better understand cyclists in Munich

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In order to create meaningful solutions for people, you first need to understand their fears, desires, wishes and deeply rooted feelings about their situation. Hence, you have to listen to them to generate a basic foundation of knowledge and build empathy for the users. In this case, the “users” are the citizens cycling in Munich.

The importance of cycling is increasing in many European municipalities as it can be seen as a relevant building block in the discussion around sustainable, efficient and people friendly transport. For instance, looking at the modal split in Munich the share of cycling grew by 80% since 2002. On the other hand, there are many problems cyclists have to face every day on the streets and cycling lanes. The following process of user research was used to better understand and identify the pains and derive insights from that knowledge.

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The first step of our meta sprint was to go out into the field and explore. Taking pictures of the cityscape, looking for the unusual and unnoticed, and immersing oneself into the experience of cycling in Munich — being aware of your surroundings and noting the little details. Taking a photo of the event or writing things down is important to capture the moment and share the experience later on.

User interviews

In addition, interviewing citizens on the streets can provide very interesting and unexpected insights. But it is important to be open-minded and ask the right questions. By asking open-ended questions you will hear stories instead of “yes” or “no” answers. By asking “Why?” after an initial answer you challenge the interviewed person to think about their reasons. This will help you to discover the core of the problem. For example, many of the people that were interviewed claimed that there were no big issues with the cycling infrastructure in Munich. Only after digging deeper most of them mentioned problems that they have, e.g. stated that they are not using the main roads but try to take detours through parks or less crowded streets. Discovering those work-arounds is very interesting and can lead to unexpected insights.

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After conducting qualitative interviews with various cyclists on the streets of Munich, we created six different personas. These personas are a representation of user groups that were found to have different needs and opinions about the situation of cyclists in the city. Moreover, these personas do not aim at representing all cyclists/users, but rather focus on specific user groups that were relevant for our meta sprint. The hardcore biker, the switcher, the pedelec user, the cargo biker, the non-cyclist, and the bike sharing user were each given a name and personal details — such as behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes or information about their environment — to create a realistic character.

Personas of cyclists

Desk research

It is very important to back up the qualitative insights from the user interviews and persona evaluation with quantitative research. Expert interviews and desk research are good ways to gain a deeper understanding of your user group, in our case cyclists in Munich. The first step was to evaluate results from the latest surveys about cycling in Germany (Mobilität in Deutschland 2017, Fahrrad-Monitor 2017, ADFC Fahrrad-Klima Index 2018). They were used to specify and validate the different personas.

Expert interview

Moreover, an interview with an expert of the local cyclists’ association in Munich (ADFC München) was conducted to get some behind the scenes insights of the study. The interviewee referred to the concept of Roger Geller, long-time bicycle traffic coordinator of the City of Portland (Oregon, USA), who investigated the behavior of cyclists and non-cyclists in the 1990s. Based on his observations, he divided cyclists into four user groups — “Four Types of Cyclists” — in 2005.

  • “60% Interested, but concerned”
    This majority of the population is basically interested in cycling, but is often prevented from doing so by the lack of a dedicated cycling infrastructure. These people enjoy cycling, but only on routes with little stress. 60 percent of this group are women, children (and their parents) and older people.

  • “0.5 % Strong and fearless”
    This group of cyclists rides their bicycles with confidence and without fear. They do not need dedicated cycling lanes, and in some cases even reject it outright. 85 percent of the group are men, 90 percent of whom are between 18 and 40 years old.

  • “6.5 % Enthusiastic and convinced”
    These cyclists ride with little fear, but not under all circumstances. If available, they also like to use a well-developed cycling infrastructure. 75 percent of this group are men, 80 percent are between the age of 18 and 54.

  • “33% Absolutely not!”
    This group is not interested in cycling. They are not able to do so for health reasons or they have to cover too long a distance.

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This typology has since been scientifically confirmed by several studies. The fact that the “Four Types of Cyclists” are (more or less) likely to apply to Germany is illustrated by the results of the surveys stated above. The majority of people in Germany would also like to ride a bicycle, but they do not feel safe enough on the roads. Looking at these types of cyclists we saw the intersection with the personas that we created.

Empathy map

The type of cyclists “interested, but concerned” seems similar to Persona 2 (“The switcher”), who we called Oana. In the Portland example 60 percent belong to this type, which makes it a very interesting one. Hence, Persona 2 was further developed with a tool called empathy map. With this map we try to answer questions like: What does Oana think and feel? What are some of her worries and aspirations? What are some of her pain points or fears? What gains might she experience? The final empathy map results in a deep dive into the emotional world of the user. We put ourselves into the shoes of Oana and see the world through her eyes.

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User journey map

As a next step, we created a user journey. We mapped out Oana’s experiences during a regular day of commuting. What happens from the moment she wakes up to the evening? First the main activities of the day were written down on post-its and put on the wall horizontally from left to right. The tasks should be described in a more detailed way. What are thoughts and actions that describe an activity? You can go even deeper and create subtasks. As a result, we were able to identify a lot of pain points and put them into chronological perspective. For example, a feeling of discomfort and fear of getting into an accident could lead to thoughts about whether to commute by bicycle again tomorrow.User Journey Map (in German)

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In this article we gave an overview of our user research approach and presented some of our findings on cycling in Munich. These insights will be iterated and can be used as a starting point for creating new solutions or improving infrastructure for cyclists — and in the best case for all road users.


The user research process analyzing cyclists in Munich was part of a 3-month meta sprint by the Digital Hub Mobility in collaboration with the City of Munich, the start-up bike|solutions and the corporate partners ADAC, Google and Stadtwerke München.

The objective of this experiment was to build a foundation of knowledge to initiate first improvements for cycling in Munich. Building empathy with the users — the citizens of Munich — was one epic of this meta sprint. The further epics were: creating an overview of data sources, mapping out dangerous places of conflict or accidents, analyzing and visualizing O/D data, evaluating the LoRa network in Munich.

For more information about citizen mobility and other projects, visit our website or contact us.

Written by

Image Team Page Max

Maximilian Ritz

Senior Service Designer