A mixed bag of opinions on Steamboat’s e-bike rules as board mulls expanding use
Officials encourage public feedback
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — No decisions regarding electric bikes were made during the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission’s Wednesday meeting, but commissioners and members of the public voiced general support for a pilot program to expand the use of the new technology that has sparked controversy in towns across the world.
Since October, city officials have mulled loosening current rules to allow electric-assisted bikes, commonly called e-bikes, on more trails in the area, including those on Emerald Mountain.
Currently, rules allow certain Class 1 e-bikes on the Yampa River Core Trail and Walton Creek Trail. These bikes are pedal-assisted and can reach speeds up to 20 mph. E-bikes are not permitted on other city trails, including Emerald Mountain. That has not stopped people from taking their e-bikes on restricted trails, which sparked discussion to amend the rules, first on a temporary basis.
“It would be interesting to look at a trial period,” Commissioner Craig Keefe said of expanding the permissible trails. “I can’t imagine these bikes would do more damage than a regular mountain bike.”
To gather public input on the potential pilot program, officials are gathering public comment online through engagesteamboat.net. Parks and Recreation commissioners also invited public comment during Wednesday’s meeting.
Of the 63 people who had completed the online survey, the majority reject loosening e-bike restrictions.
Open Space and Trails Supervisor Jenny Carey presented the findings to the commissioners. Asked if they support allowing Class 1 e-bike on all city-owned trails, 29 said “Yes” and 34 said “No.” Dissent was stronger when asked if they support allowing Class 2 e-bikes on all city-owned trails, with 26 answering “Yes” and 37 answering “No,” according to Carey.
Carey cautioned not enough people had responded to the survey to use the results as a reflection of public sentiment. She encourages more people to provide feedback.
Some common themes emerged from online comments, however.
There are three classes of e-bikes based on how the bike provides additional power and its maximum speed:
• Class 1 e-bikes activate the electric drive system when a rider pedals, without a throttle, and has a governor that limits the bike to a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.
• Class 2 e-bikes activate the electric drive system via a throttle and have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.
• Class 3 e-bikes activate the electric drive system when the rider pedals, without a throttle, but has a higher maximum speed of 28 miles per hour.
E-bikes are limited to motors under one horsepower. Machines with motors larger than one horsepower are considered mopeds or motorcycles.
Those in support of e-bikes argued they are similar to regular bikes, expand trail access to people with disabilities and help reduce vehicle traffic on roads. Others said that problems arise from inconsiderate riders, not the type of bike, and that allowing e-bikes on more trails simply is not a big deal.
Dissenters argued loosening regulations on e-bikes could cause overcrowding on trails, create user conflicts and trail degradation, as well as pose safety hazards from riders going too fast. Some argued it could allow inexperienced riders to take on terrain beyond their abilities.
One such commenter said e-bikes would create “an entire set of different issues,” but that they could be used on some trails.
“I am completely in favor of specific permitted areas, such as the ski area or motorized trails that exist,” the person wrote in the online comment.
Another commenter took a similar position, arguing e-bikes should not be allowed on single-track trails. Safety was the chief concern, followed by congestion issues and concerns for wildlife “as more and more bikes push further and further out into the backcountry,” according to the comment.
Some locals caution where to allow e-bikes
Those who spoke during Wednesday’s public comment period generally were supportive of a pilot program, but some urged caution in where e-bikes should be allowed.
Hazen Kreis, owner of Wheels Bike Shop, does not anticipate any major impacts of allowing e-bikes on more trails. He does not foresee an influx of new riders and argued that when it comes to trail degradation, e-bikes actually may be softer on trails.
“The real challenge we have in Steamboat is a lack of visibility on trails,” Kreis said.
Like Carey, he cautioned against potential issues with e-bikes on single-track trails. Because these bikes can travel faster uphill, he foresaw some safety issues on blind corners. One fix, he said, would be to create more directional trails such as the NPR Trail on Emerald Mountain or the new downhill-only trail on Spring Creek.
Longtime Steamboat resident Barry Kaplan said e-bikes have allowed him to stay active and enjoy biking, despite knee problems. He sees expanding trail options as a way to increase access to older riders and those with disabilities.
“What we need to regulate is people’s behavior,” he said, arguing that it is the rider, not the bike, that causes issues.
Amid these discussions, Jefferson County has emerged as a model for a possible pilot program. There, Class 1 e-bikes are allowed on natural surface trails within parks, according to Carey. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on paved trails within parks.
Commissioner Holly Weike also referenced Dutch laws regarding e-bikes, which have tightened in recent years among a rise in cyclist deaths.
In 2017, 57 e-bike riders were killed in the country, according to the Dutch central bureau of statistics, Statistics Netherlands. That same year, the government classified all bikes that go faster than 27 mph as mopeds, which are not allowed on cycle paths.
The Parks and Recreation Commission will meet Feb. 12 to further discuss a pilot program. Commissioners said they want to allow enough time to direct Steamboat Springs City Council on the matter so they could, if approved, pass any rule changes before summer.
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At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Yampa River’s temperature was 72 degrees at a spot in the Chuck Lewis Wildlife Area south of Steamboat. That’s about 15 degrees higher than the typical average.