Popularity of electric bikes accelerates in Steamboat Springs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Electric bikes are nothing new for Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare general manager Jake Ehrlick.
“We have actually been doing e-bikes for 10 to 12 years, on and off,” Ehrlick said. “One year they would do well, and the next year they wouldn’t. It was really up and down, but I would say last year it really started taking off. This year, they are flying out the door.”
Ehrlick said the popularity of e-bikes could be due to the constantly improving technology or because the bikes are proving to be a great way to get around town.
“They are very smooth,” Ehrlick said of the pedal-assisted bikes he sells and rents. “You still have to put in an effort, you are still working, but you can just cover a lot more ground.”
When e-bikes first came out, they were mainly cruisers designed for more urban settings. But these days, customers can choose from many different styles and brands, ranging from a fold-up cruiser to a full-suspension mountain bike. The only things limiting the popularity of e-bikes are the price and the fact that their use is restricted.
Pedal-assist bikes are allowed on the Yampa River Core Trail but not on Emerald Mountain. They are only allowed at Steamboat Ski Area as part of a group tour that includes education on how to use the bikes. Throttled electric bikes, controlled by a passive throttle, are not allowed on the Core Trail.
Shops like Ski & Bike Kare and Pedego have offered electric bike rentals and sales in Steamboat Springs for years. This summer, newcomers t0 the e-bike market include Hala Gear, Ski Haus and Journey Rides. Wheels Bike Shop sells Bulls electric bikes, but owner Hazen Kreis said his shop isn’t currently renting them.
Trace Adams and Brandon Buckles, owners of Journey Rides, grew up in Steamboat. The two have been offering electric bike adventures since 2012 and recently opened stores in Steamboat and Scottsdale, Arizona, hoping to expand their business. The Steamboat store, which is currently located inside All That, offers rentals, sales, demos and tours.
“It’s not cheating, and it’s just more fun,” Adams said of e-bikes. “Everyone has a bike that’s sitting in their closet or sitting in their garage collecting rust. It’s a little different in Steamboat because this is Bike Town USA, but the majority of people come here and say, ‘Look, I don’t ever ride my bike.’ Then they get on these, and it’s a more enjoyable experience. You can go so much further, and you don’t end up sweating to get across town and you can cruise and enjoy yourself.”
Pedego, which opened its doors in July 2016 at 345 Lincoln Ave., was Steamboat’s first all-electric bike store. Owner Linda John also offers rentals, sales and tours.
“Before we opened, Ski & Bike Kare had one or two e-bikes in their stores but were not really renting them out or selling them,” John said.
John, an avid cyclist, was skeptical when she first researched the bikes after her business partner Bruce Caplowe approached her with the idea of opening a store centered on electric bikes.
“When I saw that in the next five years e-bikes are going to go crazy, I realized that his is a great business plan,” John said. “These bikes allow people who come in from out of town who want to bike, but because of the altitude and all the hills, just can’t do it. This is a great way to park the car and see Steamboat.”
Hala Gear founder Peter Hall said he added e-bikes this summer because he felt they were a nice addition to stand-up paddleboards. Customers can rent bikes for half or full days and can combine them with paddleboard rentals for a full day of recreational activity.
He said he will give it a year, and if he doesn’t have enough rentals, he will sell the fleet.
At Ski Haus, e-bikes reach a new customer base — cyclists who aren’t necessarily elite athletes.
“It’s a growing bike market and one of our major dealers, Specialized, has an awesome product,” Ski Haus manager Ben Brodsky said. “We get a lot of requests for them, and it’s a growing area of the bike world.”
Steamboat Ski Area has been offering guided e-bike tours for the past two seasons.
“It’s a thriving program,” ski area spokesperson Loryn Kasten said. “We do Class 1 pedal-assisted bikes, so that means they have motors that are activated by the rider pedaling. If you sit there, the bike isn’t going to go anywhere, but if you are pedaling, it will match your ability, so it really helps people get up some of those hills that are hard for beginners or those that are not into biking.”
The ski area offers two-hour group lessons that are available 10 a.m. to noon or 1 to 3 p.m. daily. There is also a late afternoon session on Fridays. The $129 cost covers the group lesson and rental of a bike, helmet and pads.
Steamboat Bike Park manager Trevyn Newpher said it’s a great way to enjoy a day on the mountain.
“It’s hard to conceive what it is until you actually ride one of the bikes,” Newpher said. “A lot of people think that it’s like a motorcycle or it’s like a moped where you actually have a throttle to passively propel the bike. These don’t have that. There is some pretty cool advanced technology that senses how much effort the rider is putting into the equation, and it will match that up to a certain percent.”
That assist allows riders who may be intimidated by the climbs to enjoy biking on the mountain trails. They don’t have to be in top shape or worry about spending the second part of their vacation recovering from the experience.
“It takes the average person, and kind of brings them to an elite level,” Newpher said. “When you hop on this thing, you are still sweating, you are still putting an effort in, but it really takes away the sting and the anaerobic pain that climbing steep hills can create.”
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