Our View: Proceed with caution on e-bikes | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Proceed with caution on e-bikes

The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is currently reviewing rules that govern electric bikes on city trails, and local residents are invited to offer their input in advance of the commission’s next meeting in December.

When it comes to electric bikes, or e-bikes, we understand their appeal, especially among older adults who want to be able to keep riding bikes and maintain their active lifestyles with a little pedal assist. E-bikes also offer families of varying fitness levels the opportunity to ride together and could contribute to a more eco-friendly commute. But, as popularity of e-bikes grows and more bike shops offer e-bike rentals to visiting tourists, we encourage the city to tap the brakes before completely revamping current e-bike rules.

The city currently allows Class 1 e-bikes — pedal-assisted bikes that can reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour — on the Yampa River Core Trail and Walton Creek Trail. This e-bike policy was approved by Steamboat Springs City Council in April 2018. Now, the city is re-evaluating its e-bike rules with city staff recommending to the Parks and Recreation Commission at its Oct. 22 meeting that e-bikes be allowed on other city trails, including Emerald Mountain. They also suggested the commission look at allowing Class 2 e-bikes on the Core Trail.

Class 2 e-bikes use a throttle to activate the electric drive system and, like Class 1 models, have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 3 e-bikes do not have a throttle, and the electric drive system is activated when the rider pedals. But unlike their Class 1 counterparts, Class 3 e-bikes have a higher maximum speed of 28 miles per hour.

The use of e-bikes on trails outside of the city has become a bit confusing. The Department of Interior, which includes the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management, ruled in August that it does not consider e-bikes to be motorized vehicles, and therefore, they are allowed on any trails where bikes are allowed. With this decision, e-bikes can be ridden on the BLM portion of Emerald Mountain, including Beall and Rotary trails, but not on the front side of Emerald, which is owned by the city.

The U.S. Forest Service classifies e-bikes as motorized vehicles and allows them only on Forest Service roads and trails open to all vehicles. Bikes of any kind are not allowed on any wilderness area trails.

At a glance

At issue: The Parks and Recreation Commission is seeking public input on new rules that could change where electric bikes would be allowed on city trails.

Our View: The popularity of e-bikes is on the rise, but we urge city officials to throttle back and research all aspects of how e-bikes would impact local trail use before expanding access.

Editorial Board

  • Logan Molen, publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Michael Marchand, community representative
  • Jim Beers, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

Comments, posted online in connection with last week’s Steamboat Pilot & Today article on a possible change to e-bike rules, were mixed. Some people are strongly against allowing e-bikes on Emerald Mountain trails while others don’t see any issues with expanding e-bike access. We fall somewhere in between.

We’re encouraged by the fact the city has received very few documented complaints about the use of e-bikes, even as we see more and more people using them, but we think it’s premature to make sweeping rule changes. Instead, we hope residents will participate in the public comment phase through the city’s new platform — engagesteamboat.net — and offer their input on the subject of e-bikes.

Then, the Parks and Recreation Commission should study input from the public and continue its efforts to get educated on the subject of e-bikes by soliciting information from key stakeholders, including BLM and Forest Service officials as well as local bike advocacy groups, like Routt County Riders. E-bikes will also be discussed during Wednesday’s Routt Recreation Roundtable meeting, and that input could also prove valuable.

It’s our hope these various entities will work together to come up with a well-researched, longterm solution to e-bike use that makes sense for Steamboat trail users. And if the city chooses to expand access, officials need to be ready to launch a robust educational campaign followed by a solid plan to enforce the new rules, if necessary.

To comment on the issue, email Craig Robinson, the city’s Parks, Open Space and Trails manager, at crobinson@steamboatsprings.net or Open Space and Trails Supervisor Jenny Carey at jcarey@steamboatsprings.net or visit engagesteamboat.net/e-bikes.

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