Parks and Rec waiting to learn more before altering Steamboat’s e-bike policy

Nicole Miller and Tim Price ride Specialized e-bikes up Steamboat Ski Area in 2017.
Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 16 to reflect that class-3 e-bikes have a pedal assist up to 28 miles per hour.

Steamboat Springs has had regulations on e-bikes for years, strengthening the rules with an ordinance in early 2021. While it’s been relatively successful, enforcing the rules has been a challenge in Steamboat, as many e-bike users have been spotted in restricted areas such as the Emerald Mountain Trails Network.

During its third discussion on the e-bike trial period on Wednesday, Sept. 14, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission was almost ready to make a formal recommendation to City Council before deciding to postpone their decision until January, after seeing the results of the 2022 Steamboat Springs Community Survey.

Though the last e-bike trial period ended in April, the status-quo will continue unless the city passes restrictions through an ordinance. 

At the state level, class 1 and class 2 e-bikes and electric scooters are allowed everywhere bicycles are permitted, according to the Colorado General Assembly, but individual municipalities have the authority to script their own policies on e-bikes. 

Class 1 e-bikes only have electrical pedal assistance, and class 2 e-bikes have pedal assistance and a throttle with a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 3 e-bikes are pedal-assisted only with a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour, making them the fastest class and are only allowed on streets and bike lanes. 

The city’s trial period permits class 1 e-bikes on Blue Sage, Butcherknife, Fox Creek, Tamarack Sneak and Bear Creek trails. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on the Yampa Valley Core Trail and the Walton Creek Trail. 

Basing regulations on the respective classes of e-bikes has made it difficult to enforce the city’s policies, and members of the parks and recreation commission wondered whether the city should only regulate the speed of e-bikes.

A map shows where e-bikes are permitted on trails within city limits of Steamboat Springs.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy image

The maximum speeds of e-bikes are controlled through a governor, which can be overridden, meaning class 1 and 2 e-bikes are capable of going just as fast or even faster than class-3 bikes that have a properly working governor. 

“You can use a class-3 bike like a pedal bike as well,” said Calder Young of the Parks and Recreation Commission, who added it’s difficult for law enforcement to determine how an e-bike is being used and its class from afar.

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Young also pointed out that standard mountain bikes are capable of exceeding speed limits as well, and restricting e-bike users from using their throttle doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll slow down.

“I know that there’s probably some old school mindset of ‘you’re on a bike, you should be pedaling it,’” Young said. “How can we say, ‘you have to do it this way,’ when you own that piece of equipment?”

Compliance with e-bike regulations is a problem in most of the places the city’s staff observed with e-bike restrictions.

Craig Robinson, the city’s parks, open space and trails manager, said he spoke with officials in Jackson, Wyoming, about e-bike policies there. Jackson requires people to register their e-bikes and display a permit while riding. 

“But it’s not enforced,” Robinson said. “They see very low compliance with this program.”

Robinson said Jackson is reassessing the program and believes the high rate of noncompliance is probably because there isn’t any follow-up or penalties associated with the registration requirements. 

Educating the public on e-bike policies has been a priority since the trial period’s adoption. The Parks and Recreation and Routt County Riders have been actively bringing the community up to speed on e-bike rules, especially with kids who ride them to school. 

The Butcherknife Trail, which leads to Steamboat Springs Middle School, is a concern among staff due to reports of high speeds and e-bikes going where they are not permitted. The city installed 15-miles-per-hour speed limit signs, as well as signage that says only class 1 e-bikes are allowed, meaning riders can only use the pedal assist feature and shouldn’t use the throttle. 

The city also published e-bike policy information in a school handbook and held an open house and pop-up event in August, during which the city’s staff observed many riders on class 2 e-bikes using their throttle on Butcherknife Trail.

In July, the Steamboat Springs Police Department said they’d recorded a total of 16 e-bike related incidents ranging from thefts to collisions, many of which relate to the Butcherknife Trail. 

The city’s staff recommended extending the trial period for another 2 years, and the commission agreed but wants more feedback from the community before sending its recommendation to City Council. 

The 2022 community survey, which was mailed to 2,000 randomly selected Steamboat residents, includes questions to determine how many e-bikes are in town, how often they are used and how people feel about e-bikes being allowed on certain trails. 

“It’s a pretty big deal as far as getting that much real estate within the survey, which means that City Council really wanted to have the information,” said Michelle Geib of the commission. 

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