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Trial period for e-bikes favored by Parks and Rec Commission

Steve and Brenda Dawes make their way up Blue Sage Drive on pedal-assist bikes in 2018. Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is favoring a one-year trail period to allow e-bikes on soft surface trails in the city. Current policies restrict the bikes to paved trails.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Local recreation officials are favoring a one-year trial period to loosen restrictions on electric bikes.

Members of the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission are considering a recommendation to implement a one-year trial period to allow electric-assisted bikes, commonly called e-bikes, on soft-surface, city-owned trails, according to a news release this week. 

Commission members are urging the public to complete a new survey that is specific to views on the proposed trial period. The survey can be found at engagesteamboat.net/e-bikes.

So far, the Butcherknife, Sailors Way, Blue Sage, Fox Creek, Bear Creek and Sanctuary trails have been highlighted for the possible trial period. Some trails on Emerald Mountain also are under consideration. Steamboat Springs City Council would have to give final approval for any policy changes. 

“If e-bikes are allowed on only a few trails, it may result in a crowding effect as the options for use will be limited,” Craig Robinson, manager of the city’s parks, open space and trails, said in the news release. “Alternately, a trial period on more trails may allow for dispersal of users and a more accurate measure of impacts.” 

A map shows the trails where e-bikes could be allowed under a proposed trial period.
Courtesy City of Steamboat Springs

Current city policies restrict class 1 e-bikes to the Yampa River Core Trail and Walton Creek Trail, both of which are paved. The trial program could open these two trails to class 2 e-bikes, according to the news release. Commissioners have made a point of keeping Spring Creek Trail closed to e-bikes.  

This comes after an online survey showed a mixed bag of opinions for looser regulations regarding e-bikes in Steamboat.

Studies from other communities show that the technology does not cause any more trail degradation than a traditional bike, the release said. In Jefferson County, which allows class 1 e-bikes on natural surface trails within parks and class 1 and 2 e-bikes on paved trails within parks, officials have not seen significant issues with the integration. 

Supporters of looser restrictions cite several possible benefits, such as economic opportunities, expanding recreation access, particularly to people with disabilities, and helping to reduce vehicle traffic on roads from more people commuting on e-bikes. 

Others have raised concerns about overcrowding on trails, user conflicts between electric and traditional bikes, trail degradation and safety hazards from e-riders going too fast. 

At a glance

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.

An online forum on the subject had 60 comments as of Thursday, most of them generally supportive of allowing e-bikes on more trails in Steamboat. 

One commenter, who describes himself as an avid e-biker who has ridden throughout the world, alluded to the success of other communities in allowing e-bikes and downplayed the concerns over their use.  

“After riding over 4,000 miles this last year on trails throughout Colorado, Arizona, Croatia, Northern Italy and Switzerland, I have not seen any of the conflicts or horror attributed to their use,” the commenter said. 

Determining which trails are appropriate for e-bikes emerged as a common theme. One commenter said the technology should be restricted to more developed trails within the city, not in backcountry areas. 

“We don’t need quasi-motorized vehicles on trails through places we go to get away from vehicles,” the commenter said.

Another commenter said it would be annoying to have e-bikes and traditional bikes riding up the same single-track trails, such as those on Emerald Mountain. The commenter described the frustrations of having to continuously pull over for e-bikers who are able to travel faster uphill.  

Kent Vertress, president of the local nonprofit Friends of the Yampa, owns a class 2 e-bike and supports having more places to ride. In his online comment, he argued the technology inevitably will become more commonplace, despite the balking from purists. 

He also sees more crowded trails as a natural trend with the area’s growing population and tourism, something that will occur with or without e-bikes. 

“Those opposed to this are just going to have to accept a future with more people on trails and all over our town,” Vertrees said.

The Parks and Recreation Commission will meet Feb. 12 to further discuss the trial period. Commission members have said they want to allow enough time to direct City Council on the matter, so they could, if approved, pass any rule changes before summer.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.


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