An e-bike trail network? Officials are seeking solutions to e-bikes on Park City’s trails

Consistent policy eyed for trail network amid apparent increasing ridership

More electric bikes are hitting the area’s trails, leading to some conflicts with non-assisted mountain bikes and hikers, a trail official said. E-bikes are banned on Park City’s singletrack trails with some exceptions, and are banned outright on trails managed by Basin Rec.
Park Record file photo

It seems that more electric-bike riders are finding their way onto area trails, sometimes out-of-towners pedaling rental rigs, sometimes experienced riders who obtained a permit from Park City or some who have decided to flout the e-bike ban on singletrack trails.

Those 65 years or older or who have certain mobility disabilities are eligible for the permit from the city. Absent those conditions, e-bikes are banned on singletrack trails inside Park City limits.

The permit doesn’t extend to trails managed by the Snyderville Basin Recreation District — which bans e-bikes outright on its singletrack trails — a distinction likely lost on most users of the area’s interconnected trail system.

E-bikes are allowed on what Basin Rec calls “transportation trails,” which are often wider and designed to transport users from one destination to another. Examples include the Rail Trail, maintained by Park City, and the Millenium Trail, maintained by Basin Rec.

Dana Jones, Basin Rec’s director, said the district has been working to come up with solutions for the apparent growing number of e-bikers using the area’s trails and the conflicts that can ensue.

“We’re seeing a lot of rentals on the trails … (and) starting to hear more about it,” Jones said.

Jones said one idea is to create trails designated for e-bikes, but said that would come with challenges brought on by the nature of the bikes, which enable riders to achieve higher speeds for longer than those riding a bicycle without a motor.

“We want them on areas with longer sightlines,” she said of e-bikes. “We don’t want them on areas where they can come screaming around corners and run into people.”

And since riding an e-bike doesn’t require as much energy, e-bike trails would likely have to be longer, requiring more land.

Developing a new trail system is costly and requires planning to ensure the proper level of integration, among other concerns.

“It’s something that’s not in the six-month plan,” Jones said.

Jones said the district was collaborating with the Mountain Trails Foundation, which manages much of Park City’s trail system, including the popular and accessible Round Valley trail network.

The conflict between e-bikers and non-assisted mountain bike riders — as well as hikers — can come from the higher speeds e-bikes achieve as well as the lower amount of effort required to climb hills and cover distance. That can lead to novice riders entering terrain that challenges their ability level, especially on descents.

E-bikes tend to be heavier than non-assisted rides, which can make them more challenging to control.

Jones said she’s heard of conflicts where a hiker or regular mountain biker abandons a singletrack trail to let an e-biker pass, sometimes in steep terrain that can be dangerous. For bikers climbing uphill, getting passed also breaks momentum, though riders can be passed by anyone who’s faster, regardless of whether they’re using a motor.

Jones indicated a novice rider might rent an e-bike and hit the trail without knowing the customs and rights-of-way that help users get along.

“It reminds me of my time working on reservoirs and lakes renting jet skis,” Jones said. “Folks renting them might not be as familiar with trail etiquette and how to ride them.”

Jade Johnson, an associate at Park City Bike and Demo, a bike shop on Kearns Boulevard, said the shop workers tell riders where they can and can’t go on e-bikes. She said staffers advise electric mountain bike renters to head to trails in Midway or the Salt Lake Valley where there are more e-bike-friendly options. She said the shop’s e-bike rental fleet is in high demand.

“We certainly see a bunch of people very interested in the e-bikes. There’s been a big influx this summer,” Johnson said. “They’ve gotten a lot more popular this year.”

She indicated the bikes seem to appeal to riders who don’t appear to be avid cyclists.

“Maybe a lot more people heard about them and want to get into the sport because it’s a way they can ride a bike without having to be super in shape and use a lot of muscle mass,” Johnson said. “… We see more older people are renting them, people in town visiting who just kind of want to cruise around town and easily get from one side of town to the other and you can do that so fast.”