Roaring Fork bike group takes ‘middle ground’ on e-bike trail access
An influential mountain bike group in the Aspen area has decided to weigh in on the debate over electric bike access to trails by taking a “middle ground” position.
The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association released a position paper Wednesday that said it will seek “a middle ground solution between full prohibition and full access for all classes of eMTBs on all trails currently open to mountain bikes in our region.”
The debate about access for e-bikes has been growing with their surge in popularity in recent year. The debate ratcheted up last month when David Bernhardt, Interior Department secretary, issued an order stating, “E-bikes shall be allowed where other types of bicycles are allowed.” That applies to national parks and Bureau of Land Management holdings.
BLM lands play a prominent role in the Roaring Fork Valley’s trail network, in places such as the Crown and Red Hill, and also in multiple areas surrounding Moab.
The Aug. 29 order requires the BLM and National Park Service to report back within 30 days on proposed policy changes and establish a timeline to seek public comment on proposed regulation changes.
The order probably won’t result in immediate changes because of anticipated legal challenges and procedural requirements.
“The local impact of (the order) is not yet known, but RFMBA awaits a response form the Bureau of Land Management about what public process may be required to legally implement the Secretary’s desired policy,” the local mountain bike association’s policy statement said. “We recognize that many non-motorized trail advocates and land conservation organizations may take a hardline stance and will seek to fight this policy in its entirety, possibly in the federal courts.”
RFMBA said it was taking a stand, in part, because there appears to be “seemingly inevitable growth” in e-bike sales worldwide. The group also acknowledged that e-mountain bikes can have positive benefits for certain users and that regulation is difficult. Some e-bikes are indistinguishable from traditional bikes.
RFMBA specifically endorsed considering access to trails for Class 1 e-mountain bikes (eMTB). They have a pedal-assist technology that limits the speed to 20 mph.
“When following traditional trail etiquette, Class 1 eMTB users can coexist on shared-use trails with limited additional impacts compared to traditional mountain bikes,” RFMBA’s statement said.
The statement later added, “At the same time, we believe that it is OK to have mountain bike trails where Class 1 eMTB access remains prohibited. For example, a directional trail that is primarily used by mountain bikers would be a better location for public land managers to allow Class 1 eMTB access, compared to a high-use, two-way trail where a majority of users are hikers, runners and dog walkers.”
The association is opposed to opening BLM trails that are open to traditional mountain bikes to Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes. Class 2 cycles are propelled by a throttle button and Class 3 bikes have a maximum pedal assist speed of 28 mph. Class 2 and 3 bikes are better suited for roads and trails open to motorized access, the group said.
The Roaring Fork group endorses an approach sanctioned by the International Mountain Bike Association, which calls on public land managers to consider eMTB access on a trail-by-trail or area-by-area basis rather than a blanket policy. No new access for e-bikes should be granted that endangers access for traditional mountain bikes, according to both the international and local groups.
Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association said it will publish a list of local BLM trails where it could support shared use with Class 1 eMTBs. It is welcoming feedback from its current members.
RFMBA’s full statement and a link for comments can be found at http://www.rfmba.org/rfmba-statement-on-emtbs-september-2019.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”