Andersen: Motorized bikes are making inroads

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

You have huffed and puffed your way to Four Corners on a warm summer day. Your legs are toned; your heart and lungs are strong. You kick back in the shade of a tall spruce feeling good about your effort. You’ve earned your downhill.

Just as your vaporizer produces the euphoric final touch, a rider appears on the trail. The hill on which you just labored appears easy to this rider, who cruises into the opening hardly breathing.

“Howdy!” comes the greeting from a smiling cyclist who shows no signs of fatigue, no glisten of perspiration. That’s when you notice the electric motor and battery case of a motorized electric mountain bike.

If you’re a purist, you feel immediate umbrage. To you, mountain biking is a noble rigor that demands fitness and finesse. It’s a way of experiencing the mountains and deserts under your own power. Mountain biking is respectable, and getting to Four Corners should require sweat equity.

You regard this motorized rider with an immediate judgment that is anything but kind. You don’t reply to the “howdy.” Instead, you act surly in accordance with how you feel about a perceived violation of integrity. Is nothing sacred?

You might issue a reprimand, a scold, a humiliation that will put the pretender in their place for denigrating your favorite trail. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and you will draw it in the shifting sands of appropriate technological application. Are there no limits to the intrusive invasion of motors?

If you’re not a purist and you have this same meeting, there’s no conflict at all. You welcome the rider and his motor because, after all, it’s still only a bicycle. Who cares if there’s a soft whirring sound as they pedal off ahead of you, getting first tracks on Sunnyside while you are left behind to grind the granny gear up the final contour into the aspens?

You might reason that the easier approach via motor is a curse for that rider because the fitness requirements are far less. That motor will ultimately weaken the person who relies on it. You might even feel pity for a rider whose fitness is questionable, whose self-esteem is so compromised that they depend on a motor instead of developing their own physical ability.

There will be meetings like this. There already have been. Last summer it happened to one of my oldest mountain-biking buddies. Over the decades, Dave and I have watched the mountain bike morph from one-speed townie “klunkers” in Crested Butte to fully suspended, lightweight alloy wonders from Marin.

Last summer, Dave was riding Hartman’s Rocks outside Gunnison. He topped a climb and was perched on a rock surveying the rolling sage hills. He noticed a rider coming up the same trail, recognized him as an old acquaintance and then stiffened as the rider topped the hill on an electrically powered mountain bike.

Dave told him he was riding a non-motorized trail. The rider said that he had earned the right because of 30 years of spinning the pedals on his own. “I’m too old for that,” he nodded at Dave’s bike. Dave, who’s 10 years older, shook his head with dismay, disapproval and disappointment.

Motorized bikes are coming on strong, some of them souped up to go over 40 mph. On a recent bike tour in Spain, we saw them in every bike shop — front and center in the showroom windows. They’re taking over Europe.

Local trail managers are going to have their hands full refereeing motorized and non-motorized conflicts. How tempting it will be to commute into Aspen on the Rio Grande on a motorized bike to avoid traffic jams — and how sensible, really. Should allowances be made?

Perhaps the electric-bike trend will encourage dirt bikers to trade in their two-cycles for electric bikes. Imagine the Colorado 500 cruising their favorite jeep trails on quiet, nonpolluting technology.

Bicycle innovation has become incredibly sophisticated, but it’s a two-sided coin. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no stuffing it back. Like it or not, the motorized bike is here to stay.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not experimenting with a methane-powered bicycle. He may be reached at