Meredith Carroll: It’s not about the e-bike

Meredith Carroll
Muck Off

The first problem with electronic bicycles is that I don’t own one. For a few minutes several years ago I sneered at the idea of e-bikes. Real athletes, I thought, don’t use motors. Except, you know, for NASCAR drivers. Also, remember Angel Cabrera chain-smoking his way to a Masters victory? Then there’s Lance Armstrong. If a two-time major champion can’t be expected to wait until the 19th hole to light up, and a seven-time Tour de France icon had to blood dope his way to winning, who are we to turn our noses up at weekend warriors likewise benefiting from a little extra charge?

The second problem with e-bikes isn’t much different than the problem with regular bikes: the people who ride them. I used to run in Central Park in the mornings and if my pinky toe so much as grazed the thin but critical line separating the bike and running lanes, I would know because a cyclist would suddenly appear breathing fire, screeching, “Get out of the bike lane!” while whizzing past and leaving me to scrape my heart off the pavement, which is where it always landed after exploding from sheer terror. Because apparently my imposing 10-minute-mile pace threatened to derail the cyclists’ Grand Tour training before work on a Tuesday.

I’m now 16 years and 1,937 miles removed from living in New York yet bikers are still yelling at me. I can’t run anymore (hence the e-bike envy) although I get outside for walks and lately the situation on some local trails has been Aspen-grim (as opposed to real-world grim; I just know you, gentle reader, understand the distinction).

Local e-bike advocate Vince Lahey is petitioning Pitkin County to loosen restrictions on class 1 e-bikes on county singletrack trails, although given the current Wild West ambiance in town among e-bikes and non-e-bikes (terrestrial? continental? Earth-bound?), it would be advisable to set (and in some cases, revise) minimum expectations down here before allowing uphill expansion.

E-bikers may feel like circa-1990 snowboarders, which is to say: unwanted and unloved. Except the truth is that all two-wheelers, electric or not, should be required to adhere to the following laws (codes? proclamations? special orders?):

Whether it runs on gas, battery, or kombucha farts, if it’s running on something other than your blood, sweat and tears, you need to adhere to speed limits (which, at 20 to 28 mph for e-bikes on multi-use trails in Aspen, is 10 to 18 mph way too fast)

Announce your presence before passing. Announce your presence before passing. Announce your presence before passing.

(Really, do it. Ring your bell lightly a few times and proclaim on which side you can be expected to appear. Cough. Sneeze. Sing. Just make yourself known.)

If you need to stop your bicycle to avoid running over another living being, do it. This is non-negotiable.

Stop getting angry with people who have dogs. Dogs are entitled to sniff, pee, play and not be held on a short leash at all times. The sooner everyone sees or hears each other, the quicker a safe path forward for everyone can be determined.

Same goes for children.

Stop expecting people in front of you to anticipate when, where and how fast you may or may not approach. They may look fancy with their walking and talking, nonetheless, they lack eyes in the back of their head.

Enough with riding anything other than single file. Especially on crowded thoroughfares, but really, anywhere.

If you’re riding uphill, you should be yielded to. If you’re racing up Smuggler at lunchtime on a sunny Thursday, turn around and find a less crowded venue.

If you are on two wheels (or one or three or four), stop texting.

Of course the one thing that can’t be regulated is ego. You can be a Canadian e-biker and still irk the regular biker you sufficiently notified of your passing just by virtue of having passed them. Whether it’s the perceived impurity of the genre or old-fashioned jealousy, some traditional riders (and walkers) will never agree that e-bikes should be allowed anywhere besides the road. Not helping matters is that e-bikes are still so relatively new that many users have yet to master the proper etiquette.

“It takes a year of (e-bike) riding to learn the right way to do it,” Lahey said. “I’ve learned over time that I need to slow down, but that doesn’t bother me because I have the power to get up to speed.”

However, he said, even those lacking experience can peacefully coexist by remembering one simple rule:

“The person using the least amount of energy needs to be yielded to.”

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