Roger Marolt: Open our trails to e-bikes before we’re all too old
By the time the dust settles, we all might appreciate e-bikes on singletrack
I know why there are so many e-bike accidents around here. It’s because most e-bikers around here don’t know what they are doing.
Think about these things: 1. Most cycling enthusiasts ride regular bicycles. 2. The few e-bike riders who do have a clue probably have their own e-bikes and ride them frequently enough to be skilled on them. 3. This leaves most e-bikes to be rented to tourists who likely have little experience riding any kind of bike.
I can easily suppress the urge to buy an e-bike because I don’t want to look dorky. E-bikes are not cool. They are the easiest way to get to the Maroon Bells. That is the best I can say.
Now, I will do a little fast-track back pedal. I know riders who own e-bikes and use them frequently to ride jeep roads far into the backcountry. They are dedicated cyclists assisting their batteries with substantial leg power to get to the remote places they set their sights on. The terrain they travel demands learning bike skills. It takes fitness. You won’t see these riders claiming the right of way over emergency vehicles attempting to get past to save a life.
E-bikes are a great alternative for older riders looking to maintain lifelong love affairs with cycling. I will undoubtedly get more excited about e-bikes as I age, but by the time I reach the point where I trade my regular bike for one, I promise I will not be obliviously clueless on it, nor will anyone think I don’t understand the rules of the road.
So, under this premise that the vast majority of e-bikers are clueless, skill-less and cycling novices, I want to circle back to the question of whether we should open some or all of our single track dirt trails to e-bike traffic. I think we can and believe it will reveal itself to be less of an issue than regularly changing the air in our fat tires.
The first clue that it probably won’t be a big deal is precisely because it hasn’t been a big deal. Our local trail authorities said “no e-bikes allowed on single track,” and there has been almost zero blowback from anyone. Virtually nobody cares that the trails are off-limits to e-bikes, least of all most e-bike riders and the shops who rent to them. If almost nobody cares about the trails being closed now, does it make sense that they would suddenly become excited about riding them if they were opened up to e-bikes?
The second clue is that there are hardly any e-bikes on local backcountry jeep roads, most of which are legal for e-bikes and easily accessible from town. Please let me know if you have seen pelotons of e-bikes at Larkspur, Warren Lakes, the Sundeck or chugging up Express or Lincoln creeks. I haven’t. If e-bikes are not inundating these dirt roads, I can’t see why they would seek more difficult single track trails to ride.
Finally, the last bit of evidence that is compelling is that we don’t see e-bikes on our trails. Yes, they are off limits to e-bikes, but there also is very little policing of our trails. There are cameras on some of the Snowmass trails, but they are easily foiled with helmets and sunglasses. If riders were hellbent on riding e-bikes on our trails, I think we would at least occasionally encounter these rebels for this cause on them.
I had the joy of riding an e-bike across Government Trail many years ago, when the bikes first appeared in town and anything potentially illegal about them was tinted gray. It was an enjoyable foray, but it was work. Rock gardens, roots and river crossings are not easily overcome with electrified assistance.
The truth is that e-bikes will not travel faster downhill on single track than regular mountain bikes. They will not be able to hit dangerous speeds on steeper uphill trail sections zippered with tight switchbacks. Technical stretches littered with natural protrusions will necessarily limit trail velocity. These points cover about 90% of mountain bike riding. If we make a rule that e-bikes must yield to everything else on the trail, we’ll have everything covered.
It’s time to at least experiment with allowing e-bikes on our trails. By the time the dust settles, we all might be old enough to truly appreciate the enlightenment.
Roger Marolt is no more worried about e-bikers on Sky Mountain Park that he is about fat skis on Big Burn. Email him at email@example.com.
For the last 35 years I’ve been covering what we call the “salmon wars” in the Pacific Northwest, writing so many stories about salmon heading toward extinction that I’ve lost count.
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