Trail Talk: Understanding e-bikes and how to safely use them |

Trail Talk: Understanding e-bikes and how to safely use them

Starr Jamison
Parks and Trails Manager, Town of Snowmass Village

My job as the Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager is to maintain a safe facility for everyone to enjoy. This is not a solo task, as I can only do my part in the process. It also takes other trail users to maintain a safe environment.

Managerial approaches to promote responsible behaviors commonly include using educational messages and interpretive programs; setting rules and regulations that reprimand or fine individuals caught engaging in irresponsible behaviors; and using temporal and spatial strategies such as closures and limited access (Manning 2011).

Unfortunately, what I have seen and heard are the negative behaviors of E-bikes on natural surface trails, which raises a red flag as it creates a critical safety concern.

We have used all three of the managerial approaches for E-bikes — the town of Snowmass Village’s Town Council agreed with Pitkin County to determine that Class 1 E-bikes, which have a maximum peddle assist of 20 miles per hour, are safe on paved trails but not on our natural surface trails. Educational and enforcement signs have been placed on these natural surface trails, stating E-bikes are prohibited. But because we are seeing increased use on all of our natural surface trails, I would like to emphasize the management approach of educational messaging and be clear as to our safety concern with E-bikes on these trails.

With speed comes responsibility and there are many hazards and conflicts associated with higher-speed riding. Maybe some of you who own E-bikes have been riding a bike for decades and consider yourself an expert bike handler; you understand braking, speed and trail etiquette. But what novice riders who rent or purchase E-bikes may not realize is with speed comes a greater need to understand the environment such as sight lines, corners, blind spots and door zones.

Maneuvering and stopping considerations are skills developed over time. E-bikes are 15 pounds or so heavier than their equivalent “traditional” bike, and heavier bikes travel faster downhill. The dynamics of control and a solid understanding of other users’ behavior on the trail is very important. It takes a significant amount of time to understand other trail users and how to react. If you are at high speeds without the understanding or skills to quickly respond, this leads to conflicts with harmful consequences for all users. Cyclists using E-bikes need to know how they and their bikes work together, especially under high-speed, emergency and/or adverse conditions. You must have excellent bike handling skills and know how to protect yourself when you are riding fast. Simply manipulating the different modes of pedal-assist can be distracting for a novice cyclist.

It is a marvel to see so many people on bikes and out of their cars, whether for recreation or for commuting. However, cyclists choosing to ride E-bikes, for their safety and the safety of others, need to take important steps to learn what the specific state, county and town laws entail, and to learn how to interact safely with other users on the trail.

As Mark Twain said, “Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”

If you encounter E-bikes on natural surface trails in the village, please contact the non-emergency police line at 970-923-5330. If you have other questions or concerns, please reach out to 970-922-2249.

Every summer, the Snowmass Sun hosts a “Trail Talk” series in partnership with the town’s parks, recreation and trails department. The series explores trail issues, etiquette and rules for shared trail use in Snowmass Village.