From Darkness To Light

5 Dec 2019

Public comments, joint board meeting, for & against allowing e-bikes on dirt trails

Posted by Adam Howell

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Public comments were the most interesting part of the recent joint board meeting where the idea of allowing electric assisted bicycles on Durango’s natural-surface trails was discussed.

The city’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Multi-Modal Advisory Board met to talk about the idea of allowing e-bikes on trails in Durango for a trial period to see how there use is perceived by the public and what impacts they may have.

Before the public comments were given, city staff provided a presentation about current local and regional e-bike policies. The boards collectively had a short, inadequate discussion.

After the brief discussion between board members, public comments were provided. All of the public comments had a clearly identifiable bias either in favor of or against allowing e-bikes on dirt trails that are owned by the city.

Board members questioned the specifics of city staff’s suggestion to spend $10,000 dollars to study public perceptions or trail damage associated with e-bikes during a proposed trial period.

Some public comments in favor of allowing e-bikes on dirt trails:

  1. Matt Hammock

    “I’ve worked in the bike industry for about 14 years now. I spend a lot of time on the trails here. I also had a unique perspective of having lived in Golden prior to moving here and then moved back to Golden for about a year, after they implemented e-bikes there. So I got to see a pretty distinct change between that, and quite honestly there wasn’t any. There were trail conflicts to begin with, and there’s trail conflicts still, but the addition of e-bikes really didn’t change that in any way, shape or form. Conflicts between ebikes and mountain bikes, ebikes and hikers, ebikes and runners really doesn’t exist there. The conflict still is people going downhill fast on bikes, whether that’s an ebike or mountain bike, and people on foot. When it comes to riding an ebike, the addition of the motor doesn’t enhance your speed going downhill, it enhances your speed going uphill. As all of us in here, for the most part, at least in the crowd of cyclists, have you ever had any sort of conflict going uphill with someone? The conflict is always coming down. Ebikes really don’t go that much faster uphill, either. They do allow a lot more access; they allow a lot more fun. But I don’t believe that they create any more conflicts nor create any more damage to the trails.”

  2. Ellana Stern

    “I am a mountain biker, and a trail runner, and I also have an ebike, which is for commuting. I have an ebike that I used to go up to my house, which is near the college. I don’t zoom up the road, it’s a steep hill. I can pedal my non ebike up the hill at about 8 mph. I can pedal my class 1 assist ebike in turbo mode at about 11 mph. That’s not zooming up the hill. That’s just having a little bit of help and I’m not tired or sweaty when I get up to the top. The first speaker who said a bike going up at 15 mph, and a bike coming down at 15 mph. Well, if you can only go up at 5mph without a motor, in a class 1 that requires you to pedal, you’re not going to be going up at 15 mph. I don’t think it’s a safety issue. We all have cars that can go 120 mph. We don’t drive 120 mph on the city streets. We use prudence. There are laws, and we follow them. I think that’s the support of approach that’s going to be needed here. The second thing is aesthetics, which is what the previous guy just mentioned, about a bike with a motor is a motorcycle. That’s not true. You have to really look at ebikes. They’re as quiet as bicycles. They look like bicycles. They act like bicycles. They just help you if you’re old or weak, or having trouble, to help you give you a little push. I think that it’s really important that we understand that most of the people that buy these bikes are older people who used to be able to ride up Stacy’s Loop, and now they can’t do it anymore. And they have to walk their bike up the hill. But now they can have a little push, and now they’re going just as fast as I am on my regular mountain bike. They’re not going 15-20 mph, even on a bike that’s limited to 20, they’re going much slower than that. I think that the proper approach is not to regulate on the fact that it’s a different thing. I think that class 1 ebikes should be allowable anywhere that traditional bicycles are allowed. I agree that throttle ebikes should be treated differently, but I do think that class one and also class 3 ebikes, which are pedal assist only, should be allowed anywhere where bicycles are allowed.”

  3. Susan Ullery

    “I own an ebike, mountain bike, and my way of thinking has come around. I’m ardently in favor of class 1 only, and don’t think anything else should be under discussion. Because it’s pedal assist, it’s a bike. It rides like a bike, it performs like a bike. The rider needs to know how to ride that bike. What I can tell you from my experience with my ebike, is I can now sometimes keep up with my racer friends. I’m talking people in their 60’s and 70’s who are still racing. So I’m not talking about 20 somethings, god knows I’d never keep up with them, even on an ebike. But my skill level still holds me back and that’s really the relevant structure for me in riding. And what the ebike does is it get me up a hill that I’d otherwise have to get off my bike and walk up. For me, and I’m not everybody of course, but that’s how it plays. And the other thing that I’d say about the tread deal: not an issue. Because most ebikes can power a wider trail, which is a huge advantage. It doesn’t cut the trail, and I can personally attest to that because I was out this spring when I shouldn’t have been, and the other people were out there were digging holes with their skinnier tires, and I just floated through and didn’t damage anything. So the other thing I’d like to say is the user experience, which you are focusing on, is I think that really is the issue here, not the type of bicycle. We need one-way trails in a lot of places, and I know that’s not been our historic position, but things are changing. We have more people in Durango. Certainly, biking is terribly popular. We have tourists that come here to ride. And I think we owe it to ourselves and to them to make the user experience a little safer. My experience on riding is that one-way trails are way safer. And you very rarely run into other people. It disperses everyone pretty nicely. Your experience is you are not crowded, you are not having those head-to-head conflicts. And everybody is moving along in a same direction, perhaps at a different pace, but overtaking someone is a lot easier if you’re on a one-way. The last thing is, I don’t think that anybody is going to get on an e-bike if they don’t have the skillset to ride a mountain bike on a single track. Previously we had discussions about, “oh my god, what happens if they get out there and can’t get back out.” They’re not going to get very far if they don’t know how to ride that bike.”

  4. Mike Phillips

    “Works at Mountain Bike Specialists. We sell more of the commuter style, but we do sell some of the mountain bike ones. It doesn’t seem like they are going on big adventures. In favor of trial period. We don’t seem to be selling these bikes to knuckleheads. They’re just out there to have a nice ride, maybe at lunch.”

Some public comments made against allowing e-bikes on natural surface trails:

  1. Jane Dunn

    “I’ve been in this county for 32 years, and I think on every single car, dirt trail. I hike. I bike. I used to run. not any more. Cathy, when you mentioned the river trail improvements, I have a problem with that. I think there’s a few painted lines. There’s one sign that I have seen by the 160 underpass there. The river trail is still a hugely dangerous place to be. And if you’re basing what you’ve done on that, to do what what you want to do on a dirt trail, I don’t think it’s adequate. I don’t think it’s adequate at all. I’ve done my share of swearing at bikers. I’ve been sworn at a lot because I wasn’t over far enough. The River Trail is flat, you can see a long ways. As we all know on the dirt trails, there’s blind curves, there’s hills, there’s loose dogs, there’s slow people. It’s just totally different. The only other thing I would say is that in my 32 years in this town, I’ve talked to literally hundreds if not thousands of people on those trails, and not a single person has said, “you know what we need? More people on faster bikes. It’s just not ever been said. So I think I’ll take that into consideration.”

  2. Michael Burke

    “I don’t think we should have a trail. There’s two reasons for that. One is, when you have a trial, it really pushes things in the direction of [unintelligible] Because with any of you know once people start doing stuff, it’s very hard to get them to stop. And another reason: I don’t think a trial will tell you much. You know, we should be concerned about the long term. Particularly, when you think in terms of open space and natural lands, a trial just tells you, that at best it worked for one year. At the beginning of the packet that we brought up from Trails 2000, it stated that there’s an 80% increase in e-bike sales annually. So. Do the math, that’s just a lot of bikes in five years, if that’s correct. Now, I do think that as several people have said, it really is the social aspects that are most important. The interactions. There are conflicts on our trails. It’s getting worse. Mountain biking has changed over the years. It used to be much more passive of a sport. Consistent with the way the general natural lands have been managed for recreation, but with an emphasis on passive recreation. Now, it’s more of, for a lot of people, a thrill sport. Speed. That’s a big change. I’m not advocating for reducing current usages. We need to be careful in the future as to what we introduce. I’m an engineer. I worked for the Forest Service as a geotechnical engineer. I worked a lot with soils and roads and trails. I don’t think we need an engineering study when something will be picking up. Once again the social issues are more important. If we really want to think about the potential damage to the trails, we should do two things: First, inventory the trails to see where we do have serious damage occurring. Document what the soil type is in those areas. Think of that before we think about additional uses. Another thing is, that material in the packet from People for Bikes. That’s excellent. That’s a model that can be used for figuring out what the effects of e-bikes would be. That could be done [unintelligible].”

  3. Joey Ernst

    “I’ve lived here for a decade. I am opposed to e mountain bikes on trails. I know there’s a lot of things we haven’t talked about. I know the boards of talked about it amongst themselves. We’ve talked a lot about conflict. That’s great. I’ve some conflicts myself on the trails. I almost ran over somebody coming up Star Wars on an e-bike. I had a discussion with the man and he disappointly said, “well I can ride up it now.” That’s the kind of thing I’m worried about. Seeing people in my former shop, at Horse Gulch here in town, a young man had an ebike. I had a discussion with him about it, because he was clearly riding Horse Gulch. “It goes 40 miles an hour. I don’t care if it’s illegal. Nobody is going to catch me.” Almost verbatim. Paraphrased. I think there’s some big issues that maybe aren’t being spoken about. Number one. E-bikes are pretty rapidly developing. What they are now is not what they are going to look like in 3 or 5 or 15 years. If you’ve talked to anybody that’s familiar with this segment, you will find that that has been the case the past few years of their development. It’s pretty open-ended what they will be in the future. If we can picture, things are a lot faster, a lot more powerful than they are now, that’s a very likely probability they’re going to have lighter weight, longer range, more power. So allowing something now, doesn’t mean we are going to have the same thing ten years from now. There’s a whole new market segment popping up, which is sort of a blending of dirt bike and mountain bike technology. Most of these don’t have pedals. I know they’re not classified as Class 1. I’m curious about enforcement for these sort of things. There’s at least one company that sells a pedal kit for one of these dirt bikes. A California-based distributor, I’ll just read verbatim their answer when somebody asked if the pedal system could be used to pedal the dirt bike, which goes 50 miles an hour, by the way. Verbatim answer: The pedal system is connected to the drive train, but not practical for actual pedaling. The bike weighs too much for that. It is more for people who want to ensure regulatory compliance with various local laws and restrictions. I expect that to speak for itself. The second thing that I’m worried about is the conflation of bicycles and e-bikes when it comes to management. Essentially, we’ve heard a lot about different user groups and the conflicts between hikers and bikers. If we conflate the two, and then things change, as they’re going to, we’re going to let the cat out of the bag, that we can’t put back in. Where e-bikes and mountain bikes are considered the same thing. I believe that will leave to a loss of trail access for bicycles. Because, who’s going to separate e-bikes and bicycles out again once we combine them as far as land management agencies are concerned. Another thing I’m a little worried about is trail sanitation and rogue trail creation. Here in Durango, as in many places, there are certain segments of the trail users that feel they have the right to modify the trails to make them easier, so they don’t have to walk anything. This is something that I’ve seen over my last decade in Durango over every trail system in the area. But, once that happens, there is a subset of advanced riders that are going to go out to create rogue trails, which is a problem. I’m not going to justify that at all.”

  4. Catherine Buker

    “This year, I’ve seen more noteable degradation of our trails. Specifically Sugar and Dry Fork, and that’s without the implementation of e-bikes. I will say I’ve never actually ridden an e-bike. I can’t really speak to the mechanism and the tread wear. But based on what I’ve seen already, that’s an obvious concern. The other thing I I’d like to talk about is, were our trails meant for this use? When I’m going fast or around a turn. The other part I want to put together is we’ve got a whole lot of hotel rooms going up in this town, and we’re going to have a lot of people that don’t know how to ride bikes. I’m an orthopedic spine nurse. The safety of this is a concern. I’ll always have job security, but it’s a conflict of interest. Trail impact is a huge concern, because we’re seeing it already. And obviously safety. We have to save people from themselves, too, you know.”

Adam Howell is a writer who is on the city of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board. His reporting and commentary does not reflect or represent the views of the Board or the municipal government. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.

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