Why E-Bikes Are a Threat to Mountain Bike Trail Access

 

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Image courtesy of Honda

The typical discussion on the question of e-bike access to non-motorized trails typically goes something like this:

Proponent: “Why are you against e-bikes? They are quiet and don’t damage the trails”

Anti: “Because they will hurt our access to trails”

Proponent: “They shouldn’t – they are just like regular mountain bikes but with some help for the rider – they don’t hurt the trails”

Anti: “They are motorized – don’t you get it? They will get faster and faster as technology improves”

Proponent: “But they don’t have a throttle”

This typically goes on and on and there is never a resolution just like most discussions on social media. Multiple government agencies have come out with rulings that e-bikes should not be allowed on trails that exclude motorized vehicles. The whole motor vs non-motor seems obvious to me but some agencies haven’t ruled on the issue and some do allow e-bikes on trails. Some specifically allow them for people with a disability. I assume that the rules on e-bikes will be clarified over the next 2-3 years as the industry ramps up their offerings. E-bikes won’t sell unless people have a place to ride them so there is a fair bit of money lining up to change the laws to allow e-bikes on more trails.

I’ve been involved in MTB advocacy in some form or another since 1993 and I do see e-bikes as a threat. The sky is not falling – YET – but manufacturers and some vocal e-bike users want to change the laws so that e-bikes are allowed on trails that don’t currently allow them. It’s very hard to believe that this effort won’t affect those of us who choose not to ride with motor power. In general, the proponents argue that because e-bikes don’t have a throttle and are battery powered that they should be treated as a different class from internal combustion motorcycles. Industry types and some agencies may buy this distinction but I think it will be lost on the general public who, sensibly, will see a bike with a motor and ask, “Why can’t I ride my motorcycle on those trails?”.

My imaginary conversation between a member of the public and an elected official or administrator goes like this:

Public: “I was out on the Crest yesterday and I noticed that there were several people on electric mountain bikes. That’s really cool that you allow motor bikes up there now – thanks!”

Administrator: “Well, actually those are e-bikes – they are pedal-assisted bicycles, not motorized bikes”.

Public: “I don’t understand – they have motors, right?”

Administrator: “Well, they have 500 Watt electric motors but they don’t have a throttle”

Public: “So how do they work if they don’t have a throttle?”

Administrator: “Well you have to pedal and the motor helps out – sort of like the old mopeds”

Public: “So how do you know that the motor is only 500 Watts?”

Administrator: “Well we don’t know unless we inspect them”

Public: “How often do you inspect them?”

Administrator: “Never – we don’t have the budget for that”

Public: “So, riders could modify the drive system to make it faster?”

Administrator: “In theory, yes, but we haven’t seen that happen.”

Public: “So I’ve got a CRF125 and it would be great to ride it on these trails with my daughter on her CRF50 – so it’s OK if I ride up on the Crest?”

Administrator: “No – sorry – it has a gas motor and a throttle so you can’t ride it on non-motorized trails”

Public: “Wait – you just said that bikes with electric motors are OK – I don’t get it”

Administrator: “Yes, but those don’t have a throttle”

Public: “That seems totally arbitrary – they have a motor but you allow them on non-motorized trails??!! I need to talk to someone at the Forest Service – this is ridiculous. If they can ride electric motorbikes up there I should be able to ride my dirt bike there, too.”

Like I say this is my imagination working – the conversation won’t go exactly like this but will likely be similar. Next step is that the people who ride dirt bikes get their lobbyists and industry groups involved and Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Husqvarna, etc. see an opportunity to sell MX bikes and ATV’s in greater numbers. The government gets pressured and are left with a simple choice – allow e-bikes and other motorized vehicles or do a blanket ban on all motorized vehicles. A few people decide to use e-bikes on multi-use trails even where they are not allowed. Hikers and equestrians complain to the administrators. Since the administrators can’t easily tell the difference between (for example) a Specialized Turbo Levo Fattie and a non-motorized MTB, they are left with no choice but banning all MTB’s from those trails.

That’s one way you may lose access. Do you have other scenarios? Let me know.

Idle Thoughts

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The only thing more common than lifted diesel pickups and car washes on every corner in suburban Utah is the sight of cars idling. They idle at the drive thru’s, in front of businesses, houses, schools – everywhere. They idle in all weather – hot, cold and perfect. They idle with people inside them and with people running an errand.

When I first got here from the San Francisco Bay Area it was summer so I thought it was just the heat that was getting to people and they just had to keep the AC running. But I soon realized it was just custom. People in Utah just don’t think about the environment the way they do in California. I think a lot of people in California believed that their individual actions did have an impact. Maybe it was years of dealing with water shortages or seeing LA go from a smoggy disaster in the ’60’s and ’70’s to having relatively clear air today that led people to think they had to do something. Well, living in Utah is like stepping back 50 years in time. Car culture is big here. People spend big money on their cars and they take care of them. Within a mile of me there are at least 4 car washes (or Auto Spa as some are called) and they are always busy.

And talk about going back in time – there are more drive-thru’s here than the set of ‘American Graffiti’. I could see it if it was a time saver but when you see 10+ cars lined up I KNOW it takes less time to park the car and actually walk into the store to order. So, it’s not about convenience – there’s something else going on here – people just love being in their cars.

You see these signs all over SLC but I don’t know if they are having any impact at all

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Doesn’t anyone make a connection between their actions and the pollution we get here along the Wasatch front? Utah is a pretty red state so there is a lot of blather about being business-friendly, but isn’t individual responsibility one of the (supposed) attributes of the Right? If so, when are the drivers in Utah going to take some ownership for the pollution they cause and our terrible air in the Winter months?

 

Osprey Raptor 14 Hydration Pack Review

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Osprey Raptor 14

My go-to Ergon riding pack for 10 years was getting old. Broken zipper pulls and a few other issues so I started looking around for a replacement. Osprey packs are ubiquitous and I have a great winter backcountry pack from Osprey that has felt right on me since the first day I put it on. So, I checked out the Osprey packs first. Osprey really seems to sweat the details and you get the feeling that their designers are passionate riders who care about how other riders use their packs.

I’m one of those guys who seems to be the ‘rescue’ rider in the group. Not because I have any training or skills but just because I don’t leave anyone behind. I’ve fixed chains and flats for strangers. I’ve bailed out bonking noobs with food. On any but the shortest ride I have 2 tubes and a first aid kit. I wanted a pack big enough for extras and also capable of holding the removable chinguard from my Bell helmet. The Raptor 14 is big enough for all this, plus it compresses down for smaller loads.

Things I like:

  • Zippered pockets on the belt that are ideal for Clif bars and other snacks.
  • Integrated tool roll on the bottom gives easy access to your tools and holds them tight so they aren’t clanking around on a ride.
  • Magnetic attachment for the hydration tube to secure it to your pack. This works great every time and keeps the tube from dangling.
  • Small outer zippered pocket that is ideal for wallet and phone.  And has a clip for keys. Even the little clip has a protrusion on it making it easier to open.
  • Hydration bladder closure. I thought this would be more clumsy than the Camelbak screw-cap closure but the sliding feature is super-repeatable and easy to use. No more leaks like I would get about 1 out of 10 times with the Camelbak. Plus, it’s easier to get excess air out of the bladder before sealing than with the screw cap Camelbak uses.
  • Helmet attachment gizmo that can be used to secure my chinguard.

When I talk about the details one small but impressive one is the clip that secures the zipper for the tool roll. This one ensures that the zipper can’t come open while riding which could leave your tools spread out over your favorite trail.

I’ve just left a month of riding Moab behind with 20 rides while I was there. In that time, I haven’t encountered a single negative to the pack. I’ll do a follow-up review in 6 months or so. If you have an Osprey let me know what you think.

Helmet attachment

Helmet clip is on an adjustable elastic cord

 

Room for chinguard

Easy to attach the chinguard to the outside of the pack

 

Helmet clip and chinguard

Using the helmet clip to secure the chinguard

 

Sunglass pocket

Lined sunglass pocket

 

Magnet

Magnetic clip secures the tube

 

Tool roll

The tool roll holds everything you need and rolls up into the bottom of the pack

 

Zipper clip

Tool roll zipper has this little clip to ensure it doesn’t open during your ride

Pedal Assist – Just Another Marketing Term

Interesting to see this sign at a trailhead in Moab the other day. The BLM had to post both ‘No e-bikes’ and ‘No pedal assist’ since the bike industry has pushed ‘pedal assist’ as the preferred deceptive marketing term. I hadn’t made the connection until I saw this, but ‘pedal assist’ doesn’t sound like you have a motor – it just sounds like magic that helps you pedal. 

With the lack of technical fluency of most of the population, I can’t blame the rider for not understanding that their pedal assist bike has a motor. Glad to see the BLM is holding the line on keeping motors off these trails. There are plenty of trails around Moab where motors are allowed – so I hope the BLM and other agencies continue to hold the line on this. 

Incubating

Interesting first visit to The Startup Building co-working space in Provo today to attend a Million Cups event. I met the building owner, Tom, and his family who seem to have made the space quite successful in the 4 years that they have owned it. Surprisingly, ‘Startup’ is the name of the family that started a chocolate company in the building 100+ years ago, and are still producing today.

I got a quick tour after the Million Cups event and was impressed by the number of entrepreneurs and students who have made this building in Provo their home.

One of the great things is the location. Right across the street from the Frontrunner train stop. Sure made getting to and from the event easy!

Meeting space:

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Along the Wasatch Range you almost always have a view:

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More information on the co-working space is here Startup Building