Why Winning Might Be Losing For eMTB’s



The recently released Order #3376 by the Department of the Interior to allow e-bike use on all trails under their jurisdiction that are open to ‘traditional’ bikes came out of the blue for me.

I’ve witnessed the growth of e-bikes since about 2010 and have seen the advances. However, I expected that the first e-bikes to be allowed on dirt trails, including narrow singletrack, would be the Class 1 e-bikes that provide motor-assist up to 20 mph. These bikes are typically only a little faster in terms of average speed over a normal pedal bike over the course of a 2 hour ride. Thus, many have argued that their impact on other trail users isn’t much different from existing pedal MTB’s.

My worry was always the slippery slope concern. I wondered what would happen when other motorized vehicle users demanded access. Once you allowed motorized vehicles on trails that previously were exclusively for human power, where would it end?

Well, the DOI opened the barn door and now all 3 recognized classes of e-bikes will be allowed on trails where pedal bikes are allowed. This means that bikes that have a throttle and don’t require pedaling (Class 2) and bikes that provide motor assist up to 28 mph (Class 3) may be on the trail with hikers, equestrians, and human-powered bikes.

Most concerning under this ruling is that if e-bikes are prevented from using a particular trail, then pedal bikes would be banned from that trail as well. Thus a MTB rider who might average 10 mph (fairly fast for a fit rider) might be kicked off the trail due to concern over an e-bike that could average twice that speed. And it wouldn’t matter that she had ridden that trail for 10 years, but under the new rule this non-motorized bike rider would be kicked off if the land manager didn’t allow ALL e-bikes on that trail. The land manager isn’t allowed to treat the three classes differently EVEN THOUGH THAT IS WHY THE CLASSES WERE CREATED.

No doubt, human-powered bikes will be affected by this change. We will lose access in some areas because land managers will determine that some trails aren’t suitable for much faster Class 2 and 3 bikes, thus no bikes can use the trail.

Ironically, this ‘win’ for e-bikes isn’t the win that many of their advocates think it is. Most of the arguments for Class 1 e-bikes have been about letting slower riders keep up with their friends and family who ride traditional pedal bikes. When faster Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are equated with Class 1 bikes, this argument and the sympathy and understanding many people have will evaporate.

Clearly the argument for Class 2 and 3 bikes is that users want to go faster – significantly faster – than their human-powered brethren. Mountain bikes have been (mostly) accommodated on multi-use trails because the safety record is pretty good and most hikers, runners, and equestrians don’t consider them a hazard. Now, mix in e-bikes that can go significantly faster and I believe you may see more pushback than even in the early years of MTB use.

So I think there is a likelihood that e-bike users on Class 1 bikes will have LESS access BECAUSE of Class 2 & 3 bikes than if the trails were only opened up to Class 1 e-bikes.

It’s always possible that the Administration is playing ‘3 dimensional chess’ and this rule was written to create uproar and have the ‘compromise’ be that they only allow Class 1 e-bikes on singletrack. Some might argue that this was the plan from the start. My guess is that this is unlikely and the DOI’s incompetence and lack of interest in the user experience is more likely.

In the scheme of terrible and incompetent things that the current Administration has done, this is one of the lesser evils but it illustrates their lack of interest in good governance. Only a political appointee with no interest in understanding the difference between 3 classes of e-bikes would rule that henceforth pedal bikes and bikes with electric motors are the same. Either the authors of this new rule don’t ride bikes, don’t talk to people who do, don’t think it matters, or, possibly, all 3.

So, to summarize, I expect that riders of traditional pedal bikes will see trails closed to them that they are used to riding and the e-bike advocates will not get what they wanted either. The classic lose-lose that doesn’t feel like ‘Winning’ for anyone.

What do you think? Will this order change Mountain Biking? Is it ultimately good or bad for e-bikes? Please leave a comment.

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Seattle by Lime Bike

I spent 5 days in Seattle staying close to the U of W and the Burke-Gilman bike trail. Lime bikes are everywhere with what looks like an even mix of traditional pedal bikes and ebikes.

My insights:

  1. Super-convenient. I never had more than a few minute walk to find a bike. Even when I was at the West Point Lighthouse, I found the one bike that was there (but wonder if I stranded the person who rode it). I had done a fairly long walk to the lighthouse and was really happy to rest my feet on the return trip.
  2. The bikes take a beating. Handlebars often are not aligned with the wheel and there are a lot of squeaks, rattles, and brake noise. Not surprising since many of the bikes are dumped on their side. I encountered one bike with a bent crank and one with a broken front basket. Out of 10 bikes I rode, 5 had an annoying issue but still could be ridden. 2 could not be ridden. The app has a tool to report issues but I have no idea how fast Lime responds.
  3. Easy to sign up and use the app!
  4. It’s expensive! $3-$4 for a 15 minute Ebike ride. Less for a pedal bike. I guess the cost reflects the convenience of finding a bike nearly anywhere and the (likely) high cost of maintenance.
  5. The Lime ebikes work well. Zippy on the flats and helpful on the hills. They seem to be speed-limited as I couldn’t get going very fast on the downhills. I know class 1 ebikes are limited to 15 mph with assist but assume they can go faster with pedaling. Not sure if this was a regenerative braking effect or whether the speed was intentionally limited.
  6. Like pedal sharebikes everywhere, they are heavy and slow. Not a problem on a short, flat commute but I had a long hill to climb from the lighthouse and I think I was slower on the bike than walking.
  7. I’ve always ridden with a helmet. Didn’t have one and was surprised how little I thought about it since I was mostly on some excellent separated bike paths. When I was mixing with traffic (especially bike lanes in the door zone) I was very vigilant watching drivers.

As a tourist I am very happy to see this option. Every day in Seattle, I mixed public transit, walking, and biking, choosing the best mode at the time. And I never missed not having a car. Certainly a boon for travelers like me.

Bend Trail Work

2018-04-07 11.41.16

I’ve landed in Bend in the last month and I think we’re going to stay for a while. Being on the move for the last 13 months has been fun and rewarding but it’s time to stay somewhere for a bit longer and Bend feels like the right spot.

I’m fortunate to find a number of volunteer opportunities and particularly to find that COTA (Central Oregon Trail Alliance) is such a force for good here. They have been creating and maintaining trails for over 25 years and seem to be very well organized.

Yesterday, I joined a group of about 20 other trail workers to get our Level 1 Trail Steward Training. Everyone seemed to have experience and we made fast work of repairs on the COD trail. It made for a fun and rewarding day – I’ll definitely be back.

2018-04-07 11.41.19

Ten Seconds of Kindness

2017-09-11 11.22.29Not only does the Mountain Trails Foundation in Park City do a great job building and maintaining trails in the area for hikers, bikers (both dirt and snow), skiers and dog walkers, they also do an excellent job educating users without a lecturing tone. This 10 Seconds of Kindness is a great model. I’ve always thought it is just as easy for bike riders to leave  a good impression as a bad one. If I’m on a great descent and things are feeling great I hate to stop but in the grand scheme of things stopping for another trail user just isn’t that big a deal. I stop, chat a bit and start again and I’m having fun again just like that. Thanks Mountain Trails for all that you do!

I Want it All!

view-from-top-of-corner-canyon


I attended a City Council meeting here in Draper the other night. The topic was an emotional one as the City was proposing ‘surplussing’ (selling off) a few hundred acres of the 2400 acres it owned in order to help pay off some of the bond that was used to buy the land. I think it’s great that the citizens want to save all the land as open space and I don’t want to see more ugly development in this area. A group called ‘Save the Hollows’ had formed to fight the surplussing effort and has done a good job galvanizing opinion and getting citizens to the meeting.

But the irony of what was said at the meeting was not lost on me – I can’t be the only one who noted the conflict. The quick summary of the public comments is basically: ‘I have my 2-acre lot with an amazing view, I don’t want to look at someone else’s house, and I want to preserve open space’. Or, ‘I came to Draper for the big lots and open space and don’t want to see it change’.

Doesn’t anyone connect the continued development of large lots with the loss of open space? Draper has grown from about 7,000 people in 1990 to about 47,000 today and the city projects a 5% growth rate for the next 5 years. If the 5% growth rate continues that means the population will double to over 90,000 in about 15 years. The question for the citizens here (just like in many other areas) should be ‘Are you willing to live in denser developments to preserve open space and save some of these wild lands?’ But, I don’t see anyone grappling with this bigger issue. New development in the low elevation areas of Draper is fairly dense but what will happen in these areas bordering the wild lands?

Do you have ideas about what to do? Will people change their home buying dreams? Will they live on a smaller lot in denser developments in order to preserve these wild lands?

Somewhere New to be Annoyed

hillbillies

I’ve lived in California for over 30 years except for a 2 year stint in the West of England and now I find myself moving to the Salt Lake City area. I’m curious what I’ll find there for commuting cyclists. There seem to be a few long distance bike paths and a fair amount of bike lanes especially in the newer developments so I get the feeling that the folks in Utah are investing in some bicycle infrastructure as they expand. As a mountain biker I’m pretty well covered. I’m stoked to see quite a few trails in Corner Canyon just east of Draper very close to where I’ll be working. And of course, Park City is renowned for some 400 miles of trails and just a few hours south are Moab, Fruita and other destinations for mountain bikers.

Along the Wasatch Front, there is an Amtrak service as well as light rail that seem to run fairly frequently so that will give me some options for getting around. Still, I don’t see any dedicated bike/ped crossings over Interstate 15 in the Draper area so getting across may be challenging as the interchanges crossing I-15 are wide and very high speed.

Have you lived in Utah? Any comments on how cycling will compare to the Bay Area are appreciated.

A Few More Definitions for Cyclists



Chain: Archaic method for connecting the cranks and rear wheel of a bike to provide forward motion. Dirty and greasy and the subject of continual efforts for at least 100 years to find a better alternative. Yet chains continue to combine the benefits of low cost, efficiency and relatively good reliability and have kept most ‘improvements’ at bay – at least until the ‘string drive’ came along

2015-04-18 11.07.13

salsa vest

Vest (gilet in the UK): Probably the most useful piece of clothing to own. Keeps your core warm without getting your arms too sweaty as when wearing a jacket. Can regulate your temperature with the simple movement of the zipper in temps from 45-65F.

High-vis: The popular bright lime green color worn by middle-aged cycling club members and others who want to survive on the road even if it means derision by the roadies wearing all black.

carbon

Carbon fiber: Woven high-strength material infused with resin that lightens your bike and wallet at the same time.

Kickstand: Controversial piece of hardware attached to the bike that keeps the bike from falling over when parked. Most won’t work on high-end bikes because the attachment method can crush carbon or thin-wall metal tubing. Enthusiast cyclists wouldn’t use one anyway since it is a feature similar to high-vis clothing and a dividing line between ‘racers’ and everyone else.

Fenders (mudguards in the UK): Useful piece of kit that covers the wheel reducing the amount of water spray that hits the rider. Another item that serious riders disdain unless it’s the minimalist version (such as SKS Raceblades) that can be used during training but never in a race where there is a shared joy in suffering.

Use full lane

Share the Lane sign: Cyclists think: ‘I can use the lane’. Motorists think: ‘Those bikes better get out of my way’. The more modern sign ‘Bike may use full lane’ is becoming more prevalent.

Velominati: Keepers of ‘The Rules’. 95 somewhat tongue-in-cheek rules on how to be a ‘legit’ cyclist. It gets superfluous after Rule #5 which is ‘Harden the F*** Up’. How can you talk about acceptable clothing colors, tire colors, tan lines and the like if you believe in HTFU?

Driver’s Ed: Class where motorists can learn such useful phrases as:
– ‘I didn’t see him’
– ‘She came out of nowhere’
– ‘Those bikes go too fast’
– ‘Those bikes go too slow’


Singletrack trail: Narrow trails that mountain bikers long for. Typically 4 feet wide in California and 1 foot in Idaho


Right turn hand signal: The old-school way of signaling a right turn is by using the left arm and pointing it up like you’re asking a question. Made sense in cars about 60 years ago before turn signals but makes no sense for bikes since cyclists can just indicate with their right arm. No idea why we still give cyclists this option since the only car drivers who understand this archaic signal are probably too old to be driving anyway.