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.
I guess we’re all annoying in our own special ways. As a friend once said, ‘If you can’t tell who the ass is in your group, it’s probably you’.
But here are some of the characters I’ve ridden with over the years – I’m sure you’ve encountered some of these types; some are bothersome and some just make me laugh:
The Short Hammer
You setup a ride with a compatible group. Semi-epic, 80 miles of dirt and pavement with 5000 feet of climbing. The Short Hammer shows up and sets a blistering pace from the start. I think ‘Joe is feeling good today – I’ll try to keep up’ Then at mile 20 he bails for home. ‘That was fun, but I’ve got the kids today’. So, he just about killed us all with his personal TT and now I’m struggling to finish the ride. Next time tell us at the start Joe, so we don’t ride your ride.
The Can’t Ride That Bike Dude
Tom needs to borrow a bike, so I accommodate him with my old hardtail mountain bike. It works fine but it’s a few years older than the bike he just left in the shop. The entire ride he tells me how much faster he would be on his bike. The seat hurts, he hasn’t ridden flat pedals since he was a kid. ‘What? it’s not tubeless? So much less efficient’. ‘It’s heavy, it has old school geometry, narrow bars – how do you ride this thing?’
Billy likes his music, especially from a narrow window of time when he went to high school in the 80’s. Thanks to Bluetooth speakers he can listen to the same tracks every single ride and share them with everyone around. Can I listen to my favorite nature tracks instead?
The Head-Down Racer
Louis sees every ride as a race. No looking at the view, no chats, no re-groups. It’s all business. Does he stop for hikers? No, that might affect his Strava time. Does he stop for uphill riders? No, he’ll just swerve off the trail and ride around them.
The Faffer is the rider who is constantly adjusting and fixing his bike, clothes, helmet, phone, etc. before, during, and after the ride. You might ride by his place at the agreed time and find out he’s working on a ‘minor fix’ like a Bottom Bracket replacement and will be ready to go in ‘a couple minutes’. You wait a half hour and are on the road – but wait – ‘I forgot to put fresh Stan’s in that front tire, and it’s bone dry’. You head back and he has to search for the tire levers, sealant, and valve core removal tool. 15 minutes later you’re about to head off, but ‘I’m going to grab a quick bite – do you want anything’. After a few pancakes (excellent of course) and a latte, you would be ready to finally head out to the trails if only it wasn’t getting dark.
The Trail Worker
I love people who build and maintain the trails. But, if we’re going on a ride together let me know ahead of time that you’re planning to stop to dig out drains, clear downed trees, put up trail signs, and re-route that ‘short’ 100-yard section that floods once a year.
The Dog Trainer
I love dogs! But if your dog isn’t trail-worthy and is going to weave in and out of my wheels, please leave Spot at home or we will both end up at the Vet.
Magellan shows up at the trailhead with paper maps, the Gaia GPS app, a Garmin, and the will to check all 3 at every intersection. ‘Dude’, I say, ‘We’ve ridden this area for 5 years, there are no new trails, there’s only 15 miles of them, and we’ve never gotten lost – what’s up?’ ‘Well I’m trying to update my database so we can create better loops’.
Steve shows up at that epic ride I mentioned at the top with his buddy from high school. ‘Super-good athlete but he hasn’t ridden a bike in ages – I’m sure he’ll be OK.’ Well, I’m not so sure. I haven’t played basketball since middle school and I don’t show up at your pickup game – don’t show up at my ride with an unknown quantity.
Josh is a great rider and environmentalist. He rides hard and does almost all his trips by bike. I try to shop and run errands by bike, too, so we’re pretty lined up. But seriously, Josh, please don’t shop during that epic ride, and ‘No, I won’t watch your bike for 10 minutes while you try on some shirts’.
Steve work a lot. He’s on a flexible schedule which means he’s always on call. Since he’s in Sales and dependent on commissions, he always answers the phone. ‘Man – just send it to voicemail’, I say. ‘Can’t – this is the big Acme deal – I have to take it – it will just be a minute’. 30 minutes later and I’m expecting a piece of the commission, but if I’m lucky he might buy me a beer.
I have to ‘fess up. I think I’ve been guilty of just about all this behavior at one time (well you’ll never find me with Bluetooth speakers), so you may not want to include me on your next ride.
Listing – you just put your ad up on the site with great pictures, an enticing description, and a fair price. You’re already thinking about what you’ll do with the money.
Anger – What? Nobody has come to buy it! The one guy who texted offered 1/2 my asking price and hasn’t even seen it. I hate those bottom-feeders! Craigslist is the worst!
Bargaining – OK – next person who calls – I’ll tell them if they come now I’ll give them 20% off – no 25%. I just want that thing gone.
Depression – Damn – it’s never going to sell. Why did I buy it in the first place? I must be the only chump who can’t sell on Craigslist.
Acceptance – My listing is 10 days old and out of the blue I have a buyer. She bargained me down a bit but I have cash in my pocket. I love Craigslist!
With apologies to Kubler-Ross
Well not THAT narrow at 660mm, but 800’s wouldn’t fit!
As mountain bikers we get excited about new bikes, wheels, suspension, and all the other shiny bits. But most of us don’t pay too much attention to the clothes we wear until they let us down. On a recent chilly day up at 8500 feet in Park City, I realized I had owned my Pearl Izumi softshell jacket for 11 years. It’s been through cold and rainy bike rides, snowshoe trips, ski trips, travel to a number of countries, and it barely looks worn. It’s been saturated with mud and still came out clean in the wash. It has 3 back pockets and the 2 outer pockets are zippered for security. No more than I need and no less.
I can’t come up with a single complaint – no ripped seams, stuck zippers, or fabric tears – it’s my go-to jacket in cold weather and was worth every penny. If you need a good jacket for cooler weather, spend the money – you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve been fortunate to be traveling around the West since March of this year – sort of a pre-retirement tour of places we already love or have always wanted to visit. Typically, we rent a house or apartment for 4-6 weeks and this gives us a chance to get to know the community. One good way to learn about a town is to volunteer – it’s a great way to meet the locals, learn what is important to them, and understand how they treat others in the community. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities from helping at a food bank to one-on-one literacy tutoring. My favorite volunteer activity has been working at bike co-ops. I enjoy the co-ops because I get to wrench on bikes and directly help people. Plus, I see immediate results from my efforts. I particularly enjoy teaching and helping others learn how to troubleshoot. I’ve worked with 5-year-old kids, families, retirees who use a bike as their primary transport, and a few homeless folks who hardly own more than the bike they rode to the shop.
I’ve helped at bike co-ops in Silver City, New Mexico (Bikeworks), Boise, Idaho (Boise Bicycle Project), and Missoula, Montana (Free Cycles Missoula). All three have distinct personalities that reflect the needs of the community, their funding, and the goals of their employees, founders and boards. You don’t have to know anything about bikes to help in any of these organizations – they will put you to work to the level of your knowledge and train you along the way. Some have structured volunteer programs and some assign you to where you are needed on any particular day. If you don’t have a lot of experience, you might initially be taking pedals off bikes or patching inner tubes.
In a typical day at Free Cycles Missoula, I would show up and start working on bikes they would later sell and also help folks who walked into the shop. In one day, I helped a Mom and her whip-smart 8-year-old daughter fix a flat, an Englishman on a cross-country bike tour, and a Sophomore at the University of Montana who was building a bike for himself in the ‘Build-A-Bike’ program. He was tearing the bike down to the bare frame and had a lot of work to do but was enjoying learning how to do it.
As a kid, I tinkered a lot and learned mechanical skills from my father, friends, and books but I think that in this era of ubiquitous electronic devices many kids don’t get the opportunity to work with their hands. Learning how to build and maintain a bike is empowering and fun for both kids and adults. Boise Bicycle Project has a great program for kids to teach them how to build up their own bike – they tear the bike down to the bearings and know every single part on the bike once they are done. At Freecycles, one 5-year-old boy let me help him build his bike. He was so proud when he jumped on it for a test ride that he giggled as he rode around. With that much pride, you know that he’s not going to leave his bike outside to rust in the rain.
During my time at the Boise Bicycle Project, I still remember what I learned from Charles Mitchell, the shop manager, and this theme is repeated at all 3 co-ops to different degrees; A volunteer or donor may initially see the co-op as a place that helps people fix their bikes, but the mission is grander than that. The mission can be about education in troubleshooting, self-reliance, patience, working with others and giving people control over a part of their lives. I also see that the co-ops can bring a broader cross-section of society together than many endeavors. In my work as an engineer over many years I was mostly around medium to high-income people, whereas at the co-ops I was fortunate to work with and learn from people across a much broader spectrum.
For a bike geek like myself, it’s also a chance to see different bikes from past decades since the co-ops get donations of all sorts of bikes and can be like a mini museum of bike history.
I had never seen this BMX bike with rear suspension but this almost mint example was at Bikeworks
Every co-op has a large collection of donated bikes and parts and these ‘boneyard’ bikes are an important source of parts for repairs and new bikes
These also provide an almost endless supply for art projects, parade floats, tall bikes, choppers and the like
Or this parade float at Free Cycles powered by a side-by-side tandem
One day in Missoula, I even met Erick, a fellow Tufts graduate, who had just finished his degree and was on his way to Seattle. It was great to help him a bit with his bike and see him get back on the road.
I have never had a more satisfying volunteer experience and I strongly recommend you check out a bike co-op near you. Every child I’ve ever seen build a bike – it doesn’t matter how old it is, how bad the paint is or if the tires don’t match – EVERY kid has smiled when he or she rode that bike for the first time. I’ve seen down-and-out guys come in with barely functioning bikes and with a little help they walk out proudly knowing they fixed their bike and this means they can get to a job.
So, if you’re looking for a way to give back and at the same time learn more about bikes you can’t do better than to volunteer at a bike co-op. Have you done it? If so, let me know – I would love to hear what you learned.