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?

 

I Want it All!

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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?

But You Look Like Such a Nice Person

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Image credit: Saber-Scorpion.com

On my commute here in Silicon Valley I see drivers run red lights every single day. And I’m only talking about the most blatant violations. You know, the light for the other street has turned green and the driver is just entering the intersection.

When I look in the car, I often expect to see some kind of monster behind the wheel or an evil WW II fascist caricature. I mean – how uncaring and self-centered must one be to drive a 2 ton hunk of metal through a spot where pedestrians expect to safely cross just to save a minute or two on their commute? But no, almost everyone looks like a decent person. Men and women, aged progressives in their Priuses, the Mom with kids in car seats – they all do it.

It isn’t getting any better so I wonder what the cities plan to do to alleviate this danger. In some areas they have increased the time before the other light turns green but this only seems to have encouraged the red light runners since they know they have a few extra seconds to enter the intersection. It makes me wonder why we don’t have red light cameras on a large scale. Have the car lobbyists won on this issue? Have they convinced the cities that the right of car drivers to run red lights is greater than the right of pedestrians to cross the road safely?

How much is my life worth?

As a cyclist, one of the most frustrating aspects of riding on the road is car drivers who literally save a few seconds and almost right hook me or pull out in front of me from a driveway rather than giving me a bit more time and space. The desire to get past the bike is so strong that they don’t think far enough ahead to realize that I will probably catch them at the next light anyway. In city traffic that frequently happens and I coast up next to the offending driver shaking my head and knowing that he/she will likely do it again given the chance.

So it got me thinking – given the danger to me and the possibility I could get killed by a driver looking to save a few seconds – how much is a bonehead maneuver worth? Being an engineer, I can only think with a spreadsheet or similar tool so I came up with this one. I assumed the median salary for Santa Clara County at $93,500 and that the driver saved 5 seconds.

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Now, I know some of you will say that in many cases the driver saved 3 seconds or maybe no time at all but in the interest of science I’ll stick with my conservative number of 6 cents. Yes – that’s right that driver’s time is worth just 6 cents. Oh, I know, a number of you are high earners making $500,000 a  year. In that case the 5 seconds you saved is worth

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I think you get the idea – the math is pretty easy. So when the high earner hits me that bumps my value up to 33 cents. I don’t know – I still think I’m worth more, but you can’t fight Economics.

Maybe that explains why the penalties for hitting a person with a car are, in fact, so small.

 

Instead of a helmet law for adults…

why not enforce the laws that lead to cyclists getting hurt? Every day I see cars blow through red lights, speed out of driveways, NOT stop while turning right on red. The cops can’t even successfully enforce the hands-free cell phone law in this state.

So make the roads safer for everyone. Enforce the existing laws on the operators of these 1 and 2 ton vehicles and we all might experience a safer commute. But it won’t happen. Almost everyone drives so they feel sorry for the inconvenienced drivers. Even red light and speed cameras are somehow seen as a violation of the rights of drivers to get where they want unencumbered by basic safety requirements.

Please make it stop. Enforce the laws.

Phone Bank Get-Out-the-Vote Report

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Calling to get the vote out for Measure Q once a week over the last month. Mostly I get reasonably friendly people who are interested to hear about this Open Space measure and, of course, some who aren’t. I get the occasional hang up but surprisingly, nobody rude. Often people answered the phone but said they were busy. I resisted the urge to say ‘You don’t HAVE to answer the phone’. I got one weird one on the final night. I give my spiel and the voter on the other end says ‘I haven’t had a chance to research any of the issues because Halloween is a big deal for me’. I was a little surprised that Dracula was on the voting rolls but I guess just about anything goes in the Bay Area.