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?

 

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

Strangest Ski Lift

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I learned to ski just over 50 years ago. Back then, my Mom had to lace up my ski boots and help get me into my cable bindings. Skis were mostly still wood with metal edges screwed into them. It doesn’t seem so archaic to me but those technologies probably look as old to kids today as 9 foot skis with bear trap bindings looked to me back then. So, growing up, I was on some ski lifts that you almost never see anymore. Tow ropes – the glove manufacturers must miss those – the Poma lift – nothing like sticking a metal pole between your legs and being jerked up the hill to scare a young lad away from skiing – and the good old J-bar and T-bar which always claimed a few victims each time up the hill. Back then it was just as hard to learn to get up the hill as down.

Sometime in the last couple of decades the ‘Magic Carpet’ conveyor was introduced on the beginner hills and it’s easy to ride. You just slide on and ski off at the top. Not much more skill needed than being able to stand for a couple minutes. The strangest/coolest place I’ve seen one is the Peruvian tunnel under Hidden Peak at Snowbird. The tunnel connects Peruvian Gulch on the North side of Snowbird with Mineral Basin on the South side. I rode it for the first time today and it was worth the trip. Inside the tunnel, you’ll see a bit of history of mining in the region and some old machinery. You can check all this out on the 4 or 5-minute ride through the mountain – if you’re at Snowbird don’t miss it.

Tunnel entrance:

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Some mining history:

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Peruvian tunnel stats:
Length: 600 ft (183m)
Depth underground: 200 ft (61m)
Time to ride: About 5 minutes

What about you? Have you ridden any unique lifts?

See a Kid Smile

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Helped out on this slightly rainy day at the ‘Bikes for Tykes’ put on by the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective. It was sponsored by Bingham Cyclery and several other local bike concerns. There is nothing like seeing a kid’s smile as he/she is presented with a new (or slightly used bike) and the joy they have pedaling around the playground afterwards. Sure put me in the Christmas spirit.

If you want donate please check out this link Bingham Cyclery

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?

10 Rules for Utah Drivers

I moved here from California just over a year ago and was surprised to find that Utah drivers are worse than California drivers. They are more aggressive, less careful and more dangerous to other road users. The ONLY good thing is that it’s very rare to see someone get flipped off – I’m guessing that is mostly due to the old adage of ‘An armed society is a polite society’.

If you are new to the Beehive State here are some rules that will help you fit in:

  1. Speed – all the time. It’s your right.
  2. Don’t slow down for congestion. See #1.
  3. When entering the highway, merge IMMEDIATELY to the fast lane. Those drivers in front of you are too slow.
  4. Is there someone in front of you? Pass them no matter what speed they are going.
  5. Are there double lines on the road? See #4
  6. Are you pulling a trailer? See #5 then #4
  7. Turning left across a road? Just do it – that approaching driver will slow down.
  8. Stop in the crosswalk. Pedestrians are wimps.
  9. Right turn on red after stop in Utah? Yes. But drop the ‘after stop’ part.
  10. Driving a pickup? Jack it up. Then jack it up again.