E-bikes are allowed on some hard-surface trails around Durango, but taking a pedal-assist bicycle on a mountain bike path remains illegal. A group of residents is working to change that.
More than two dozen people this week attended a community conversation about allowing e-bikes on natural-surface trails, a consideration prompted by a change to federal policy redefining e-bikes as “bicycles” and not motorized vehicles.
Durango City Council in late 2018 allowed Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the Animas River Trail, the sidewalk along Florida Road, the Goeglein Gulch Road Trail, SMART 160 Trail and the Three Springs Trail.
E-bikes are equipped with battery-powered motors and are available in commuting, touring and mountain biking models. Class 1 e-bikes assist riders while pedaling but not otherwise. Class 2 e-bikes can propel a bicycle without pedaling up to 20 mph.
Residents in comments to the city criticized allowing e-bikes on natural-surface trails. Some cited safety concerns, others suggested e-bikes could damage dirt trails. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on natural-surface trails – allowing e-bikes on dirt trails could set a precedent to allow other motorized vehicles, some residents said.
A number of solutions were offered Wednesday by a resident advisory board responsible for recommending public spending on natural land preservation:
Only allow e-bikes on user-specific and directional trails, not the existing system.Plan and develop user-specific and directional trail systems with longer sight lines for uphill travel. Increase park ranger presence on trails to educate users and enforce existing regulations and trail etiquette.Consider e-bike trails in future open space acquisitions. E-bikes are the fastest-growing market for bicycles worldwide, said Russell Zimmermann, owner of Durango Cyclery. Bicycle and motor companies are producing e-bikes, and the technology has been embraced in Asian-Pacific and European countries with the global e-bike market valued at $15.42 billion in 2019, researchers found.
Zimmermann has ridden his e-bike on hard- and natural-surface trails around town, despite regulations, without issues, he said.
“If I’m riding up Horse Gulch Road and there’s a slower rider in front of me, I don’t go flying past them. I try to respect people, you know, and not show off and go blazing past them,” Zimmermann said in an interview. “I try to be a good steward – if you use them responsibly, it’s not going to ruin anyone’s day.”
Class 1 e-bikes with pedal assist allow riders to exert less effort to get up hills, but “the 20 mph bikes are no faster than a good, fit cyclist,” Zimmerman said. E-bike technology is no different than other gear advantages for sports that have become more advanced over time.
The ultra-light carbon frames on many of today’s most elite mountain bikes are an advantage over the clunky, salvaged bicycles used by the first mountain bikers in the 1970s in California. Some people spend thousands of dollars on upgrades to their bikes for the slight advantage they may offer, Zimmermann said.
“The e-bike is an advantage, for some,” he said.
Community advisory boards on Wednesday did not make a decision about whether to allow e-bikes on natural-surface trails. The solutions presented by the Natural Land Preservation Advisory Board were the result of months of discussion, said Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Multimodal Advisory Board, both in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, will have an opportunity to consider a proposal to allow e-bikes on natural-surface trails at regular meetings this month.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is scheduled to meet Wednesday – the Multimodal Advisory Board’s regular meeting had not been scheduled as of Friday afternoon.
The city plans to schedule another joint meeting between the three boards to discuss the subject, but that meeting has not yet been scheduled, Metz said.