Ebikes: egads or e-welcome?

(Photo courtesy of National Bicycle Dealers Association)

It’s easy to understand why off-road vehicles and dirt bikes are not allowed on hiking trails on national parks, federal wildlife refuges and U.S. Forest Service lands. Not only would the traffic cut ruts and create erosion zones on the trails, but  they are noisy, too. And allowing ORVs to speed down the same trails backpackers are trekking would certainly be hazardous.

How about off-road bicycles? Forty years ago, off-road versions of traditional bicycles were invented. These fat tired, low-gear-ratio bikes allowed pedal-pushers to leave the pavement and commune with nature – perhaps commune through nature is a better term.

Early on, OR bikers shared hiking trails with people communing with nature on foot. Hikers didn’t particularly like it but most days either none or perhaps a couple of bikers were encountered. A couple years later, more bikes, fewer hikers. Eventually, bike-only trails were developed and hikers could commune with hikers, bikers could “commune through” on separate paths and peace reigned.

Still, the moto-cross guys were jealous since, for the most part, they were still excluded, mainly because of noise and speed.

Then ebikes were invented.

The same technology that packed lithium ions inside batteries for cell phones, cordless drills and rechargeable cars was applied to a bicycle. It solved the noise factor for which hikers and off-road bicyclists used to exclude gasoline powered cycles on “their” trails.

Ebikes aren’t any noisier than pedal bikes.

What about speed?

Current ebikes top out at about 20 mph, which is about the same speed a human powered trail bicycle can achieve. However the human powered biker can only surge to that speed for a short period of time while an ebiker is only limited by the ions inside his or her battery. Will future electric two-wheelers be able to hit 25 mph, or 40 or…?

Last August, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a ruling that allows electric bicycles on all bike trails on federally owned lands. Instead of settling the dispute between leg-powered and battery-powered users, the move has increased confusion and controversy and has forced states and municipalities with bicycle trails of their own to give ebikes a thumbs up or thumbs down on the bike paths they control.

Purveyors of electric bicycles are certainly in favor of unfettered access. They argue the move will make public lands accessible to more people. They argue ebiking will allow the freedom and enjoyment of bicycle riding to people too aged or otherwise physically unable to ride a peddle powered bike. They also give access to non-wilderness back country areas currently only available to physically fit individuals.

Owners of ebikes are in favor of increased access because it gives them more places to ride. Some older or lapsed conventional bikers have applauded the move saying it will add years of enjoyment to their love of cycling.

Current bike trail riders have a mostly negative view of the relaxed rules. Certainly, it will lead to increased use and could lead to overcrowding. They say, the idea opens the door to what?  Faster bikes, nuclear powered bikes, bike gangs, increased cost of maintaining trails, the need for additional trails, posting road signs in the forest, increased need for rescue services to haul out accident victims. Pick a reason or invent one of your own.

What’s your take on the ebike situation?

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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