Electric bike (eBikes) and mountain bikes (eMTBs) have become commonplace around the world and in Colorado Springs. In 2018, after significant urging from MWTA to establish a policy about eBikes, COS Parks updated its polices to class 1 eBikes on Tier 1 & 2 (think flat, transportation, urban trails – not singletrack). Here is a presentation from Parks staff to the Parks Advisory Board about that discussion.
Since then there has been significant interest from the public in expanding access for eBikes, particular on Tier 3, soft surface trails (yes singletrack). Information about how and where eBikes should be used has been hard for trail users and retail shops to find – all on top of inconsistency in regulations in different places: #confusing. Here is a recent summary of the local regulations.
There are strong reasons to support more eBike access – they widen the audience of trail users, reducing barriers (physical, mental, time, etc) to access to our publicly owned trail network. They enable families to more easily ride together, they support public health, they create opportunities to replace car trips on roads (reducing congestion, road damage, harmful emissions) and maybe most importantly they are fun to ride, especially making uphill riding less painful.
Meanwhile, existing trail users, especially mountain bikers, are concerned about increased congestion on trails and in remote areas, waves of new and sometimes uneducated users, increased burden on search and rescue, damage to trails, increased user conflicts – all of which could conceivably impact access for human powered mountain bikes. It’s worth remembering that many of these are the same arguments that were used in the 80s and 90s in attempts to restrict MTB access to trails – and that many of these concerns have been proven to be well founded. It’s also worth considering the improvements that have been made to trails, networks, communities as a result of the growth in MTB use. There are good and bad aspects to the expansion of MTB use, depending on your perspective.
Last year MWTA created a user survey which told us what MTB orgs around the state and country have found – there is nearly a 50/50 split in opinions on both sides of this.
And, just like every other divisive issue in the world, there are passionate voices on both sides. Never before has it been so apparent to us that there is a wide range of opinions. It is not possible for MWTA to take one position that is supported by all mountain biker and trail users.
That’s why this has been a difficult issue for MWTA. Arguments on both sides are compelling, conflicting, confusing. What is easy to see is that eBike counts are going up while regulations are difficult to find and understand. Meanwhile we increasingly see eMTBs on non-motorized singletrack. It’s a reality that our Parks system lacks the resources to enforcement eBike regulations. This also applies to litter, parking, off-leash dogs, rogue trail construction, camping in parks, etc. Unregulated eMTB use on trails often results in conflicts between users.
Since the 2018 policy statement, voices in favor of expanding eMTB access to singletrack on city trails have increased. Parks staff have already indicated their intention to move in this direction. MWTA consistently encourages Parks to be more clear about the regulations and their intentions. We argue that if a change in policy is coming, it must be done carefully, thoughtfully, and with public input. The stakeholder meeting was finally planned in March 2020… and then you know what happened.
This week, a version of that stakeholder meeting did take place (outdoors!). We worked with Parks staff, using the results of our survey to find commonalities in the comments we received. At the meeting we invited input from all stakeholders in attendance. The next step will be for Parks to release their own online survey, which we’re helping to shape. Everyone will have a chance to have their say and it’s important that everyone speaks up. As noted above, MWTA can’t state a position that represents all users. We have pushed hard for public input on this tricky topic. MWTA believes that regardless of which direction our community goes, more education is needed for users about trail sharing etiquette.
MWTA has produced a statement about eMTBs on our trails. We hope that you’ll consider these concepts when you fill out your city survey.
One last point – we’ve heard from some members who will no longer support MWTA if we support eMTBs, in any fashion. We’ve also heard from members threatening to stop supporting us if we DON’T advocate for more eMTB access. We hope that everyone can see that this is not a black and white issue, it’s just one issue among the dozens of issues that MWTA tracks as we build, share and protect inspiring trail experiences. We need you, our members and your wide range of opinions. Please don’t make this issue one that causes you to veer away from the good work that we do. We always welcome your feedback and your involvement with MWTA as we move through this process. Thanks to everyone that is able to continue supporting Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates.