Electric bike (eBikes) and mountain bikes (eMTBs) have become commonplace around the world and in Colorado Springs. In 2018, after urging by MedWheel to establish and clarify guidelines for them, COS Parks updated its polices to class 1 eBikes on Tier 1 & 2 trails in the system. These are generally transportation, urban trails – not singletrack. Here is the 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, particularly Class 1 (750W pedal assist only, max 20mph) on Tier 3, soft surface trails – meaning singletrack trails Information about how and where eBikes should be used has been hard for trail users and shops to find. Additionally there is a lack of consistency in regulations across various land managers: Here is a summary of the local regulations.
There are many reasons MedWheel supports additional eBike access – they widen the audience of trail users and potential stewards, they reduce barriers (physical, mental, time, etc) to access to our publicly owned trail network. They enable families to more easily ride together, support public health, create opportunities to reduce car trips on roads (improving congestion, road damage, harmful emissions). Furthermore like any bike they are fun to ride.
Meanwhile, existing trail users, especially some mountain bikers, are concerned about additional congestion on trails, both near to town and in remote areas. As our population increases we see new and sometimes uneducated users. Additional users have an impact – on trailhead congestions, rescuer/emergency resources, physical impacts on trails, interactions and conflicts between users.
All of these can conceivably impact access to public lands for traditional 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. It’s fair to say that some of these concerns have been well founded and others less so. 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 positive and negative impacts of any new recreation trend, and eBikes are no different.
In 2019 MWTA created a local trail users’ survey which told us what MTB orgs around the state and country have found – there is nearly a 50/50 split in opinions around ebikes.
And, just like every other divisive issue in the world, there are passionate voices on both sides. There isn’t one position that is supported by all mountain biker and trail users.
Clearly eBike use is expanding while regulations are confusing and inconsistent. Meanwhile we increasingly see eMTBs on singletrack designated as non-motorized. It’s a reality that local land managers lack the resources to enforcement most regulations – litter, parking, off-leash dogs, rogue trail construction, camping in parks, and eBike use included.
MedWheel suggests that if a change of policy should be considered, and that it should be done thoughtfully, with public input, and with approval of the appropriate boards and committees – not by unilateral administrative measures by staff.
The city of COS scheduled a stakeholder meeting to discuss this in March 2020, and was disrupted by COVID. In spring of 2021 a stakeholder meeting took place outdoors MedWheel worked with Parks staff, providing the results and analysis from our survey to find commonalities in the comments we received. At the meeting we invited input from all stakeholders. Parks staff then made an administrative decision to conduct a 1 year ‘pilot’ which would allow eBike use on all trails. This was later determined by the city’s legal staff to be illegal on TOPS properties, and the pilot has been postponed indefinitely.