(TNS) — Bicycles equipped with small electric motors — e-bikes — could be an integral piece to solving the puzzle that is the Denver metro area’s unacceptable commuter congestion.
The technology puts a 20-mile or 30-mile bike commute within the reach of almost everyone capable of riding a bike and can make carrying heavy cargo, like kids and groceries, no problem. The shockingly quiet motors are entering the realm of outdoor sports, too, opening up rugged single-track trails to more and more people.
But everything new comes with unforeseen complications, and the e-bike is no exception.
Boulder County commissioners will likely decide sometime this month whether to ban e-bikes from almost all of the county’s parks and open space trails. According to a presentation on the rule change presented by Bevin Carithers, the Boulder County resource protection supervisor, to a committee first considering the change, the ban is a temporary response to a new state law as the county figures out where e-bikes are and are not appropriate.
This is an exercise every Colorado community, especially those on the Front Range, should be going through and we hope it proves mostly permissive to e-bikes in all their forms.
For some trails there is little debate — Boulder County and many other communities have specifically allowed e-bikes on the 18-mile commuter thoroughfare that is U.S. 36 bikeway. Getting local commuters heading into Boulder out of their cars and onto the bike trail could help reduce congestion, not to mention improve riders’ health and lower emissions. The city of Boulder has permissive e-bike rules.
It’s more difficult in other places. Do electric mountain bikes belong on technical single-track trails through the woods? Should certain wilderness areas be designated as pedal-only bikes? Would having e-bikes zipping through the Colorado Trail degrade the experience of those seeking solitude on remote mountain passes and a badge of honor for having completed the ride?
Those are the kinds of questions Boulder County must tackle in 2018 as it joins local jurisdictions and the federal government grappling with the balance.
It all was sparked by the bipartisan House Bill 1151 that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law last year making Colorado a permissive one by default for e-bikes. Specifically, the law says a person may ride Class 1 or Class 2 electric-assist bicycles on bike or pedestrian paths where bicycles are authorized to travel, unless a local jurisdiction prohibits the e-bikes. It was a shift, forcing many counties and cities to respond.
The law defines Class 1 e-bikes as those that only provide assistance when the rider is pedaling and stops running when the bike reaches 20 miles per hour. Class 2 e-bikes are those that operate continuously, even when no one is pedaling, but switch off when 20 mph has been reached. The law leaves Class 3 bicycles — those that have motors that switch off at higher speeds — completely up to local jurisdictions, with an assumption they are not permitted.
Having clear definitions of which e-bikes are allowed where will be good for everyone, and we hope jurisdictions err on the side of permissiveness, as we have long seen huge potential in the e-bike revolution that began in Europe and is finally taking off in the United States.
Colorado could become a leader in e-bikes, not only encouraging their use, but encouraging the companies dealing in this growing $16 billion global industry to locate in this great state.
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