A relatively new state law allows electric-assist bikes to go anywhere bicycles go. That law has Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks scrambling to figure out the future of riders on public trails.
“Sine 1975, motorized vehicles have been banned from our properties,” says Tina Nielsen, Special Projects Manager of Boulder County Mountain Parks and Open Space. “We do not allow anything but passive recreation. And our definition of passive recreation does not include any motorized vehicles of any sort, except for people with mobility disabilities.”
Electric-assist bikes have a motor and are currently not allowed on county trails. But that decision could change, at least for some routes.
“We have trails on our properties that are fairly flat and tend to be wider and have a crusherfine surface,” says Nielsen. Those trails may lend themselves more easily to E-bike use. But E-bike enthusiasts who want to ride more natural surface, technical trails like the ones at Betasso, Heil Valley Ranch, and Walker Ranch may face more obstacles. It all boils down to public perception and desire plus considered impact E-bikes have on the trails.
There are three classifications of electric-assist bikes that could be the key to where E-bikes are allowed. Class 1 bikes have what’s called “pedal assist”; you must be pedaling to engage the motor, which assists the rider up to 20 miles per hour. Class 2 E-bikes have a throttle that allows the bike to accelerate without needing to pedal. The top speed for an assist in Class 2 E-bikes is also 20 miles per hour. Class 3 E-bikes are like Class 1 in that they require riders to pedal in order to engage the motor. Unlike Class 1, Class 3 E-bikes top out at 28 miles per hour.
Nielsen says the likelihood of allowing class 3 E-bikes on mountain trails isn’t very high. But Class 1 E-bikes could get there, down the road.
“Jefferson County is way ahead of other counties and open space in doing research and developing policy on this,” explains Nielsen. “What they’ve found in Jefferson County is that people think they have an objection to an E-bike philosophically, but they may not even recognize one when it passes them.”
According to Jefferson County’s data, of the 375 people surveyed, 65% could not detect the presence of a Class 1 E-bike. Additionally, their surveys show that before trying an E-bike, only 32% of people said they approved of the bikes on county trails. After demoing the bikes, that number increased to 70% approval.
Boulder County Mountain Parks and Open Space will take Jefferson County’s research and add it to their own, which they hope to collect through a series of open houses held February 6th, 10th, and 13th. Click here for location and times of each open house.