The Park City Council took on a range of e-bike use issues this week, voting against a proposed year-long pilot program that would have allowed e-bikes to be used on trails in Round Valley and voting to approve the inclusion of seniors over 65 into the current ordinance that permits riders with mobility issues to use e-bikes on all Park City trails. The Council’s ruling come on the heels of passionate pleas from the public both for and against the use of e-bikes. Though settled for the moment, the issue of e-bike use on trails is far from decided, and the final ruling will likely come from outside local boundaries.
E-bikes are not true motor bikes. They lack a throttle and instead use battery-powered pedal assist motors to help riders with additional power, particularly when going uphill. They are common and well-accepted commuter tools—Park City is home to the country’s first all e-bike ride share program—but their use on non-motorized off-road trails has been the subject of much debate.
Many vociferously opposed the pilot program to allow e-bikes on Round Valley trails, and those opinions won out. The biggest complications from e-bike use come on the kind of multi-use, bi-directional trails like the ones in Round Valley. Balancing a population of bikers, hikers and dog walkers on the same trails already leads to a non-negligible number trail conflict and right-of-way arguments, which would likely worsen with the added traffic and faster uphill travel. Adding riders over 65 to the current ordinance that already included people with mobility issues should be less controversial, as use focused on access rather than convenience is more commonly accepted.
Even so, the larger issue is far from settled. The Trump Administration recently signed into law a rule allowing e-bikes on every federally-managed trail where regular bikes are already permitted, which includes some paths in National Parks and federally-managed back country areas. The stated goal of the move was to provide more options to people for whom physical fitness, age and disability were impediments to biking in addition to added convenience for all users. They failed to mention the modern Republican propensity to deregulate everything under the sun, which can’t be ignored.
State legislators in Utah have signaled they plan to do the same in the Beehive State, and Park City will serve as a focal point of debate thanks to its status as a center of mountain-bike related tourism in the region. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman expressed his desire to oppose such legislation—which would essentially deregulate all e-bikes and render them no different under the law from traditional bicycles—while acknowledging local governance would likely be powerless to stop it.
Though a coalition of outdoor groups oppose the move to deregulate e-bikes nationally, many—including locals to Park City—would support the change. Local bicycle retailers make a substantial amount of their revenue from e-bike rentals and sales, so changing the rules would be a boon to their business. Many visitors who lack bike experience and fitness would also appreciate the expanded terrain at their disposal. For all the hand wringing and good-faith debate, the fate of e-bikes on our trails will ultimately be decided by the powers that be in the Utah State House. It will be more essential than ever for trail users of all types to do their best to spread education on etiquette and to focus on being better neighbors on the trails.
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