The great e-bike controversy: Where you can, and can’t, ride e-bikes in Grand County isn’t always clear
So what exactly is an e-bike?
An e-bike is a bicycle that can run on electric power, as well as pedaling.
Colorado has three classifications for e-bikes.
Class I: bikes with pedal assist and that provide electrical assistance up to 20 mph
Class II: bikes that provide electrical power when the rider is pedaling or not and stops giving power when the e-bike reaches the speed of 20 mph
Class III: bikes that provide electrical power up to 28 mph
Class I and II can be ridden on pedestrian, bike and multi-use paths. Class III can only be ridden on public roads.
With thousands of miles of trails in the county, there seems to be a path for everyone, including hikers, bikers, horseback riders and ATV users, unless those trail users are riding e-bikes.
Federal, state and local laws differ on how e-bikes are classified and, therefore, where they are allowed, which has led to some confusion regarding their use on trails.
Right now, Colorado separates e-bikes into classes based on the amount of electrical assistance they provide to the rider. Class I and II e-bikes are allowed on bike, pedestrian or multi-use paths on state land.
Gerry Vernon, director of capital projects and parks for the town of Winter Park, said he is currently drafting a proposal to bring the town more in line with the state and clarify where e-bike riders can travel.
If a new policy is approved, it would allow Class I e-bikes on non-motorized paved or improved surface trails, such as the Fraser River Trail. All of the trails in the town of Winter Park are non-motorized.
“My original thought was just to open up all the trails in Winter Park to e-bikes (…), but what that does is it provides some issues with federal government regulations,” Vernon said. “A more middle of the road approach is going to be the asphalt, paved and improved surface trails.”
At the federal level, the Forest Service classifies e-bikes as motorized vehicles and they are not allowed on non-motorized trails on Forest Service land.
Jon Morrissey, a Sulphur District ranger for the Forest Service, said most wilderness trails are not e-bike accessible, but that there are about 78 miles of motorized trails on Forest Service land.
Because many of Grand County’s trails weave through national forests, town property and private property, it can be difficult for trail users to discern where e-bikes are allowed along a single path.
Vernon said with the update to Winter Park’s policy, the town will likely place signage along trails to help users.
It is important to clarify the policy particularly for visitors, Vernon said. E-bikes, as another outdoor recreation option, have attracted more tourists to the county.
Uncertainty remains on where e-bike users can ride elsewhere around the county, too.
Snow Mountain Ranch allows guests to ride Class I e-bikes on their trails and, while e-bikes are not allowed at Winter Park Resort’s Trestle bike park, the resort does offer a mountain e-bike tour.
Meara McQuain, executive director of the Headwaters Trails Alliance, said e-bikes improve the accessibility of trails for older users, differently-abled users and tourists, who just aren’t used to the area’s elevation.
“They are at a significant disadvantage, recreationally speaking, in trying to deal with the altitude, so we see that e-bikes help bridge that gap, where the altitude can be challenging and really limit somebody’s ability to have fun and be able to explore Grand County and its trail system,” she said. “We support e-bike use for that, so that all family members, all ages can go out and recreate together.”
Though McQuain has heard some concerns about safety, she said e-bikes are really just like any other mode of trail transportation.
“It’s like any kind of recreational modality, as long as you’re recreating responsibly and respectfully, it shouldn’t be a problem,” McQuain said.
McQuain acknowledged that, so far, there is no evidence to show that e-bikes damage trails any more than regular bicycle use.
As e-bike technology improves and it gets hard to distinguish them from bicycles, McQuain and Vernon agree that it’s best to have a policy in place that addresses their use.
“(E-bike riders) are using (the trails), they’re doing it anyway,” Vernon said. “I think they are here and they’re only going to be continued to use more.”
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Lately, when Winter Park resident Gene Palumbo and his wife head to Winter Park Resort, they park in one of the lots and walk to the base.