Electric-assist bikes gaining traction around Vail Valley
VAIL — Whether it’s to save on gas, save the planet or just to have fun on two wheels again, electric-assist bicycles are growing in popularity.
“A lot of people are coming in asking about them,” said Jim Popeck, owner of Mountain Pedaler in Minturn and Eagle. “It’s a bike for everybody. They’re becoming more and more popular.”
Electric-assist bikes aren’t meant to travel faster, although that is a side effect, but they are meant to make travel easier.
“It’s enabling people to get back out on bikes,” said Paul Mutch, co-owner of Pedego Vail, an electric-bike shop. “The bikes make you feel like a kid again, and that’s what it’s all about. They’re not designed for speed records.”
The state of Colorado defines an electric bike as a bicycle with a motor output of no more than 750 watts and has pedals that propel the bike by human power, according to Ken Brubaker, of Colorado Department of Transportation. Electric bikes may not exceed 20 mph.
Electric bikes are illegal on roads and paths managed by Colorado Department of Transportation, but towns are allowed to make their own rules on roads and paths they manage.
The Town of Vail is testing electric-assist bikes, not ones with throttles, on designated bike and pedestrian paths in town and will vote on an ordinance at its July 5 meeting.
While some electric bikes have throttles and don’t require pedaling, electric-assist bikes do not have a throttle and must be pedal powered, with an assist up to 20 mph making it easier to pedal.
“I think it’s going to come to a point where those bikes won’t be allowed on the recreational paths, and probably not the trails, too,” Popeck said of electric bikes with throttles.
Mutch shared excitement about the test period the town of Vail conducted.
“I think what it does is it allows riders to demonstrate that electric bikes belong on paths and they’re just like any other bicycle.”
The Vail Pass bike path and frontage roads are not managed by the town and would continue to not allow electric bikes by CDOT laws.
COMING TO A SHOP NEAR YOU
Bike shops across the valley are slowly dipping their tires in the electric-bike industry.
Bryan Olson, manager at Moontime Cyclery in Edwards, said his shop is researching them and considering bringing some into his shop.
“I’m finding some stuff that’s pretty cool out there,” Olson said.
Paul Previtali, owner of High Gear Cyclery in Avon, said he doesn’t carry any electric bikes but that he has made orders by request for his customers.
Some shops, including Mountain Pedaler and Pedego Vail, carry electric-assist bikes for rent and purchase, with prices starting between $2,500-$3,000.
“The electric bike industry is far more developed in many other countries than here,” Mutch said. “There’s more of a cycling culture, meaning cycling for commuting and transportation.”
IS IT ‘CHEATING’?
Electric-assist bikes are propelling bicyclists farther, faster and for longer.
“It makes hills disappear and winds irrelevant,” Mutch said.
Electric-assist bikes do not do the pedaling for you.
“You have to pedal,” said Bryan Wachs, a lifetime “bike nut.” “The harder you pedal, the more it works. I just sprinted up the hill.”
Before hopping on the Bosch electric-assist bike outside of Mountain Pedaler in Minturn, Wachs was proclaiming, “It’s for cheaters.” After he came down the hill, he said, “I would like to become a cheater.”
Wachs recently moved from the Vail Valley to Grand Junction, and he tries to ride his bike at least three days a week.
Vail Town council member Greg Moffet occasionally rides his electric-assist bike into town.
“It will enable a lot of our guests to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do,” Moffet said. “The risk we run with that is it will further congest already congested infrastructure, and that’s why we’re running on a test basis.”
Safety and congestion are among the concerns, but a little help goes a long way in the Vail Valley.
“If you’re looking for a way to bike around here, in a mountain environment, this is going to make your entry into that environment easier,” Wachs said.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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