Vail may allow e-bikes on recreation paths
What are these things?
Colorado law defines an electric assisted bicycle as a device with two or three wheels, operable pedals and an electric motor not exceeding 750 watts. Top speed is limited to 20 mph.
Electric assisted bicycles remain a small part of the overall U.S. bicycle market, but electricbikereport.com estimates that roughly 193,000 of the bikes were imported in 2014.
VAIL — Hills tend to get steeper as people get older. For those people — or sea-level residents vacationing at 8,000 feet elevation — bicycles with electric motors can be provide a more-convenient way to get around on two wheels.
But where someone can use an electric assisted bicycle can be confusing — something Vail officials are trying to straighten out. In the next few weeks, the Vail Town Council is likely to pass an ordinance creating a trial period to see if electric bikes can get along with pedestrians and other cyclists on the town’s paved recreation paths.
Council members spent some time on Tuesday afternoon talking about the subject, and ultimately asked town staff to draw up the needed regulations for a one-season trial.
The town regulation is needed because it’s technically illegal to use those bikes on recreation paths, since the Colorado Department of Transportation now limits the use of electric bikes to public roads only, unless a town or county approves specific rules.
Beyond the state regulations, the area has a patchwork of rules regarding use of the cycles.
Gregg Barrie, the town’s planner in charge of trails, told council members that Eagle County currently bans electric bikes on its paved trails. In Summit County, the town of Breckenridge allows the bikes on its paved trails, but they’re prohibited on county paved paths outside of town. Aspen and Pitkin County currently don’t allow electric bikes on paved trails there, but Barrie said officials there are looking at a trial period.
Paul Mutch rents electric bikes in both Breckenridge and Vail. He told the council his business has about 12 of the cycles in Vail and another 18 in Breckenridge. In all, there are perhaps 30 rental units available in town, Barrie said.
“We’re rented out all the time — there’s significant demand,” Mutch said. “If you come here from Texas, you can get about 80 feet (before being out of breath). It’s a huge enabler to get to the environment.”
Council members were generally supportive of allowing the bikes on town paths.
Council member Greg Moffet said he’s owned an electric assisted bicycle for about six years, saying he uses it often to get from the valley floor to his home.
“I don’t engage (the motor) until I have to,” Moffet said.
Council member Kim Langmaid lives in Vail and works in Avon. She said she’s been thinking about buying an electric bike. An assisted bike could help her keep her car off the road, and could help her arrive at work less sweaty than a normal ride would.
“If I’m looking into it, probably a lot of other people are,” she said.
But council members noted potential problems, too.
Barrie said that Boulder allows the electric bikes on its paved paths, with the exception of paths through open space areas. Boulder has restricted the power of the motors, and topped the speed at 15 mph, but there are still some problems with speeding cyclists.
Council member Dick Cleveland said he’d prefer to keep the bikes off the town paths to help keep kids and families more safe. But, he acknowledged, there’s almost no way to enforce restrictions unless an accident occurs.
East Vail resident Alan Braunholtz has had an electric bike for about four years. In a phone interview, Braunholtz said he regularly uses his cycle to commute to Edwards and back. Braunholtz said that the electric cycles can actually be safer on recreation paths, since it’s easier to slow down, then pick up speed again.
“It’s easier to be considerate,” Braunholtz said.
At the Tuesday meeting, longtime valley resident Michael Cacioppo noted there are a lot of “old guys like me with knee injuries … this could be helpful.”
Braunholtz confirmed that view. He said that his family originally bought a couple of electric assist bikes to make cycling easier for visiting parents who are in their 70s and 80s. But, he said, after having the cycles for a while, he uses one fairly regularly, adding that he supports the idea of a trial period.
“I think it’s short-sighted to ban them unless they start causing problems,” Braunholtz said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.