Commissioners grapple with vexing questions related to new breed of electric-assisted bikes; changes to regs would require buy-in from U.S. Forest Service
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The county commissioners continued to juggle a potentially hot political potato this week, as they tried to decide how to deal with the issue of electric-assisted bicycles on the local recpath system.
According to a memo from the open space and trails department, local bike merchants and others have asked the county to amend existing recpath regulations to allow the use of E-bikes.
Spelling out the issues, the memo explains that the majority of the 55-mile path system is on U.S. Forest Service land, where special use permits specifically designate the paths for non-motorized use. With the exception of the county commons, the rest of the paths cross private lands on individually negotiated easements. Any move to approve the use of E-bikes would involve re-writing those agreements and permits.
As motorized vehicles, the E-bikes are specifically prohibited on the paths, but they are, in fact, already in use in Summit County. For now, the county commissioners are still grappling with the question of whether or not they should be allowed, and if not, how to effectively enforce the ban. Here’s an overview of E-bike laws. Visit Electricbikes.com for some information on the many types of vehicles on the market.
The issue first came up several months ago, when the county asked Breckenridge to “continue and advertise” its existing ban on E-bikes for the sake of countywide consistency. During a subsequent discussion between the town council and the county commissioners, county manager Gary Martinez said his personal view is that the emergence of E-bikes is already a “done deal.”
“We’re going to get over-run by this,” he said during the December meeting.
At issue are bicycles with electric motors that come in a variety of configurations, from pedal-assisted models with a top speed of about 20 mph, to much more mechanized versions that are closer to motorbikes. These vehicles have been popular in other countries for years, but are just starting to become popular in the U.S. Sales are soaring and several local shops rented different models last summer.
The commissioners continue to be conflicted about the use of E-bikes.
Commissioner Thomas Davidson said the real problems could start to arise when people start to complain about E-bikes on the recpath. He previously expressed concern about how the E-bikes might affect the overall recreational experience on local pathways that can already be congested on busy summer weekends.
“The biggest heartburn I have is, the shops in Breck and Frisco that would like to rent them to tourists … I would like to see it happen so they could offer that,” commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said, advocating for collaboration with the industry to set standards and labeling practices for lower-powered models that could potentially be approved for use on the recpaths.
But she also acknowledged that approval for one class of E-bikes could be the start of a slippery slope. The question then becomes where to draw the line, especially given the wide variety of makes and models available.
The commissioners directed open space planners to contact the Forest Service to at least start some preliminary talks on what it might take to modify the special use permits.
The issue will come up again at the June 2 meeting of mayors and town and county managers.
Filed under: Breckenridge, Colorado, recreation, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | bicycling, Breckenridge Colorado, Breckenridge news, Colorado bicycling laws, Colorado news, E-bike bans, electric-assisted bikes, Summit County Colorado, Summit County government, Summit County News, Summit County open space and trails, Summit County recpaths