E-bike debate heats up at Impact Sun Valley event

How do you define these machines and how do you enforce new rules?

E-bike News
E-bike debate heats up at Impact Sun Valley event

When is a bike not a bike? And when it comes to trail use, does it matter? Photo courtesy Impact Sun Valley

Is a bicycle that adds power when a rider is pedaling, also a motor vehicle? The simple answer is, yes. The U.S. Forest Service has taken the straight-forward position that trails on public lands open to motorcycles are also open to mountain bikes with electric motors. But the rapidly evolving machines are not to be employed on trails reserved for people riding non-motorized mountain bikes and horses or hiking – forest paths where all motorized conveyance is essentially banned.

The ethics of trail access for power-assisted bicycles and appraisal of the hot-button technology as the latest trend in a multi-billion-dollar industry were central to last week’s Crank Tank press camp in Sun Valley, Idaho, where bicycle journalists met up with some of the top bicycle and gear purveyors rolling out their latest wares.

The meetup at the historic destination ski resort community of five towns where mountain-bikers in the vicinity enjoy hundreds of miles of trail access, most also ridden by motorcyclists, was a first for Crank Tank, a new Ketchum marketing concern with deep roots in the industry.

E-bike debate heats up at Impact Sun Valley event

Orbea was one of numerous brands showing off its wares at the Impact Sun Valley Event. Photo courtesy Impact Sun Valley

The local Blaine County Recreation District maintains an up to the minute trail guide that indicates various closures and what vehicles are allowed where on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands that make up the majority of the county and neighboring areas for riding, including the mesmerizingly scenic Sawtooth Valley to the north and nearly year-round high desert riding to the south.

The three-day event culminated in a People for Bikes Draft meet-up where the subject of e-bikes on trails was the key point of discussion. The event hosted at Ketchum’s brand new Aspen, Colorado-backed Limelight Hotel is replete with an indoor/outdoor lobby and patio, bar, and wood-fired pizza hangout making it one of the towns latest community gathering points.

Rebecca Rusch of mountain bike and adventure racing fame was one of the speakers. She was in town to kick off her first gravel-riding camp. Rusch, like many in the room said they felt it was a time to help trail policy catch up with technology. She said her fall Sun Valley gravel event, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, which utilizes roads and trails open to motorized vehicles, wouldn’t be open to e-bikes, at least for now.

E-bike debate heats up at Impact Sun Valley event

No shortage of cycling options in the Sun Valley area. Photo courtesy Impact Sun Valley

Also, veteran BLM manager, John Kurtz with the Shoshone, Idaho, field office said an upcoming travel plan could include some 100-miles of trail with a new designation that allows class 1 e-bikes, those with pedal assist motors that go up to 20mph.

Outstanding challenges include how to define machines that are changing quickly and how to enforce new rules for all travelers. To date in the Sun Valley area, rules are followed essentially on an honor system. For the 4 million BLM acres in the area there is only one law-enforcement officer.

Longtime bicycle journalist Zapata Espinoza, editorial director for Electric Bike Action Magazine, said, although he prefers to ride with simplicity, no computers or accessories on board, he is in favor of the way e-bikes will help people expand their lives outside the city because of the access they can provide for people looking to get out in nature.

E-bike debate heats up at Impact Sun Valley event

E-bikes loaded up and ready to ride at Impact Sun Valley. Photo courtesy Impact Sun Valley

Many reiterated a common trait of Sun Valley that there is little contention on the trails because different user groups have learned to carve out a peaceful coexistence. Part of that is the low population. But a more important aspect is a heritage of communication and problem solving, a long-standing effort to form policies that jive with what’s happening on the ground.

Motorcyclists carrying chainsaws have long helped to keep trails intact by clearing deadfall on far-flung trails around Sun Valley. It was a point also reiterated by Draft meet-up speaker Michael Kelley, an IMBA founder with a great deal of experience monitoring policy developments, especially at the local level, on roads and trails in California. He sees e-bikes as an inclusive machine that democratizes exercise and makes for a more dynamic social experience.

One question that was asked is whether, as e-bike technology improves, won’t lighter bikes with longer battery life help riders have less impact on the environment and allow people to slip through terrain with the least possible distress for wildlife? It’s an interesting question with no easy answers — just as is the case for the ongoing e-bike debate.

To learn more about the Impact Sun Valley event, head to cranktank.net.

About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.

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  • Matthew says:

    So, lots of questions raised but no answers given.

  • mike says:

    trails that don’t allow motorcycles probably shouldn’t allow cycles with motors.

  • Mr.TP says:

    I loathe e-mountain bikes. If you can’t ride far on a bike, stay on flat trails or bike paths. And if a guy on an electric mountain bike rings his bell at me to move aside on a climb again, I’m gonna lose it. Go get a Segway and be done with it already!

  • delquattro says:

    I’m wondering how many of the Luddites opposed to e-bikes have used a chairlift to haul their bikes uphill.

  • Scotch Hennessy says:

    Mr. TP…listen for me….I’ll be passing on your right! LOL!

  • Why no motorcycles on all trails like Sun Valley? Noise probably scares horses and the experience of hikers. Electric motorcycles are coming with no noise. Much more aggressive than ebikes. Should they be everywhere?

  • John Smith says:

    My e-bike has a bigger motor than your e-bike and I will blow your doors off going uphill even with at my weight of 300 lbs.

  • MBR says:

    “…won’t lighter bikes with longer battery life help riders have less impact on the environment and allow people to slip through terrain with the least possible distress for wildlife?”
    Or they go deeper into the environment, causing more impact and wildlife stress…

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