The rule at Standing Boy, per our agreement with State Parks, is that motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trails. E-bikes have motors and are thus not allowed on the trails. E-bikes are not “motorcycles,” but they are also not bikes. E-bikes are e-bikes.
However, we have reached an agreement with State Parks to allow e-bikes on a trial basis. This is not a change in the underlying rule, but rather an experiment to see if we can allow e-bikes without it being detrimental to the trails and overall user experience.
State Parks has had bad experiences with e-bikes and was somewhat reluctant to let us allow e-bikes on a trial basis. Thus, this temporary allowance of e-bike will be revoked quickly if e-bikes become problematic.
One of the main problems with e-bikes son natural-surface trails is the classes of e-bikes and the resulting types of e-bikes currently on the market in the US. The classes were developed primarily for paved paths, where average speeds are much higher, and considerations involve not only recreation but also general transportation. These classes do not translate well to natural-surface trails.
Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are universally agreed to be inappropriate for natural-surface trails like Standing Boy, and CLASS 2 AND 3 E-BIKES ARE ABSOLUTELY PROHIBITED AT STANDING BOY.
This leaves Class 1 e-bikes. In the US, Class 1 e-bikes can have pedal assist up to 20mph and provide up to 750 watts of additional power (which translates into a lot of additional torque). Currently, almost all class 1 e-bikes on the market provide the maximum allowable speed and power.
For multi-use trail systems on rolling terrain like Standing Boy, this is way too fast and way too much power. An average rider produces normalized power of about 150-200 watts and on flat sections of trail averages speeds way below 20mph. In Europe, class 1 e-bikes are limited to 15mph and 250 watts, which is much more appropriate.
This article does an excellent job of summarizing the foregoing points. To provide context and transparency, PeopleforBikes is basically an industry-funded lobbying group.
To be clear, the concern over e-bikes is purely a matter of trail management and is solely focused on preserving our trails and avoiding user conflict, and thereby ensuring our trails remain in good shape and open to bikes for years to come. We have absolutely no interest in trying to dictate your riding experience.
As a general matter, it’s fantasy that trails and trail management will not be substantially affected by the introduction of 45 to 50 lbs machines with 750 watts of additional power up to 20mph. Take, for example, the BYU study that found riders on bikes and maximum-powered, class 1 e-bikes exerted the same level of effort. What is often not noted is that when on e-bikes, the riders went 50% faster over a 5.5 mile loop with 700 feet of elevation change.
They weren’t going any faster on the downs. All of that difference is from the flats and ups. Really think about that in terms of the impact on our trails and other users on a multi-use trail system, much of which is eventually going to allow for bi-directional bike traffic.
That said, e-bikes are absolutely going to create positives as well as negatives. We are just going to need to monitor and manage the negatives very carefully until things get to a stable, time-tested place on a national level. To allow us to continue to allow e-bikes on a trial basis, please do the following:
- If you do not need an e-bike in order to ride the trails (e.g., no disability; not pushing or over, say, 60 years old), then
- View an e-bike as a way to ride 50% longer and not 50% faster,
- Recognize the bike you might use to self-shuttle gravity trails in Tennessee or North Carolina (e.g., Kanuga) is not an appropriate or fun e-bike for Standing Boy, and
- Wait. Bikes like the Specialized Levo SL, Trek E-Caliber, and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Orbea Rise approximate the European standards and are much more appropriate for Standing Boy. It is almost certainly the case that many more such e-bikes are on the way. I (Blake) am curious about one of these personally, and I’m thinking 2-3 years until something I might want is on the market (and actually available( at a price I’d be willing to pay.
2. If you own one of the 50lbs, maximum-powered class 1 e-bikes, please use all that power and speed judiciously. Stay out of turbo mode. Maintain reasonable speeds on the flats and ups, brake early and gradually for corners (i.e., don’t lock up the wheels and skid), etc.
3. In a very friendly way, let the people you see out there on e-bikes know about this trial period and encourage them to be careful with their speed and generally responsible so we can continue to enjoy the trails.
In short, please don’t screw this up for people who truly need an e-bike in order to enjoy our trails.