Viewpoint: Be cautious of e-bike revolution
I’m a believer in non-motorized, shared-use trails, peacefully and collectively enjoyed by hikers, trail runners, dog walkers, mountain bikers and equestrians, especially in and near urban areas. We don’t have enough trails to divide them up into hiker-only trails, mountain bike-only trails, etc.
I live in the shadow of Mount Helena City Park, an ideal example of how hundreds of people can enjoy a non-motorized trail system every day with minimal conflict. But now I’m worried that all this placid co-existence might be threatened by a fairly new creation commonly referred to as the e-bike, which is really an electric motorized vehicle. E-motorcycle would be a more appropriate name.
Fortunately, e-bikes were banned on Mount Helena when, after much controversy, the city council agreed they were indeed motorized vehicles. There are, however, many shared-use trails and bike paths throughout Montana with no such protection. And in just a few years, e-bike use has become alarmingly widespread.
Even on the famed Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, during the April-May-June “hiker-biker only days” before the snowplows open Logan Pass, e-bikes have taken over the ultra-popular non-motorized spring event. Why the National Park Service ignored its own policy to allow only non-motorized use on the road during the spring, I will never understand.
And it was so unnecessary! I’ve ridden my real bicycle up Logan Pass many times during the non-motorized spring days. In the past, on any nice spring weekend, hundreds of bicyclists enjoyed the road and until just recently, all rode real bicycles.
And we’re not talking about the uber-fit. Lots of small children on 20-inch wheels. Lots of parents hauling toddlers around with bike trailers. All on real bikes. Will we ever get back to the original non-motorized purpose of the spring pre-opening of Logan Pass?
I have no issue with e-bikes used by people who truly need them because they can’t ride a real bicycle for various valid physical reasons. Nor do I have any problem with anybody using an e-bike to commute to work or drive it anywhere else on city streets. Regrettably, though, many young people capable of riding real bicycles buy e-bikes and drive them on non-motorized trails and bike paths.
The issue I have is simple. E-bikes, aka e-motorcycles, are motorized vehicles and should be driven on roads with other motorized vehicles, not on non-motorized trails.
There’s a good reason that manufacturers put thirty gears on modern bicycles. They do it so almost any bicyclist can ride up almost any hill without extreme effort. I’ve been breathing for 76 years, and I live in a town with lots of hilly streets, but I still ride around town on a real bicycle.
A primary reason we ride bicycles is to get healthful exercise, right? So, what’s the point of using an e-bike to avoid any sweating or deep breathing?
There are three classes of e-bikes, and the definition for all classes starts out “A bicycle with a motor….” This means, of course, that all classes are self-described as motorized vehicles.
The only real difference between the classes is how fast an e-bike driver can go using the motor. After a certain speed i.e. 20 or 28 mph, the motor stops “assisting” its driver. But this function can be bypassed to allow faster speeds.
And where does it end? Where do we draw the line?
Cruising around the internet recently looking at e-bike websites, I stumbled across an article on ebicycles.com about the fastest e-bikes on the market. Here’s a snippet: “The HPC Revolution XX is the type of e-bike you look at and immediately begin to wonder if e-bikes are getting slightly out of hand.
The Revolution XX is the world's fastest e-bike, with a top speed of 74 miles per hour (tested on a dry lakebed), thanks to an output of 10,000 watts, or 13.4 horsepower. The crazy part is that you can even pedal along at that speed—yikes!”
Can you say “wake up call”? That paragraph speaks volumes about the future. Government regulators and bicycling organizations need to put the brakes on this “revolution” before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.
Bill Schneider is a retired publisher and outdoor writer living in Helena. He has been active in bicycling organizations and rides his bicycles hundreds of miles every year.