A Blasphemous Proposal
Jun 29, 2019 at 10:04 pm #3599932Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I’m well into geezerhood and my backpacking years are numbered in teh single digits.
But lo and behold technology comes to my rescue in the form of electric mountain bikes.
OK, OK, I can hear the retching and moaning from here but hear me out. E-bikes are quiet and pollute only when charged – unless I can hook my rooftop solar panels to its charger. You still need UL backpacking gear in case yer e-bike crapped out miles from the trailhead. And light gear also extends the battery range.
Take pity on the more “infirm” of us, elders of the tribe. We still want to get out on the trails and do it quietly.
SO… should e-bikes be allowed wherever mountain bikes are permitted? Yes they are “motorized vehicles” but without the noise and pollution of infernal combustion engines. Should exceptions be made for seniors (over 65) for using e-bikes? Or the handicapped?
Be gentle and compassionate in your responses.Jun 30, 2019 at 2:08 am #3599961
Your question as I am sure you know has little to do with backpacking per se. I am not privy to any land management agency’s discussion of this issue today, But I imagine it is akin to the discussion 14 or 20 years ago about allowing MTBs on trails. Here is the San Francisco Bay Area including Marin County which claims to be the home of MTB the land management issues in my recollection revolved around impact and access. To take the first issue, impact. One person on a mountain bike can travel further in less time than a hiker or even a equestrian. In winter, when the trails are muddy the mountain bike traveler (and these days they are often in groups) can have a greater adverse impact on the trail than a pedestrian. But many of the land management agencies also have a mission to promote access. So the outcome was to allow MTB access to certain trails, some on a seasonal basis.
Now if we apply the same criterion to electric motor assist bikes, the impact by any one user will be substantial because the user can travel further with less effort not to mention that the bike is heavier. The allowance of the use of the electric assist motor MTB could in in theory allow greater access by the senior cyclists. But on the contrary side, you could argue that the senior should just be fit enough to ride a real MTB.
I would expect the greatest opposition to electric assist MTB on MTB trails to come from the MTB community itself.
Having rented electric-assist motor MTBs in Europe, my concern would be the skill of the riders vs the safety of other trail users when the electric assist rider is coming down hill because the electric bike can travel at a greater speed with less work by the ride and is twice or three times the weight.
To conclude, in my self admittedly non expert opinion, the electric assist bike on MTB trails takes more skill to ride safely downhill on single track. But the very fact of the electric assist enables less skilled riders to venture out on the trail.Jun 30, 2019 at 2:31 am #3599965Ken ThompsonBPL Member
@hereLocale: Right there
Is there anywhere where bikes are allowed now that electric bikes are not? They are limited in speed in the USA.Jun 30, 2019 at 4:43 am #3599975Craig BBPL Member
I don’t think I’d have a problem with it. The more people that go do outdoor activities the better. If electric MTBs help that, then why not. Hopefully the regulations would still limit use to protect the trails, like when they’re muddy. I personally have no interest in going anywhere you could bikepack, but more power to those who do.Jun 30, 2019 at 6:10 am #3599980Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Thanks for the opinions gents. Yeah, I realize this IS Backpacking Light and thus the word “Blasphemous” in my title.
Just threw this out to see if I’m totally bonkers in thinking about this. AND I won’t bring this up again on this site out of respect for what we do. If I need info I’ll find an e-bike site and harass them.Jun 30, 2019 at 8:15 am #3599992Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Hardened flat 4WD (forestry?) roads – maybe.
On mountain trails? NO WAY. For a brief period here in Oz MTBs were permitted on some iconic foot-tracks in the mountains, but no more. The riders could not control their bikes on the steep downhills, with two results: screams at the walkers to get out of the way, and bad erosion on the tracks from the skidding tires.
CheersJun 30, 2019 at 1:18 pm #3600002Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
the question is should e bikes be allowed where mountain bikes are. I don’t see a problem.
e bikes are about the same noisiness and speed and they’re both machines, thus not allowed in Wilderness
gasoline powered bikes are a different story because they’re so noisy
I don’t know that an e bike would be better than backpacking for an old decrepit person. It requires more balance and falls would be more of a risk. I’m just a few years behind you and wonder the same thing. Maybe driving in a car and camping, day hiking would be good. I already do that some – drive somewhere, car camp for a day, then backpack for a few days. Lots of great car camping places.Jun 30, 2019 at 4:49 pm #3600028Steve MBPL Member
@steve-2Locale: Eastern Washington
I’m with Roger on this one. Forest service roads and abandoned roads: yes.
Too much damage exists already on many single track/”multi-use” trails as it is…..adding more power/range will only compound this problem.Jun 30, 2019 at 7:02 pm #3600047
Broadly, I’m okay with eBikes where MTBs are currently allowed. I believe that is case in many urban areas (bike lanes, dedicated bike paths) where a motorcycle is not allowed but a speed-limited eBike is.
It would extend the reach of current MTBers by giving them a big assist on the uphills and therefore, they could go out further in a day. It would greatly extend the reach of (sure, our decrepit elders but I’m more concerned with) less-fit and less-experienced people. It’s easy to imagine someone buying, borrowing or renting an eBike and getting in over their head: a rougher trail than they can handle, using more than half the battery on their way out, or doing a lot of down and not having enough umph (muscles or lithium) to get back up. So they call 911 but instead of having hiked 4 miles out, they are 24 miles out.
My oldest friend (the friend I’ve known the longest, since we were both 4) married an older guy. He was one of the last people in to US to contract polio before the vaccines came out. After a lifetime of hobbling around with a cane on hikes, he’s now had to resort to an eScooter and stay on trails that can handle that, give or take her wrestling it over an occasional log. Their last post was from a waterfall at the end of a trail in Hawaii. The lighter weight and greater range of modern electric motors and especially lithium batteries have made that much more reasonable.Jun 30, 2019 at 7:05 pm #3600048
Another thought: to the extent you get anyone on to a bike for commuting and shopping, the better. eBikes definitely make urban bicycling more viable (not showing up at work so sweaty, dealing with the uphills, getting there sooner, etc). Allowing eBikes wherever manual bikes are legal encourages their adoption and perhaps gets more people out of their cars.Jun 30, 2019 at 7:18 pm #3600050MJ HBPL Member
I think Pennsylvania is full of too many rocks for any kind of wheeled transport to work on any trail that isn’t specifically for bikes. I’ve seen electric bikes in town and think they’re a great idea for that, but I’m going to stick with the bus.Jun 30, 2019 at 7:43 pm #3600059KatttBPL Member
The question was:
“SO… should e-bikes be allowed wherever mountain bikes are permitted?”
It said nothing about having e-bikes anywhere else, but fuss is to be had here, I guess.
It’s a legitimate, far from blasphemous question and my first reaction is yes, that ought to be fine. I am most likely not thinking of all the issues around this but if mountain bikes are allowed…why not e-bikes as well.Jun 30, 2019 at 8:21 pm #3600068
Realize that while human performance improves only slowly, battery capacity and cost-effectiveness are improving quickly. Point being: while today’s 15-20 mph eBikes seem reasonable on MTB trails, when they can do 30-40-50 mph, maybe they shouldn’t be allowed. Sure, you could have speed limits, but are we going to have eBike cops with radar guns setting up speed traps on remote mountain trails? The approach on bike paths, as I understand it from a California friend with an eBike, is that you can only use an eBike where bicycles are allowed (versus motorcycles) if it has the performance limitations of a meat-driven bicycle and not that of a motorcycle.Jun 30, 2019 at 8:49 pm #3600072KatttBPL Member
^^^ I can see that being an issue for sure. Like I said…I have not thought about all the issues around this.Jun 30, 2019 at 9:11 pm #3600076ArthurBPL Member
This diatribe applies to Mountain Bikes, not road bikes. I collect SS, so I am no youngster and I ride MTBs a lot. The group I ride with are “old” and generally opposed to electric bikes. The big issue is that we work very hard to promote a good relationship with hikers and equestrians. The e-bikes in our area allow for unskilled or “used to be” skilled riders to go very fast and travel in places where their skill level should normally prevent them from riding. They antagonize foot traffic and give all of us a bad reputation. While getting better, the weight of e-bikes is considerably more and stopping distances are longer, making them more risky, especially considering the ability to go faster. In the preserve that I ride frequently, no motorized vehicles are permitted. The e-bikers flaunt the rules and ride all the time, which leads to more antagonism. I think the argument promoting e-bikes would compare to allowing helicopters on the John Muir trail for the people who can no longer hike it. FYI, AZ law allows Class 1 (pedal assist) and Class 2 (low powered, no need to pedal) bikes on trails, but municipalities have the ability to ban them. Class 3 (moped like, for simplicity) are only allowed on roads. I am quite sure e-bikes will be everywhere when challenged by handicap access proponents and because of the HUGE industry lobbying. In 2018, mountain bikes exceeded road bike sales in the US in dollars. E-bikes sales of all types increased 91% from 2017-2018. The average cost of a mountain e-bike in the US is now well north of $3000 with some models in the $10K area. This is not an industry for the poor handicapped crew, it is aimed at the affluent, contrary to the industry PR out there.Jun 30, 2019 at 10:41 pm #3600097Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
This is not an industry for the poor handicapped crew, it is aimed at the affluent,
One is reminded of that photo of Trump riding his golf buggy behind all the other G7 world leaders who were walking.
(But I can’t find the photo, damn it!)
CheersJul 1, 2019 at 9:12 pm #3600247Ben H.BPL Member
@bzhayesLocale: No. Alabama
I suspect these are already permitted in wilderness areas for the handicapped per the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While I appreciate Arthur’s “on the ground” assessment it does seem a bit generalizing and perhaps a bit of someone in an entrenched community arguing against change ala nimby-ism. I don’t think most of the issues are inherent just to e-bikes, but perhaps more exasperated by them (getting less skilled people further out and going faster). When talking about the technological advancement out-pacing peoples ability to police ebikes, I would think you can reasonably limit horsepower which limits speed regardless of the technology.Jul 2, 2019 at 12:31 am #3600278
“The approach on bike paths, as I understand it from a California friend with an eBike, is that you can only use an eBike where bicycles are allowed (versus motorcycles) if it has the performance limitations of a meat-driven bicycle and not that of a motorcycle.”
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Mid Peninsula Open Space District, the largest land management agency in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties specifically prohibits electric bikes.
A large manager of public lands in Marin County, the alleged home of mountain biking, The Marin County Water District also does not allow e-bikes.
I believe some of the state parks with MTB trails such as Henry Coe are allowing e-bikes.Jul 2, 2019 at 3:35 am #3600301
Sorry, I wasn’t clear: those limits, I believe, pertain to public roads and what’s a “bicycle” and what’s a motorcycle. Motorcycles aren’t allowed in bike lanes. Bicycles and mopeds aren’t allowed on freeways, etc.Jul 2, 2019 at 3:39 am #3600302
Yup. there are a few on the roads in the bike lanes.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.