Summit County ponders the place of electric bikes
Towns grapple with allowing electric-assisted bikes on rec paths
December 20, 2010
Breckenridge — Step aside, strollers, traditional bikes and Rollerblades. There's a new recreational vehicle in town.
Electric-assisted bicycles — bikes equipped with small chargeable engines that kick in to assist riders as they pedal — are a rising trend with bicyclists and, in Summit County, with tourists. They're also presenting a bit of a dilemma for local governments trying to decide whether to allow the new contraptions on local recreation paths.
The electric bikes are prohibited on rec paths, along with other motorized vehicles, but are legal on the street.
Last summer, several retailers in the county began offering the electric bikes for rent. The bicycles' engines give riders a little extra steam as they pedal but are governed to shut off if the vehicle is moving faster than 20 miles per hour. Champions of the bikes said they're just as safe, if a little heavier, than traditional bicycles.
"I see no reason for them not to be allowed," said Lone Star Sports owner Greg Abernathy, who rents the bikes. "I think that some (bicyclists) think they're an intrusion, but those people should be riding on the road and not on the bike path."
The electric bikes are fairly quiet and clean, with no emissions, Abernathy said.
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But the county commissioners and local town governments aren't so easily sold. At a recent joint meeting between the town of Breckenridge and the Summit Board of County Commissioners, officials expressed concerns that allowing the bikes might over-crowd local rec paths, put other path users at risk and become a precedent for other motorized vehicles to gain license to use the trails.
"I'm very concerned about the slippery-slope aspect of condoning this type of bike," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. "Once you allow one type of motor, (they) get to be bigger and bigger. Where do you draw the line?"
Stiegelmeier said she's also worried about the impact of the electric bikes on backcountry trails.
But Breckenridge Town Council members were more open to the new technology, saying it might encourage new riders to get out on the bike paths, be an attraction for tourists and help the local older population continue to enjoy the recrpaths.
The electric engines can make up-hill climbs a little easier for riders with physical impairments and visitors unused to biking at high altitude.
"I think it would encourage people to get out and use the system," Town Councilmember Peter Joyce said.
There was also a question among officials about how to regulate or enforce the use of electric bikes on the recreation paths. Neither the county nor the town seemed to want to put the money or the man power into monitoring the rec paths for electric bikes.
Both town council members and the county commissioners agreed there needs to be a uniform policy for the entire county.
Stiegelmeier said the county will likely continue to discuss whether to allow the bikes on rec paths with town governments over the next few months and hopes to have a final decision in time for the summer season.
Abernathy rents the electric bikes for $55 per day. They can cost over $2,000 retail.
Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon town councils have yet to address the issues of electric bikes on the rec paths.