Watts next? Proposal would allow e-bikes on Yampa River Core Trail | SteamboatToday.com

Watts next? Proposal would allow e-bikes on Yampa River Core Trail

John Kole rides an electric bike at his downtown Steamboat Springs store, One Stop Ski Shop, in 2010. The bikes are growing in popularity.

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— A proposal to allow e-bikes on the city's busiest commuter trail appears to be getting some charge.

The city is considering allowing the bicycles, which give riders an assist via an electric motor, on the Yampa River Core Trail as a pilot program this summer.

The city also wants the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission to consider allowing some types of e-bikes on other hard- and soft-surface trails following a broader planning effort.

The proposal for the pilot program on the Core Trail comes after the opening of an electric-bicycle store in town and a request from a person with a disability who wants to be able to use an e-bike on the city's commuter trail.

If the proposal is approved, the city would follow a handful of other municipalities on the Western Slope that have accommodated some types of electric bicycles on their paths and trails.

On Wednesday, city officials will ask the Parks and Recreation Commission for input on the idea.

It will ultimately be up to the City Council to decide whether the rules should be changed.

City staff attorney Jennifer Bock will lead the discussion.

If the proposal moves forward, the city is seeking input about whether to adopt a speed limit for the Core Trail that would apply to all cyclists.

Local officials are also wondering whether e-bikes should be allowed on the entire Core Trail and whether other etiquette rules should be considered.

E-bike riders in Steamboat have already been granted some breathing room in recent months.

In October, Police Chief Cory Christensen said the police force hasn't actively been enforcing the current rules that prohibit the bikes on commuter trails, such as the Core Trail.

"In all honesty, my direction to (river rangers patrolling the Core Trail) was leave this issue alone until there's better policy direction," Christensen said. "We specifically didn't enforce any e-bike issues, because we haven't decided where we're going with that yet."

The Parks and Recreation Commission discussed the idea in July, but the proposal seemed to be tempered by the fact that much of the Core Trail is under conservation easements that prohibit any sort of motorized vehicles.

E-bikes are not specifically called out, as are snowmobiles and motorcycles, however.

Bock addressed the issue in a memo to the commission.

She said if the city is interested in allowing e-bikes on certain trails, it would likely need to obtain a waiver from the grantors of the easements to allow e-bikes on the property.

The city will also likely have to address what kinds of e-bikes will be included in the proposal, as some are more powerful, and faster, than others.

For example, Vail's rules allow e-bikes that are 500 watts or less, and the bikes are not allowed to travel more than 20 miles per hour on recreation trails.

Last year, Routt County Riders President Jack Trautman raised concerns about Steamboat's rules prohibiting e-bikes on local trails, saying they create a situation that is "far less safe" than allowing them on the commuter trails.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10