You’ve seen the bikes along the Spur bike path, in town and on area trails. At first glance, many of them look like any other mountain bike. But they’re heavier, and their riders seem to have supernatural powers as they zip along at a brisk clip, even uphill. E-bikes are here, and to address an increase in reported interactions with other trail users, Tthe Board of County Commissioners directed the county Open Space Commission to develop a pilot program to monitor e-bike use on trails in an effort to address safety issues. Commissioners Hilary Cooper, Lance Waring, and Kris Holstrom unanimously approved the commission’s recommendations at their regular meeting Wednesday.
In her memo to the commissioners, county parks and open space director Janet Kask described the increasing presence of e-bikes as a “super-complex issue.”
“This has been an ongoing discussion with the OSC, as some hikers
have expressed safety concerns and interaction with e-bikes on county trails,” she wrote.
According to Colorado statute, there are three classes of e-bikes: Class 1, pedal assist with maximum speed of 20 mph electric assist; Class 2, bikes that provide electric power whether or not the rider is pedaling, but stops providing power when the speed reaches 20 mph; and Class 3, bikes that continue providing electrical power up to 28 mph. The county’s new policy affects Class 1 bikes, will now be now permitted on two of the county’s 15 trails — Whiskey Charlie 62 and the M59 river trail. The county maintains over 20 miles of trails.
“Even though a Class 1 e-bike is considered a pedal-assisted mountain bike, e-bikes are often treated as a motorized vehicle regardless of its speed and power,” Kask explained.
County Open Space Commission member Susie St. Onge was on hand for yesterday’s meeting and said that pedal-assisted e-bikes were not far removed from mountain bikes without the assistance.
“We considered Class 1 e-bikes a mountain bike,” she said. And she added, given the rise in popularity of e-bikes and the growing prevalence of them on area trails, “this is an evolving issue. Let it evolve. Let’s see what happens.”
Part of the e-bike’s appeal is that it opens up trails to more users, Kask said.
“Some older and physically challenged people have stated they prefer an e-bike, as it enables them to access trails they couldn't otherwise access without utilizing an e-bike.”
In her memo to the board, Kask recognized that there was a difference between a mountain bike with a battery and a motorbike.
“The motorbike class is fairly easy to say they shouldn’t be allowed on single track trails. However, mountain bikes are not so easy to say that. Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assisted bikes and aren't different in any significant way from a regular mountain bike.”
And she told the commissioners that despite the new policy with its attendant signage, “as with anything, it comes down to enforcement. I rely heavily on fellow hikers and cyclists.”
Kask also stressed the importance of trail etiquette, noting that the Telluride Mountain Club has been working on the issue.
In other county open space matters, the commission, acting again at the behest of the county commissioners, crafted a new trail signage policy that will apply to the county’s trails.
In Kask’s memo to the board, she explained that the open space commission focused on simplicity.
“The open space commission’s goal … is for a minimalist approach to trailhead signage as much as possible,” she said. “The objective is to … limit the number of signs to be used and only where necessary such as trailheads and trail crossings.”
St. Onge agreed.
“Simple … is the best way to go,” she said. “It’s a start.”
As per the newly adopted policy, signs would also be designed so as to blend in with their surrounding environment. Any design guideline creation going forward would likely require a consultant and include a management plan, Kasks’s memo noted.
And in what is now an expected agenda item for any government meeting, the commissioners heard a COVID-19 updated from the county public health department. The two new cases announced Tuesday have been added to the county’s statistics, numbers that have contributed to the county’s ranking as a hot spot in the state. Public health director Grace Franklin observed that citizens are experiencing “COVID fatigue,” and said locals have been traveling more and intermingling in greater numbers. She and county manager Mike Bordogna stressed that, in spite of robust visitor numbers, the coronavirus was not specifically being brought to town by guests, especially from states like Arizona and Texas.
“Predominately our danger is the residents,” Bordogna said. “A lot of it revolves around our own behavior.”
Franklin concurred, saying that based on contact tracing work done surrounding each positive case, her department is finding that spread is occurring through more social gatherings and by congregating in larger groups without adhering to the five commitments — hand washing, staying home when sick, social distancing, wearing face coverings and getting tested if symptoms are experienced.
Local Greg Craig noted that some “back of the envelope math” revealed that Arizona’s Maricopa County had a two in 100 infection rate, while Colorado’s figures were 1 in 100.
“In a public health crisis, there is a fear of outsiders, a fear of the other,” he said.
He also noted that there is “sustained social media messaging” encouraging vacationers to the visit the area, and suggested it might not be necessary due to the success of marketing through the years.
“Our brand is pretty darned self-sustaining,” Craig said.
Cooper stressed the importance of taking personal responsibility.
“Consider all your actions,” she said. “You don’t want us to make rules for you.”
She added that by continuing to practice the five commitments, the county could get on track to allow schools to reopen on schedule.