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Should e-bikes be allowed on Colorado's trail systems? Depends on who you ask

e-bikes on colorado trails
Posted at 9:38 PM, Oct 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-07 19:01:27-05

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The growing popularity of e-bikes has created controversy on Colorado’s trail systems in terms of where they should and shouldn’t be allowed. And there is no shortage of opinions among trail users.

“I think e-bikes are just the evolution of mountain bikes,” said Tony Nasser, a mountain bike trail rider. “There’s nothing inherently different between one or the other. They’re both pedal driven.”

“I think they should be regulated,” said Ryan Harris, a fellow mountain biker. “They can ride the same trails as motorcycles, but not the same trails as mountain bikes.”

E-bikes have given many the freedom to ride again, including Kris Nordberg, who had all but given up on riding bikes until she found e-biking.

“I’ve had double-knee surgery, a hip replacement,” Nordberg said. “I could hardly ride around the block with my regular bike. And then I got this bike, and it just opened up a whole world of biking that I’ve never experienced because I can go on such longer rides and experience some of the trails Colorado has to offer.”

Her e-bike is not only a game-changer, but a blessing.

“You have to remember this is my mode of transportation,” Nordberg said. “I don’t have a car. I don’t have to pay car insurance or gas. I take it to the grocery store. I think we were out for seven hours the other day, and I never depleted the battery.”

“Popularity is definitely growing,” said Joey Livingston, statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

e-bike colorado Nick Parnaby.jpg

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CPW is leading the charge on e-bike rules and regulations because it feels a responsibility to get out in front of the issue.

“We do kind of set an example for many agencies in the state. So we try to get ahead and make these classifications and make rules for those classifications at our properties,” Livingston said.

For now, there are three classifications of e-bikes:

  • Class 1 — These e-bikes are electric assisted when pedaling and cap out at 20 mph. Electric assisted means the bike amplifies your own pedal power.
  • Class 2 — These e-bikes are electric assisted and have a throttle. They cap out at 20 mph
  • Class 3 — These e-bikes are pedal assisted and have a throttle. Pedal assisted means the bike makes it easier for you to pedal, which makes it faster. They cap out at 28 mph.

“At our state wildlife areas, you are allowed to use Class 1, 2 and 3, but only on designated roads that allow motorized access. So not allowed to be on any trails,” Livingston said. “Now at our state parks, which are usually our bigger properties with more facilities, we do allow Class 1 and Class 2 usage on our multi-use trails that allow bicycle use, but you can only use the Class 3 on roads, bicycle lanes, campgrounds, places where motorized use is allowed.”
Municipalities like Jefferson County and Boulder County have adopted similar rules.

And then, there are agencies that use e-bikes themselves.

“The Denver Sheriff’s Department uses our bikes. Commerce City, Brighton Police Department, and then the Lone Tree Police Department to name a few agencies around Denver,” said Jeff Fuze, owner of Recon Power Bikes out of Indiana.

Recon is cashing in on the craze.

“These bikes can cover more ground, with more frequency and less labor than any other bike out there,” Fuze said.

Recon designs e-bikes for law enforcement agencies and even hunters.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people, who have maybe completely given up cycling or given up mountain biking, are getting back into it in their 40s, 50s, 60s, even 70s,” Fuze said. “Or hunters. Maybe people who can’t get back five or six or 10 miles in the past. They don’t have the capability to walk that far. But now with an e-bike, it gives them the potential to do what everybody else is doing.”

Recon even partnered with General Motors to launch the GMC Hummer EV AWD e-bike.


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But with speed and power also comes danger.

“What we’re seeing is head injuries, fractures, broken bones and then we’re also seeing a lot more internal injuries than we do with electric scooters, too,” said Melanie Wuzzardo, injury prevention coordinator at Health One’s Swedish Medical Center.

Wuzzardo said Swedish Medical Center treats e-bike injuries the same as any other motor vehicle accident. Doctors suggest users ride them defensively.

“You just want to make sure you’re taking your time,” Wuzzardo said. “Learning that e-bike, learning how it works before you do anything crazy.”

Because of the risk of injury and the growing number of people out on trails in general, many cyclists, like Harris, believe more trails should be directional.

“You make things directional, and that alleviates a lot of the issues there,” Harris said. “APEX does it, as well, where hikers can hike, and bikers can bike on different days.”

“People want to get outdoors in different ways,” Livingston said. “And we’re trying to be as accommodating to everyone as possible. Use common sense when you’re out there.”

There are plenty of trail riders who support this relatively new mode of mobility.

“Colorado is meant to be enjoyed,” Nasser said. “So as long as people aren’t littering and sharing the trail and are polite, then, you know, the more the merrier. I remember when I first got into mountain biking, it was kind of when that whole war with mountain bikes was going on. And I met a few aggressive hikers, and there were fights with people getting kicked off their bikes and things like that. We don’t need that to happen again.”

For Nordberg, it’s certainly been a life-changer.

“I just love being out here,” Nordberg said. “And of course, I share the trails. Plus, trying to be courteous myself to other cyclists by not blowing past people on an uphill because they’re working hard.”

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