What you need to know before you get started on an electric bike
I’m in decent shape for mountain biking, but it’s not uncommon (OK, okay, it’s actually quite common) for someone to pass me while pedaling uphill. Lately, however, I feel like more and more people are leaving me behind thanks to electric-assist two-wheelers.
My anecdotal evidence of e-bikers regularly consuming dust is backed up by data. The Boulder-based NPD Group, which analyzes outdoor industry consumer trends, found that sales of electric mountain bikes (eMTBs) jumped 181% between 2020 and 2021. people to come back to earth. These are people who may have aged from the sport or had physical limitations that prevented them from cycling,” says Chad Schneckenburger, Regional Trails and Dispersed Recreation Program Manager at the US Rockies Regional Office. Forest Service. “What e-bikes do is reopen that door for people.”
Now the question is how to handle all those electric two-wheelers on the trails. In late March, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) released updated guidelines that will allow for expanded use of e-bikes on the lands it manages. Previously, e-bikes could only be used on roads and trails where motorized vehicles are permitted. Under the updated rules, local ranger districts can choose to allow e-bikes on specific trails that had been closed to e-bikes, i.e. “if we first do the analysis appropriate environmental status and that there is public support,” Schneckenburger says, explaining that any assessment would include a 30-day period in which people can give feedback on the change in status.
So while there are currently 5,118 miles of trails on USFS-managed Colorado land open to e-bikes, that number is likely to grow in the coming years. Not that trails on Forest Service-regulated lands are the only places to walk them. Certain classes of e-bikes are also permitted in portions of wilderness areas and state parks overseen by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) (see here for more detailed information), as well as portions of open space overseen by specific counties.
If you’re one of those jumping into the power saddle (or hoping to soon), here are five expert tips to keep in mind before you hit the trail, plus four places in Colorado to have fun. .
Understand the basics of the electric bike
Each e-bike falls into one of three categories, which are determined by the maximum speed the bike can reach and its ability to move without pedaling.
- Class I e-bikes top out at 20 miles per hour and their electric motors only engage with pedaling.
- Class II e-bikes also tend to top out at 20 miles per hour, but they include a throttle that can be used to keep riders moving even when not pedaling.
- Class III bikes can reach speeds of around 30 miles per hour and may or may not have a throttle.
According to Trevyn Newpher, former pro mountain biker and founder of Evolution Sports Colorado, when riding dirt trails, you’ll want an eMTB instead of a commuter-style e-bike. These two-wheeled workhorses have tires made with grip-enhancing rubber that’s also thicker and more durable than urban e-bikes, making them more resistant to punctures. They also usually have better suspension to provide a more comfortable ride. “You’re going to see a more rugged design to withstand the rigors and demands of off-road riding,” adds Newpher.
Know how to use the electric bike
Before you hit the dirt, get your bearings for your e-bike by taking a few rides on an accessible paved path, like the Yampa River Core Trail in Steamboat Springs or the Recreational Pathway System, commonly known as the Recpath, in Summit County. Make sure you are comfortable with the weight of the bike, as well as the electric assist, drivetrain, and throttle (if your two-wheeler has one). “Just because it has a pedal-assist motor, especially when you’re in the backcountry, doesn’t mean you’re going to have an easier experience,” says Laraine Martin, Executive Director of Routt. County Riders. “It’s still a lot of things to get used to.”
Review the trail map
Be sure to check the trail map of the area you intend to ride to see if e-bikes are allowed. It’s also important to make sure the specific class of e-bike you’re using is licensed. Class I and II eMTBs, for example, are allowed on roads, bike paths, multi-use trails in CPW-supervised state parks, while Class III e-bikes are not. “It is the responsibility of the rider,” says Newpher, “to know what class their bike is and what restrictions may be in place for a given trail system.”
If you plan to ride on Forest Service land, check the motor vehicle use map for that forest to find trails that allow motorized vehicles. The same applies to paths managed by the CPW as well as those on departmental and municipal land. (Summit County, for example, prohibits e-bike use on natural-surface trails.) Finally, study your route carefully to make sure it doesn’t take you from an e-bike-friendly trail to a single track where electric two-wheelers are not allowed. If you find yourself in this situation, it is best to dismount, turn off the engine and walk with your bike to avoid a ticket.
Check your power gauge
“E-bikes allow you to go further,” says Schneckenburger. “If you go further into the backcountry, make sure you have the ability to get out.” This means you need to confirm that the battery is fully charged and will last the duration of your ride, bearing in mind that climbing and how often you use an electric boost will affect your range.
Wear the right gear
“Mechanics” (slang for issues with your bike) is part of cycling, and it’s no different with an e-bike. “Make sure you have all the proper equipment to make repairs to the bike, wheelset, and crank, if needed,” says Martin. “You have to be capable of all that.” She recommends having a standard bike repair kit, including tire levers, a spare inner tube or patch, pump or air canister, and a multitool, plus extra layers (in case of change of weather), a map, a first aid kit, and plenty of water. Also make sure you have a way to call for help, such as a phone (reminder: cell service can be spotty) or a GPS device.
don’t be a fool
“Ride the trails respectfully as you would on a regular mountain bike,” Schneckenburger says, emphasizing the importance of yielding to pedestrians, horses and, if you’re going downhill, uphill people. “Riding an e-bike, in terms of etiquette, is really no different than riding a regular bike,” he adds. And, of course, be careful not to deviate from the trail, which could damage the surrounding ecosystem.
Colorado Trails to try your electric bike
Hartman Rocks Recreation Area
Minutes from Gunnison, Hartman Rocks offers nearly 80 miles of bike paths, all open to e-bikes. Beginners will enjoy Evan’s Loop, a flowing 2.8-mile stretch through sagebrush.
If you start from the Bear Creek trailhead east of Salida near County Road 101, it’s possible to go 100 miles one way on this route. The trek offers views of the southern end of the Sawatch Range, the Sangre de Cristos, and the San Luis Valley that Schneckenburger deems “spectacular.”
Green Mountain Loop
If you plan on e-mountain biking the Front Range, check out this 6.9 mile intermediate trail in Morrison. It doesn’t have a lot of blind turns (long distance visibility is helpful when riding at faster speeds), making it easy to use for beginners.
white ranch park
This Golden-based park offers an extensive trail system suitable for e-bikes. Those looking for a challenge should try the Mustang Trail quick drops or the breathtaking Longhorn descent.
(Read more: What you need to know about Denver’s updated e-bike rules)