$150 hiking boots = “outdoor elitist,” says QuietKat CEO who wants to sell you a $6000 E-bike

Here’s a story about E-bikes and public lands by CBS in Denver. Here are some highlights:

Allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails, as ordered by the secretary of the Interior Department last fall, is pitting traditional pedalers versus e-bikers as federal land agencies craft rules to implement the new order. Cyclists fear the embrace of electric-assisted pedalers could get all bikes banned from trails. Trail builders worry about impacts from motorized bikes that can reach more than 50 mph. E-bikers fret their opportunities to explore public lands could be relegated to motorized thoroughfares.

Thousands of public land users are flooding the public comment portals in what is emerging as one of the most controversial rules in years for the Bureau of Land Management.

For Jake Roach, the CEO and co-founder of QuietKat, the Eagle-based maker of off-road e-bikes, the conflict boils down to “outdoor elitists” who are able to power themselves into the backcountry.

“I think what you find is that currently in public lands access, it’s basically set up to really benefit the individual who has a lot of time and is in really good shape,” said Roach, whose QuietKat has seen explosive growth in recent years. “That is not necessarily the demographic of the typical American taxpayer.”

Roach is helping to mobilize the growing swell of e-bikers to sway federal land managers to allow the electrified rides. He hopes to spread the idea that e-bikes might not only open public lands to a wider range of users, but disperse those users across public lands.

“The first mile is crowded, but once you get past that first mile, it can get lonely,” Roach said. “Spreading out the public on public land can only add value. There’s a perception that outdoor elitists want to keep public lands for themselves and that’s not a fair assessment of how public lands should be used.”…

E-bikes are grouped into three categories. Class 1 e-bikes have a motor that kicks in when the rider is pedaling and tops out at 20 mph. Class 2 e-bikes have a motor that doesn’t require pedaling and also tops out at 20 mph. Class 3 e-bikes have motors that deliver power only when the rider is pedaling and go faster, up to 28 mph. Those classes are getting blurred though as e-bike technology grows. Southern California’s Hi-Power Cycles, for example, is making an 82-pound mountain bike with an electric motor that can hit 55 mph.

It’s that blurring that troubles Scott Winans, the longtime head of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association. For more than a decade, he has guided his team of volunteer mountain bikers in building and maintaining hundreds of miles of rolling single track across the Western Slope. Since 1989, the group has built trails for non-motorized use, with banked berms and tight turns made for pedalers, not throttle twisters. The group’s trail work is largely on BLM land, making the Colorado Plateau a national testing ground for new e-bike access rules.

COPMOBA is supporting Class 1 e-bike access on some, but not all non-motorized trails it maintains around five communities in Western Colorado. They oppose Class 2 or Class 3 e-bike access on any non-motorized trails. But most importantly, the association wants land managers to follow the same public processes it followed for more than 30 years of trail-advocacy work.

Winans and his association have issues with the top-down order allowing e-bikes. He hopes this current round of public comment is just the first of many more rounds of public review allowing local BLM land managers to craft trail-specific management plans for e-bikes.

That’s the process Western Slope mountain bikers have been following for decades as they work to develop new trails on BLM land, Winans said. And it’s part of the process any time there’s a change to the agency’s local travel management and resource management plans.

“This is tough because we have such a solid community coalition that has come together to address trails from a local perspective and a bunch of stakeholders have worked together for many years to build a great plan and the feds, in essence, throw that out the window,” Winans said.

There’s a similar sentiment on the Uncompahgre Plateau, where farmers, hunters and water-users in the North Fork Valley spent decades crafting a plan that would limit oil and gas development in the valley only to have that plan dismissed earlier this year under the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” agenda.

The system of public land management is not built for sudden shifts through presidential agendas or secretarial orders.

Highlighting recreation in land management processes is arduous, and it’s taken decades for the outdoor recreation industry to win a seat at the land-management table alongside energy and agricultural interests. It takes years of work to win approval for a new trail before shovels hit dirt, as evidenced by the 12 years of planning behind the Grand Valley’s new Palisade Plunge trail off the Grand Mesa. The community has to be shown the value of the trail to sway public support, land agencies have to work together and plans must follow environmental laws, Winans said.

“Getting a project from idea to implementation is just a huge, huge process,” he said. “Just because a secretarial order flows into the community and makes a statement that this change is very straightforward, well, just saying that does not make it true.”

Winans says e-bike advocates should be wary of celebrating a top-down order that suddenly changes decades of planning and work.

“All these long processes and tools, they are really important to keep in the toolbox for the future,” Winans said. “The ship that runs slowly moderates extremism. Sometimes you may hate that it’s so slow to turn, but sometimes it saves your bacon and prevents bad decisions from flowing into the system on a moment’s notice.”

The Boulder-based International Mountain Bike Association — or IMBA — is crafting its lengthy analysis of the proposed e-bike rule. The association’s executive director, Dave Wiens, said this public comment period will lay the foundation for trail-by-trail identification of e-bike access in future planning by the BLM.

He hopes the BLM requires environmental study for every trail network that shifts non-motorized use regulations to allow e-bikes.

IMBA, the umbrella organization for more than 200 local mountain bike associations, does not support Class 2 or Class 3 bikes on non-motorized trials. The group’s primary concern is that expanding access to e-bikes could lead to human-powered bikes losing access. That worst-case scenario looks something like this: If an e-bike is now regulated like a bike, maybe instead of fighting e-bikes it’s easier to change a trail designation to prevent all bikes.

“We’re well-positioned to be balanced in our assessments and consider any implications that could impact mountain biking at-large, in order to always protect access for traditional, non-motorized mountain bikes,” Wiens said.

Roach has seen his QuietKat company grow from a start-up in 2012 to a national leader in the e-bike industry. He considers QuietKat as part of the growing overlanding business, where travelers deploy well-equipped vehicles to venture beyond defined paths. While his QuiteKat bikes work well on roads, he’s focused on off-road and not necessarily competing against urban bikes.

His bikes are sold in 126 Bass Pro shops and about 150 independent retailers, and soon QuietKat will launch a branded bike with Jeep. A demo of the Jeep-branded QuietKat appeared discreetly in the carmaker’s Super Bowl commercial.

“Look, this is not about if e-bikes happen on public land,” Roach said. “It’s about when.”

Roach worries the BLM’s comment period may be used to identify areas where e-bikes should be banned. His concern is that locally approved plans may restrict e-bikes from bike trails and keep them contained to areas where motorized use is allowed. Which is not the expansion of e-bike access pushed by the Bernhardt order, he said.

“My thinking is that this process should help the BLM make the rules easier to follow and not make it more confusing for a wider array of locations,” Roach said. “The whole process is very antiquated and really needs a revamp. Our systems and our economies move so much faster now than they did in the 1960s, when most of these rules were made. And so do our bikes.”


18 thoughts on “$150 hiking boots = “outdoor elitist,” says QuietKat CEO who wants to sell you a $6000 E-bike”

  1. Such a misleading headline, given the article you re-posted said nothing about hiking boots nor did it make any comparison based on the relative cost of eBikes vs. hiking. The original headline for the article is simply, “Traditional Cyclists, E-Bikers Clash Over New Trail Rules”, which is much more accurate.

    By making this all about comparative cost, you completely ignored the actual argument the pro-eBike people were making about elitism, which is completely about public land management policy being designed to favor those who are physically fit and have an abundance of time for human-powered recreation. This blog has discussed many times the hierarchy of elitism for recreational uses of public lands, with hikers at the top and motorized users at the bottom.

    This coincides with with the hierarchy of federal land classifications, with Wilderness status considered the pinnacle of land management which all other federal lands are supposed to aspire to. When all federal lands as managed as aspirational Wilderness, land management policies inevitably favor “wilderness compatible” forms of recreation and disfavor all others.

    You can make all the cheap shots you want about the relative cost of different forms of recreation and the financial privilege that allows various people to be able to afford them, whether it’s $150 hiking boots, a $2,000 mountain bike, a $6000 eBike, a $20,000 UTV, or a $50,000 Jeep. But it’s hard to deny federal land management policies overwhelming favor hikers (and to some extent traditional mountain bikers) over all other forms of recreation.

      • Ah yes. Hike and horse. Horses are also at the top of the pyramid as a wilderness friendly form of recreation. I’ve never been really sure why because they have way more impact than just any other single-track trail use, leaving poop everywhere and churning up a lot of mud. Maybe a lingering part of the romanticized cowboy vision of the west? It’s also a relatively small use as you only rarely run into people riding horses on public lands, so I tend to forget about it most of the time. If as many people rode horses as dirt bikes and ATVs, I wonder if people would care about impacts more.

        As for cost, I don’t really know how much the average horse costs, but I imagine it would be up in a similar price range to ATVs and UTVs. And of course you have to have enough land to take care of one, eliminating most urban and suburban folks. So hard to make the case that land use policies only favor cheaper forms of recreation for the less privileged.

        • Patrick,
          I can attribute the presence of horses in Wilderness to 1) they have always been there, and 2) so far no one has figured out that it is politically desirable or possible to launch a campaign to kick them out.

          For me, I’d rather see piles of poop than get out of the way for too-fast mountain bikes or noisy ATV’s (pretty much where I live, you can avoid ATV’s by avoiding trails where they’re allowed). Is horse poop really environmentally bad? Compared to what-dog and human? My closest county open space has way more horses than MBs, but most people seem to get along just fine.

          I think the problem with dealing with costs may be a complex one because people have horses but not just to ride on federal lands. Pretty much the same as ag people who have UTVs and take them to the hills for recreation, or hiking boots or MBs.

          On the other hand, horses may be cheaper (3 to 4K?) but unlike MBs or ATVs they need to be fed and vetted all the time, lots more care/expense involved. You don’t have to have enough land to have one, as many people board them. And there are outfitters/stables where people can rent.

          I think you’re probably right, though, about the numbers being a factor as well as the history- they have been in Parks and Forests since they were established.

    • Fair point Patrick about the headline. Perhaps the headline should’ve been:

      BMI Index 18.5–24.9 = “outdoor elitist,” says QuietKat CEO who wants to sell out-of-shape “typical American taxpayer” a $6000 motorized E-bike

      • Matthew, why are you assuming the worst about folks? So far, when I talk to e-bike riders they are have been older people with health issues who seem in shape.

        Maybe we could all stop and talk to any e-bike riders we see and do an informal survey? The ones I’ve met so far seem friendly and want to talk about their bikes.

  2. So people are worried that different kinds of e-bikes will be, or won’t be, allowed in future site- specific decisions..?

    This reminds me of the Travel Management Rule, a national rule to encourage local folks to figure it out sooner rather than later; cognizant that everything is site-specific, but at the same time local decisions should follow some kinds of general principles.

    “The proposed rule would direct authorized officers to generally allow, through subsequent decision-making, Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes whose motorized features are being used as an assist to human propulsion on roads and trails upon which mechanized, non-motorized use is allowed, where appropriate.” https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/04/10/2020-07099/increasing-recreational-opportunities-through-the-use-of-electric-bikes

    Seems like IMBA and others agree on a class 1/2-3 divide, that may be a good place to start on with comments. I found this information helpful. https://www.bosch-ebike.com/us/everything-about-the-ebike/stories/three-class-ebike-system/
    I do think there’s something to be said for some standardization of approaches, as they (Bosch) argue in the above piece.

    If you are going to regulate anything, first you have to develop clear regulations, educate people on them, and (finally) enforce them. Like some people thought about OHV’s, the sooner you figure it out, the better.

  3. I went back and looked up and down for the $150 hiking boots part. Couldn’t find it.

    Call me amused. I let my one year membership at BHA lapse. Cool “public land” t-shirt except it was pretty thin, half not cotton, and not made in the USA. They have always bothered me in that they are very anti ATV, yet silent on the much more disruptive mountain bikes. ATVs by their nature are difficult to operate illegally, they are loud, wide, and require a substantial trail or else a winch to get unstuck. Mountain bikes however seem to have 15 or 20 side trails for every marked established legal trail.

    I think most of the noise is mountain bikers 1) not wishing to share the resource as they’ve been able to deny ATVs, 2) afraid that increased usage might mean regulation of all their illegal trails, and 3) Mountain bikers will no longer be the fastest thing going up the hills, they might have to yield or have someone riding behind them effortlessly while they sweat and puff.

    All recreational uses of public lands are disruptive and cause impact, even hikers. Recently there have been increased study of elk decline in Colorado’s favorite recreation towns due to people in all their recreation forms. I’m worse of an elitist even than hikers in that if I were considering only myself I’d not allow any trails for anything, but that’s not how it works. Public lands are multi use and I welcome the ebikes just as much as the ATVs, horses, trail runners, loggers, miners, grazers, and everyone else.

    In this time of “stay at home” maybe it’s time to eliminate the parking lots, ride to recreation on your ebike, horse, mountain bike, or recreate more locally and stop polluting.

  4. “The first mile is crowded, but once you get past that first mile, it can get lonely,” Roach said. “Spreading out the public on public land can only add value.

    Unless that value is “loneliness” (more typically labeled “solitude”) – which I think is the point of having “backcountry.” There are plenty of places that aren’t lonely these days, and maybe Roach et. al. who are bothered by it should just play in those places.

  5. There’s a lot of analysis, but isn’t the concern about e-bikes pretty straightforward- that they are motorized and non-motorized trails are a) not designed for motorized use, and b) are for non-motorized users. These trails can be historic, switch-backy, and may not stand up to motorized use. Frankly, the best funded and thus best maintained trails on my Forest are motorized, because they receive state funds. These would seem to be great trails for e-bikes as well.

    Philosophically, once you erase the distinction of non-motorized, where does it end? What, then, is the point in restricting other e-bikes or even e-motorcycles? The other issue is it is hard to tell a class 1 from a class 2, so likely unenforceable.

    • Roy, I’ve seen folks only use the e to assist so they are not going any faster than they would go if they were pedaling. And as you say, the difference can be hard to tell.. one bar is fatter… So it seems to me that the MB trails around here would also work for EMBs with fat bars that don’t go too fast.

      I think the point you raise about enforceability might also apply from regular MBs to Class 1’s. In fact, that is an issue with any rules on trails, leashed dogs, etc.

      It seems like there are not enough law enforcement people to go around, and I don’t know how successful/safe volunteers are doing it.

  6. Sometimes you can find the darndest things on craigslist.


    Useless bike that needs E-BIKE POWER!!!! – $9000 (Blue Mountain, Pattee Canyon, Rattlesnake)

    Tired of lugging around that useless bicycle with NO motor? You could buy this pile of a normal bicycle or….

    Go get an e-bike and ride where you’re not supposed to. Try out Blue Mountain, Pattee Canyon and even the Rattlesnake Wilderness. If the owners and employees of the shops can do it so can you. The signs say no but your cool new bike with a motor says “I’m a douche” so forget those concerns.

    This ad does not promote the use of motorized bicycles on trails that are posted with signs to keep e-bike users off of that very trail. Do so at the risk of becoming one of those douches you see riding e-bikes on the trails.

  7. This is the future of motorized bicycles. Well, actually it isn’t the future. This is the current state of motorized bike technology. What will that technology look like in 2 years? 10 years? 25 years?

    This motorized bike company has called their eBike the “Babymaker – The Worlds Sexiest eBike.” They brag how fast it can, they brag has it’s super stealth and super hard to even tell the bike has a motor. This is 2020. How will USFS, BLM, NPS and other public lands managers be able to handle these motorized bikes today? What will happen with enforcement ability in 5 years? 20 years? What will happen if non-motorized trails across America are open to motorized bikes? What will happen if Wilderness areas are opened to mountain bikes? The “Babymaker” looks pretty much just like a normal bike. How would Wilderness rangers handle enforcement and be able to tell the difference? If they can tell a difference between a regular mountain bike vs an eBike in 2020, would they be able to tell the difference in 2025? How about 2050? What other electronic motorized vehicles would also be allowed on non-motorized trails by that point?

    • That would be a class 1 eBike, right? A hybrid between pedal power and motor? Looks like you can even disable the motor and ride it completely under pedal power. So would you be fine with people riding the same bike on non-motorized trails if they simply turn off the motor?

      You have good points about how rangers won’t be able to tell the difference between this and traditional bikes. In reality, they probably won’t be able to and probably won’t even try. They’re busy spending their limited time enforcing laws that actually matter, like making sure people put out campfires safely and don’t trash public lands. Worrying about minor differences between bikes that in all other respects are used just like other bikes will rate pretty low on their priority list.

      I think instead of worrying about how law enforcement will tell the difference between motorized bikes that look identical to non-motorized bikes, we should be asking the more important question of, why does it even matter? Is there any reason to treat these kinds of bikes differently simply because they have a motor and offend the sensibilities of human-power purists? It would make far more sense for land managers to establish rules regarding safety and minimizing environmental impact that apply to all bikes wherever any type of bike is allowed, and focus on enforcing those.

      • Patrick, some of the stories I’ve read say that MBers are concerned about optics/politics, that if e-bikes are allowed more places, people will lump them with MBs and then feel better about keeping MBs out of places.

        So it sounds to me as if MB folks are afraid that by lumping them with Ebikes they may lose their place on the Pyramid of Pristinity and slide down to just above motorized. As you know, where motorized users are on the Pyramid, they are subject to protracted efforts to remove them from public lands.

        I can’t blame MBers for this fear. As unreasonable as I think the Pyramid is, powerful forces promote and sustain it.

        • I don’t blame them either. It is a legitimate fear. Though unfortunately they are just perpetuating that pyramid the more they insist on a strong divide between eBikes and regular bikes. Those kinds of divides between recreationists who would otherwise be natural allies only helps the anti-access agenda, the same as fights between full size 4WD enthusiasts and side by side owners and ATVers does.

          • Patrick.. I didn’t even know there were fights between full size 4WD and side by side and ATV folks. Maybe we should start a “Share the Trail Love” movement where people reach out to be especially friendly to those below them on the Pyramid of Pristinity. I was in St. Elmo yesterday and intentionally waved and smiled at the ATV folks riding through town. More positive vibrations in the world can’t hurt IMHO.

            • Yes indeed. The better everyone gets along and shares public lands the better.

              Fights between motorized users aren’t common but do happen sometimes. Usually it’s more of a friendly rivalry kind of like Jeep vs. Toyota folks, but there are times when full size users perceive their trails being threatened by the behavior of side by side drivers, who are a newer class of motorized user haven’t always been taught the same ethics about Treading Lightly.

              There have also been ocassional controversies when land managers propose to convert a full size trail to am ATV or motorcycle trail or to exclude non-licensed vehicles from trails that plated vehicles are allowed on. Overall though the motorized community is pretty united and supportive of all motorized users’ access rights. It will be interesting to see what happens with eBikes though since I have heard some worries by the dirt bike community that land managers will be pressured to take single track dirt bike trails away from them and give them to eBikes, which has happened in the past with mountain bikes.


Leave a Comment