Little E-Bike Drama on the Front Range: Perhaps BLM HQ Should Take Note?

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve seen everything, sometimes more than once.  Nature Deficit Disorder continues to be called out as a problem.  And after Covid, too many people are outside recreating..  which goes back to the argument of SUWA in the previous post on BLM’s E-bike “Instruction Memorandum.”

Brawer said that adding motorized mountain bikes “to already crowded trails necessitates the caution and further study provided for in this new guidance.”

This Denver Post article tells a more hopeful story about e-bikes.. on the Front Range, it’s turned out to be no big deal.

Just suppose, as I’ve observed (don’t know if there’s a study) that more old people use e-bikes.  Would this be age discrimination in access, then?  Many old people have disabilities.. would that be discrimination against the disabled?

I’m not saying this as an argument for bikes in Wilderness, just for e-bikes as a variety of mountain bikes on mountain bike approved trails.   Then there are at least two enforcement problems- you would have to see that that they are electric, and the confusion of adjacent jurisdictions with different rules makes it easy for people to claim ignorance or really not know. Finally, what would people in DC know about adjacent lands’ rules, or problems specific to an area? The whole “we know more research” rationale sounds to me like bunkum.

I bolded the relevant bits.

“There was no tolerance in our visitors for something with a throttle on a natural-surface trail,” said Mary Ann Bonnell, Jeffco Open Space visitor services and natural resources director.

“We heard that loud and clear,” she added. “We do not allow the Class 2, where you can have the power without pedaling. People said, ‘Nope, don’t want to see it. Don’t want to see someone flying up a hill and not pedaling.’”

But after five years, the county hasn’t found that e-bikes increased conflicts or created safety concerns, Bonnell said. “People continue to fall and have crashes on their mountain bikes, we continue to field complaints about conflicts, but they are not tied specifically to e-bikes.”

A mountain biker rides the singletrack trail on national forest land in Placitas, N.M., on July 8, 2019. Electric mountain bikes are prohibited on national forest land. (Photo by Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

In national forests, e-bikes are considered motor vehicles, so they are allowed only on roads and trails designated for motorized use. In Rocky Mountain National Park, e-mountain bikes can only go on roads where motor vehicles are allowed, paved or dirt. (It should be noted that human-powered mountain bikes are not allowed on the park’s hiking trails, either, with one small exception on the west side of the park.) In Colorado state parks, Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on roadways, designated bike lanes, and multi-use trails open to non-motorized cycling.

Boulder County Open Space allows Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on its flatland trails, and has since 2019, but neither are allowed on its mountain trails. But the city only started allowing Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on 39 miles of its 155-mile open-space trail system this month.

“As e-bikes were not allowed on city open space trails before July 1, we do not have statistically valid data for e-bike use on open space trails,” said Phillip Yates, a spokesman for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, via email. “E-biking will be added as a new category in future visitor surveys, alongside all other allowed activities, to track change over time as part of system monitoring. That will allow staff to report out changes, if any, that may be attributed to e-biking activity on the open space visitor experience.”


The difference in how park and open space managers regulate e-mountain bikes reflects what is happening in Front Range municipalities. Denver allows all three types of e-bikes on bike paths, but with speed limits of 15 mph. Arvada passed an ordinance in January of 2021, allowing Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on its bike paths. Lakewood allows Class 1 and Class 2 bikes on bike paths. Class 1 e-bikes are allowed on Lakewood’s soft surface trails, including at Bear Creek Lake Park and at William Fredrick Hayden Park on Green Mountain.

Before making its decision, Jeffco Open Space interviewed more than 400 visitors in five parks in 2017 to glean their thoughts about the issue. The agency also sent out volunteers on e-mountain bikes, then asked visitors if they had noticed any e-bikes on the trail, and many said no. Satisfied that the presence of e-mountain bikes would have minimal impact on other users, Jeffco moved forward with e-bikes as a pilot program in 2018 and updated its park regulations the following year to make it permanent.

A cyclist rides his bike along Shadow Pine Loop, an area where fire mitigation projects have taken place, at Flying J Ranch Park in Conifer on Sept. 20, 2022. Jeffco Open Space allows electric mountain bikes. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
A cyclist rides his bike along Shadow Pine Loop, an area where fire mitigation projects have taken place, at Flying J Ranch Park in Conifer on Sept. 20, 2022. Jeffco Open Space allows electric mountain bikes. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

“Every time it comes up, I have this sigh of relief that we took care of this in 2017, because I feel really good about how we made the decision,” Bonnell said. “We did a ton of data collection, getting in people’s heads, public meetings, meeting with stakeholders. I really feel like we did a thorough job. I feel good about the decision, and I also feel like it has played out well.

Some visitors raised concerns that people on e-mountain bikes would get lost, or injured, or would call rangers for assistance with dead batteries miles from the trailhead. “That hasn’t happened,” Bonnell said. “Conflict continues between riders and runners and hikers, but it’s not e-bike-related conflict.”

Gary Moore, executive director of the Colorado Mountain Bike Association, said while some mountain bikers have expressed displeasure on social media statewide, the impact of e-mountain bikers on trails has been negligible.

“Any conflicts between trail visitors continue to be more of a matter of the people themselves,” he said, “rather than their preferred mode of travel. You see them pretty much anytime you go out now.”

Meanwhile, Jay Bollinger loves having his wife with him and their boys, who are 10 and 15, on the trails.

“It’s been really good,” he said. “She’s still regaining her skills, but it allows her to keep up, rather than being the one who’s slowing everybody down.”


Rather than sending requests to DC, another option would be to work with stakeholders directly involved like Jefferson County did. After all, that’s what we expect from local managers on pretty much every other land management issue…

I’m also reviewing the new CEQ NEPA regs, and in the press release the Biden Admin says decisions should be
“effective, efficient, and transparent, guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes, and shaped by early and meaningful public engagement and input.”

Those are great ideas, IMHO, but we tend to what what people and organizations do, not what they say.

5 thoughts on “Little E-Bike Drama on the Front Range: Perhaps BLM HQ Should Take Note?”

  1. I noticed on another e bike post BLM said something about a waiver for those with a disability, which would probably work for seniors.

    Like the Jeffco open space lady said they continue to have conflicts, but not necessarily related to e bikes.

    There are a lot of people using public lands, I guess we need to learn to get along.

  2. Amen to “work with stakeholders.” I was on the JeffCo Open Space Advisory Board in 2017 when the open space and park system had to consider the use of e-bikes on the trails. The staff and board did their homework, (what were other places doing, what were the kinds of e-bike technology out there and most importantly what did our users think.) In 2018 rules were developed and adopted for the use of e-bikes and then staff implemented them. Glad to see that 5 years later the introduction of e-bikes to multi-use (bikes, walkers, strollers, horses, hikers) is working. As former ASLM over BLM, I find the decision to remove decision making authority from BLM FO and State offices over this form of outdoor recreation to be out of character for the agency. These are the types of site-specific decisions best made at the local level by BLM working with the users of those public lands. Put out HQ guidance for field offices to follow, but don’t remove their decision making authority. Sends a message: we don’t trust you to do this right. This will not be a popular with BLM employees outside of HQ.

  3. “Conflict continues between riders and runners and hikers, but it’s not e-bike-related conflict.”

    In some cases, it may be e-bike related conflict, even though that is not specified, because it involves bikes that would not have been there if it required pedaling. Partly just more users, but also when e-bikes can go farther and have impacts where mountain bikes didn’t often get to before.

    I’m also not sure how useful these “front range” determinations are to thinking about federal lands with lower use and greater distances. I think Boulder County’s distinguishing mountain from flatland trails, and prohibiting e-bikes on the former, might also be tell us something.

    • Your comment seems to imply that the last recreationists wise, should not be in because of the increase in numbers. Since many older people have various disabilities, I think that keeping e-bikes out may have disproportionate impacts in the sense of the proposed CEQ NEPA reg:

      “Environmental justice

      means the just treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, Tribal affiliation, or disability, in agency decision making and other Federal activities that affect human health and the environment so that people:

      (1) Are fully protected from disproportionate and adverse human health and environmental effects (including risks) and hazards, including those related to climate change, the cumulative impacts of environmental and other burdens, and the legacy of racism or other structural or systemic barriers; and

      (2) Have equitable access to a healthy, sustainable, and resilient environment in which to live, play, work, learn, grow, worship, and engage in cultural and subsistence practices.”

      I think the way to get around this is to put a ceiling on #s of all bike riders and distribute them equally regardless of ebike or not.


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