Don’t be a jerk, do respect the rules of the road and plan ahead – The Denver Post

Erik Skarvan was teaching two women how to mountain bike between Aspen and Snowmass last summer when, seemingly out of nowhere, three men zoomed past on e-bikes, forcing Skarvan and the women to scramble off the trail.

Not only were the men breaking the law — e-bikes, or bicycles propelled by pedaling and battery-powered motors, aren’t allowed on Pitkin County singletrack trails — but the men also nearly ran into Skarvan and his clients at top speed.

That incident wasn’t the first time Skarvan, an instructor and guide who owns Sun Dog Athletics in Aspen, encountered unruly, lawbreaking and downright rude e-bikers — and he imagines it won’t be the last.

He’s seen groups of e-bikers taking up the entire width of the Rio Grande Trail, e-bikers riding three or four abreast on the road to Maroon Bells, e-bikers nearly colliding with other people, e-bikers flying by without helmets — the list goes on.

“This is a framework of why it’s so important for e-bikers to have etiquette because they are now powered up with a weapon, really, that goes 20 miles an hour,” he said. “I say ‘weapon’ because now they can hurt themselves and others pretty easily.”

Though you may be tempted to ride side-by-side with your friends or family members so you can chat on your e-bikes, always ride single file and as far to the right as possible, unless you’re passing. (Provided by Craniologie Breckenridge)

E-bikes are the hottest way to get around, particularly in Colorado’s outdoorsy, bike-friendly mountain communities, where travelers flocked last summer during the coronavirus pandemic. But their growing popularity has been a bit of a mixed bag, according to Colorado cyclists and industry experts. Good, because e-bikes make cycling more accessible to more people (and they’re also big business for bike shops). But also bad, because these novice riders are less familiar with accepted cycling norms, safety precautions and rules of the road.

And, with e-bikes helping them go farther and faster, with less effort than a non-motorized bike, riders may find themselves in sticky situations and on difficult terrain that was previously only reachable by experienced cyclists.

If you’re planning to rent (or buy) an e-bike this summer, commit these basic e-bike etiquette tenets to memory. Most of the following tips apply to any type of bike, but they’re especially important when you’re pedaling one that can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour.

In a nutshell? Don’t be a jerk. Though you may be in vacation mode, enjoying a carefree weekend getaway that includes riding an e-bike in the mountains, try not to ruin things for everyone else.

“It’s all about respect,” says Joe Buth, operations manager for e-bike rental shop Craniologie Breckenridge. “An electric bike can outpace most other people, so let people know that you’re there, that you’re trying to pass them, that you’re going to be coming by them. These are big things that go a long way.”

Read — and follow — local rules

If you plan to rent an e-bike while visiting a new area, familiarize yourself with all the local rules before you start pedaling. You can find these on city, county and federal land management websites, depending on where you plan to ride. Bike rental shop staff can help fill you in, too.

Some communities allow e-bikes on roads only. Others allow them on certain multi-use trails but not others. Some communities and land managers allow them on mountain bike trails, while others expressly forbid it. The rules also specify which types of e-bikes are allowed to ride where. (The most common e-bike you’ll find in a rental shop is a Class 1 bike, which requires users to pedal and tops out at 20 miles per hour.) There’s a lot to unpack if you’re new to e-biking or new to the region.

Ride single-file

Though you may be tempted to ride side-by-side with your friends or family members so you can chat on your e-bikes, always ride single file and as far to the right as possible, unless you’re passing. This gives other cyclists and cars an opportunity to pass you safely.

Announce that you’re passing

E-bikes can — and often do — go faster than pedestrians, joggers, stroller-pushers, dog-walkers and other cyclists, and you may find yourself wanting to pass a slower party. To be polite and safe, clearly announce your intention to pass by ringing the bell on your bike, then shouting a friendly “On your left!” Give plenty of notice, too.

Slow down

And while we’re on the subject of passing, be sure to slow down. You may not feel like you’re moving that fast, but whizzing by someone at top speed can be jarring and disruptive. It’s courteous and friendly to slow down, pass, then speed back up.

“This is really a chance to be gracious and smile and thank people and connect with people, not speed past them and scare them,” says Claire Attkisson, who owns Durango’s Roll E-Bike & Paddle Board, which offers e-bike and SUP rentals via delivery.
Philosophically, e-bikes are really meant to help you enjoy yourself and explore new places at a leisurely pace, not zip around as fast as possible.

“Biking has become so much about cycling — when you get on a bike, you have to go fast or get somewhere,” Attkisson says. “I’m trying to help people realize that you now have this great piece of machinery that can take you so much farther. It’s really more about distance than it is about speed. It’s about being able to go from point A to point B with a smile on your face and enjoying your experience, not sweating.”

Be conservative

Yes, your bike has a motor that can help you go farther and faster. But with the majority of Colorado rental e-bikes, you still need to pedal to propel the bike forward. If you’re traveling to a higher elevation or you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, be sure to ease your way into e-biking.

Start small and slow, then build up to progressively longer and harder rides. Even with a motor, you may stretch beyond your limits and find yourself in a precarious situation. Consider booking an excursion or a lesson so you’re out there with an experienced guide.

On that same note, bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen and pack clothing for inclement weather so you can avoid a call to the local emergency rescue group. And always wear a helmet. “Know before you go or hire a pro,” says Skarvan. “The pros are going to take care of all of that stuff — skills, gear, water.”

Don’t pedal distractedly

If you’re riding through Colorado’s gorgeous scenery, you may be tempted to gaze off along the side of the road or get out your phone to take a quick video. But distracted e-biking (and, really, any type of cycling) is a recipe for disaster.

Keep your eyes on the road or the trail in front of you, gazing up ahead into the middle distance to be aware of any upcoming turns, curves or hazards. If you see a cute marmot or a stunning wildflower off on the side of the road, pull over (safely, and so that you’re out of everyone else’s way), get off your bike and then pull out your phone for a photo.

This is especially important when you’re riding downhill, such as on the descent from the Maroon Bells, a popular Aspen-area e-biking destination, Skarvan says.

“Your visual focus is the most important thing,” Skarvan says. “The easiest way to remember it is: Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. The hands follow the eyes.”

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