Debate over electric bikes on river trail goes off grid

Last week’s column about electric bikes and the Animas River Trail was a lightning bolt, generating 5,000-plus words of email, enough to fill Action Line six times over and surpassing the reactions to the senior ski-pass price hikes, roundabout issues or the occasional disparaging remark about New Mexico drivers.

So here’s an expanded version of the Mea Culpa Mailbag, featuring “the best of” because space is tight. And thanks to Dinah Jones and Dixie Palmer for their phone messages concerning accessibility for the elderly and/or mobility impaired.

As you recall, Action Line pooh-poohed electric bikes as silly devices not suitable for the riverfront paved pathway.

“Your rant on electric bikes is misplaced,” writes Chris Wilcox of Berkeley, Calif., who lauds the devices’ environmental benefits.

“In China, there are millions and millions and millions of electric bicycles on the road and each one of them is replacing a polluting automobile. ... That is the point you fail to take into consideration.”

Another California correspondent has perspiration perspicacity.

“I can tell you for sure there are people out there who don’t want to sweat and the only way you will get them on a two-wheel vehicle or any vehicle is to have it powered, writes Lawrence Rhodes, an e-bike mechanic and member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

North of the border, Allan Harmsworth of Orillia, Ontario, Canada, was miffed at Action Line’s “snootiness and prejudice.”

“Of course, if you are one of those Lycra-clad weekend warriors, nothing less than a few thousand dollars’ worth of high-tech bike perched on a genital-destroying racing saddle while exuding buckets of sweat will do, (and) nothing will convince you to like power assist,” he writes.

(Rest assured, Action Line will not appear in public wearing stretch fabrics. That comes straight from Mrs. Action Line.)

To the south, ex-resident Danny Drotor was “disgusted” with the “ignorant” column. He writes from his new home in Cottonwood, Ariz., where he toils on his rEVolution Cycles business.

“I am an inventor and have put the last few years of my life and around $100,000 into designing the ultimate electric bike,” he said.

“The bike that I’m working on is designed to be more like a pedalable ultralight motorcycle, so it’s designed to go 50 mph and able to keep up with traffic, making it safe to ride on regular roads. It also weighs less than 75 pounds and is as capable as a downhill race bike.

“My guess as to why people are riding electric bikes on the river trail is because traffic is so horribly mismanaged that it just isn’t safe to ride a bike unless it can do 45 mph. Aggressive, narrow-minded, idiot drivers don’t help matters either,” he writes.

“I used to ride my bicycle from work into downtown for lunch and nearly got run over every time. I would have loved to stay in Durango permanently, but so many idiots have overrun the place that I can’t stand the town anymore.”

Still, Drotor hears the siren song.

“I really miss big parts of Durango, and maybe someday, if the population there gets back down to 5,000 or so and the only businesses open are the breweries, restaurants, mom and pops places and Purg, I’ll be back.”

Closer to home, Durangoan Ken Laughlen makes some good points in a comprehensive communication.

“Compliant” e-bikes should be allowed on the trail because they are classified as “bikes” and not “motorized vehicles” under a federal definition that the state has adopted, Laughlen writes.

However, “a local community is permitted to adopt a law specifically prohibiting the use of electric-assisted bicycles on its bicycle pathways, but until then, users are entitled, by federal law, to do so,” he points out, stating that it’s not clear if Durango has played this trump card.

But do e-bikes pose higher danger to other users of the Animas River Trail?

“As with most tools, the operator is the wild card,” Laughlen said.

Regardless, he puts things in perspective: An electric bike “produces none of the auditory and olfactory offenses of an enginized (gasoline-powered) vehicle,” he said.

“Riders of electric bicycles are frequently just looking for the same travel environment as other users of the Animas River Trail, a pathway to their destination that is free of the stench, noise, frenetic pace, driver impatience and stupidity so endemic to Durango’s motorways,” Laughlen concludes.

Email questions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 80301. You can request anonymity if, just for fun, you ride your electric bike to Ignacio Bike Week during the Labor Day Weekend.