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Our View: Durango divide: Ebikes and those who hate on them

Note the bumper sticker, “Bikes, Durango’s replacement for horses.” Now, we’re witnessing another possible replacement and a sharp Durango divide – people hating on ebikes. And those who love that electric zip in their rides.

More to the point, classic bike riders want novice ebikers to follow the rules of the road, and be courteous, safe and less annoying.

Ebikes are everywhere. The pandemic boosted ebike sales 145% from 2019 to 2020, more than double the rate of classic bikes, according to the market research firm NPD Group.

In 2020, Americans purchased around 500,000 ebikes. In comparison, 231,000 electric cars were sold in that time period, according to the Pew Research Center – a rate of about two to one. Ebikes – not cars – are the world’s best-selling electric vehicle.

Ebikes offer much to love. They open new frontiers for those with injuries, health problems or who don’t meet the fitness level to ride what is now called – get ready – an analog bike. Ebikers take off on country roads and feel the freedom reminiscent of that first ride as a kid. Remember gaining your balance on two wheels, wind in your hair, the thrill of speed and the ground below zooming by? Weeeeeeeee!

Commuters adore their ebikes and ride to work or haul kids to school without arriving sweaty. And the car stays parked. An ebike provides enough incentive to run that last errand rather than a regular, er, analog bike that requires more umph.

Yet, those on the dark side of the divide say ebikers could be more mannerly. They blow by on the Animas River Trail without the notification voiced as “on your left.” They cut off other bikes, dart in and out of traffic, and ride ebikes the way they drive cars. Ebikers on East Third Avenue often clock at 28 mph, which is speeding!

The state got behind ebikes with rebates. Classic bike riders, left in the dust, do more to save the planet with their own pedal power. Go figure.

Speaking of going green, ebikers tend to proselytize about their electric choice. But until technology advances with smaller batteries and lighter bikes, the price range of $3,250 to $5,500 for commuter Class I and Class III ebikes is beyond reach for many.

Judgy, too, the analog rider crowd that equates power-assist systems with cheating, especially on group rides. No longer a shared struggle.

Mike Phillips at Mountain Bike Specialists said it’s not cheating. “It’s playing by different rules,” said Phillips, who commutes to work daily from Hermosa on an ebike. “Cyclists love to quantify, whether talking about miles in the saddle or power to weight ratio.”

On poor cycling behavior, he said: “A knucklehead can be a knucklehead on an analog bike. It’s not inherent to an ebike.”

Joe Hanrahan, owner of Durango Cyclery, does not sell ebikes but he owns one. Hanrahan said it’s the electric mountain bikes that “complicate things” with more weight and complexity. But they extend riders’ mountain bike life. “They can ride longer, more often, go farther,” he said.

As the industry grows, though, Hanrahan would like to see more of a distinction in conversations around commuter and electric mountain bikes.

Love ebikes or hate them, if a city survey were to ask whether Durango needs more ebike trails, we’d bet on a resounding “yes” based on numbers alone.

Phillips logs enough miles commuting that he doesn’t feel the need for a long Sunday ride. Instead, he’s at home with his wife. He credits his ebike with bringing “more balance to his life.” Can’t put a price tag on that.