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With e-bikes booming in popularity, will Durango allow them on soft-surface trails?

A trial period came to an end this week; results to be analyzed
Mike Phillips with Mountain Bike Specialists shows an electric mountain bike that may soon be allowed on soft-surface trails in Durango after a yearlong trial on the Twin Buttes trails. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

As the popularity of pedal-assisted electric bikes rises, the city of Durango is looking at how it can change its rules to accommodate both traditional and electric cyclists.

After a trial period a few years ago, the city made the decision to allow e-bikes on hard-surface trails like the Animas River Trail, which is paved.

During the past year and a half, the city has held another e-bike trial period at the Twin Buttes mountain biking trails to gauge whether it will allow e-bikes on soft-surface trails, or non-paved trails. The trial period ended Tuesday.

“They’re getting input right now, and we’re going to be giving the data over to a professor at Fort Lewis College who’s going to do a study and report on it,” said Parks and Recreation Director Ture Nycum.

Both commuter-style electric bikes and electric mountain bikes make up a large portion of sales at Mountain Bike Specialists in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Nycum said he’s heard from community members who want e-bikes on soft-surface trails, and others who have concerns.

“There’s always two sides to the story, and we’re still looking at it, to be honest,” Nycum said. “It’s a challenge in that some people would love to see e-bikes out there, and some people are not quite sure.”

Durango Trails board president Christina Rinderle said some of the concerns she’s heard from other riders about letting e-bikes on the trails are about safety and speed.

“I think most concerns people have are with safety, and those concerns can be addressed in general with trail etiquette,” she said. “I really don’t think it’s the e-bike that’s the issue.”

Rinderle said many who are buying e-bikes are older people who can’t get around like they used to.

“When you look at the demographic of the e-bike user, I think they should be allowed, and I’m glad that the city did the trial at Twin Buttes,” she said. “I haven’t heard of any conflicts with e-bike users.”

Many riders in Durango use a combination of hard- and soft-surface trails when commuting on bikes, Rinderle said.

“Allowing e-bikes would really expand that opportunity for more people to commute on their bikes,” she said.

E-bikes have gained international acclaim, and Durango is no exception.

“E-bikes are a very large percentage of our sales,” said Mountain Bike Specialists Manager John Glover. “They are very popular.”

Glover said that awareness of what e-bikes are and how they can be used has sparked a growing acceptance in the cycling community.

“Whether it’s a person with physical limitations being able to get out on soft-surface trails, or a person who can park their car and make a more healthy commute, the different aspects of what e-bikes can provide is gaining more recognition,” he said. “E-bikes have really been an empowering thing for people who have some limitations.”

Mountain Bike Specialists salesman Mike Phillips shows off the fleet of electric mountain bikes for sale at the Durango store. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Glover said 2021 was the first year that the dollar value of importing e-bikes surpassed the value of importing traditional bicycles.

“When you’re looking at value, they do cost more, but the market for importing bicycles is huge,” Glover said.

Speaking to the cost of purchasing an e-bike, Glover said prices have come down some. However, prices for high-end e-bikes have gone up.

About half of the bicycles in the sales area at Mountain Bike Specialists are electric bikes. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

There are three classes of e-bike: Class 1 and Class 3 e-bikes are the most common, and likely what customers find at a bike shop. Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assisted up to 20 mph, and Class 3 bikes are pedal-assisted up to 28 mph. Class 2 bikes have a throttle, and do not require pedaling.

“The reason bike shops focus on Class 1 and Class 3 is because they’re pedal-assisted, which means you have to pedal or they will not move,” Glover said.

Most land managers will allow only Class 1 e-bikes on soft-surface trails, he said.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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