Allowing e-bikes on natural trails in Park City seems to be a polarizing issue among trail users. The topic drew an hour of public comment at a recent Park City Council meeting, where the council decided to allow people 65 and older to use pedal-assist, class one e-bikes on any trail in Park City, joining people with mobility disabilities as the exception to the rule. For all other riders, e-bikes are only allowed on paved trails. One former bike shop owner shares his perspective.
Park City Bike Demos founder Andre Shoumatoff used to be opposed to e-bikes, based on personal experience where e-bike riders would pass him on trails. But he says when the shop started offering e-bikes, customers bought them out. Store associates told them the bikes weren’t allowed on trails, and the tourists, many from Europe, didn’t see what the problem was.
“It was our customers who started educating us, and they said, 'look, you guys just don't understand this,'" Shoumatoff said. "I started looking, and Wasatch County, Corner Canyon, our gazillion trail networks allow them, and I'm like, what was the process that allowed us to effectively ban e-bikes here, and what are the actual legitimate concerns? So, I started poking around, and that's sort of how we got to where we are, including with city council. Lots of emails, etc., etc.”
One of the arguments against allowing e-bikes on unpaved trails is the potential damage the bikes could cause to them. A 2015 study from the International Mountain Bicycling Association found that class one e-mountain bikes didn’t disproportionately impact soil any more than regular mountain bikes, though the report acknowledged that could change depending on trail conditions. Shoumatoff thinks the only impact on trails will come from an increase in users.
“I think the more riders will be maybe 5%, 10% more riders—something like that in the beginning," Shoumatoff said. "I think maybe a little bit more as it grows. Cycling and ski are both diminishing in user base, but one in five Americans rides a bike fairly often, so I know that both industries view e-bike with a lot of potential to bring more people back into the sport.”
Another concern community members expressed is that, because the bikes are bigger and faster up hills, there’s a greater risk of somebody getting hurt. E-bikes tend to weigh around 50 pounds—about twice as much as a regular mountain bike—and pedal-assist e-bikes can reach up to 20 miles per hour. Shoumatoff argues anyone who is inexperienced in a sport could hurt someone—or themselves.
“Novices at the ski area do get injured, but novices don't like to put themselves on black diamond trails," Shoumatoff said. "People make poor decisions, but that's the very small minority. I think, sure, we're going to see some effects, but we have to be prepared for that. It's the right thing to do.”
Shoumatoff has recently stepped down as manager and owner of Park City Bike Demos. He’s not sure if he’ll lobby at the legislature on this issue, should lawmakers consider allowing all classes of e-bikes on trails statewide, as Park City Mayor Andy Beerman suggested they would.
The Park City Council directed staff to create a task force to design a pilot program allowing class one e-bikes on Park City trails, likely next spring.