At its June 1 meeting, the Grand County Commission passed a resolution permitting the use of Class 1 e-bikes on the county’s paved trail system on the north end of town, but fans of the motor-assisted electric bicycles shouldn’t get too excited just yet.
“The passage of this resolution does not automatically allow e-bikes on these trails,” Commission Administrator Chris Baird emphasized after the 5-0 vote in favor of the resolution. “This is just getting the ball rolling—there’s still a process involved in actually finalizing the legality of e-bikes on these trails.”
Bike shops report that e-bikes are a hit with users. “We have roughly ten e-bikes in our fleet, and they’re definitely popular,” said Keith Phillips, manager at the local bike shop Moab Cyclery. He said on any given day, some of those bikes might be out on a multi-day guided tour with Moab Cyclery’s parent company; another two or three might be rented out to individuals.
E-bikes have been rising in popularity over the past few years and have generated both critics and advocates. Opposing sides disagree about where e-bikes should be allowed and how they should be regulated.
Advocates say the bikes allow people with lower levels of fitness to access and enjoy the outdoors and public lands; critics say e-bikes pose a danger to other trail users because of their speed capabilities, or that they cause increased damage to trails. Before the advent of e-bikes, trails were often delineated as either open or closed to motorized use; according to some, e-bikes straddle the line between motorized and non-motorized.
Kate Lloyd is a manager at another local bike shop, Bike Fiend. She said e-bikes are one of the more popular rental models; the four the shop has in its fleet are in constant demand.
Lloyd said it is often older riders looking for the motor-assisted bikes—or it might be families looking for a way to travel around town, less experienced riders wanting to keep up with a more experienced partner, or riders who have been away from the sport for a long time and want to get back into it. Since she’s worked at Bike Fiend, she’s seen the demand for e-bikes rise.
“Even in my couple of years here, it’s increased substantially,” she said.
In a letter to the commission, the Grand County Trail Mix Advisory Committee wrote that “in recent years, e-bikes have been heavily promoted by the bicycle manufacturing industry, and many people—both residents and visitors—are currently illegally using these pathways in the mistaken impression that they are legal and open to e-bikes.”
In March of this year, the BLM offered a reward for information on vandals who had stolen or defaced signs displaying e-bike regulations at trailheads and along trails, highlighting the tension between user groups and regulators.
The county’s resolution specifies Class 1 e-bikes, which are defined in Utah code as electric bicycles that provide assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and cease to provide that assistance once the bike reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour. Class 2 and Class 3 bikes, which can give assistance regardless of whether the rider is pedaling and may give assistance beyond 20 miles per hour, remain prohibited on county trails. The trails included in the resolution are those in the “North Moab Recreation Areas Alternative Transportation System,” which comprises the paved Moab Canyon pathway along Highway 191 north of Moab, the paved Colorado River pathway along Highway 128, the Arches National Park Transit Hub, the paved pathway from 500 West to Lions Park, the Lions Park Transit Hub, and the pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River.
Commissioners all agreed that they do not support the use of e-bikes on dirt singletrack mountain biking trails, but they generally supported at least experimenting with allowing e-bikes on paved paths.
The Grand County Trail Mix Advisory Committee, which supports the commission with expertise on trails, submitted a recommendation to the commission that it implement a one-year trial period allowing e-bikes on the paved trails north of Moab, and added that the existing 15 mph speed limit should remain in effect, detailed signs explaining regulations should be posted at all pathway entrances, and signs explicitly stating the prohibition of e-bikes on singletrack dirt trails should be installed at access points to such trails. The letter acknowledges that e-bikes are popular and can give access to trails for more people.
“What is not known, however, is the adverse effect that e-bikes will have on walkers, runners, traditional bikers, and other current users of these recreational facilities,” the letter cautions, later continuing, “The increase in recreational opportunity for e-bikers comes at a cost—that of a diminished recreational experience for all other user groups. We feel that a trial period is the best way to gauge the balance between all users.”
County Attorney Christina Sloan explained that because the trail system included in the resolution is on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, the procedure to allow e-bikes on those paths is subject to that agency’s requirements. The BLM has no process to implement a trial period, Sloan said—to achieve that trial period, the commission would have to reconsider the issue again at the end of the desired trial period and either take steps to again prohibit e-bikes, allow them to remain permissible, or implement some adjustments to policy. The concept of a trial period, therefore, was not included in the resolution.
Trails under the jurisdiction of Moab City, the National Park Service, or other agencies would not be subject to the same policy. Establishing consistency across jurisdictions is important to land managers and elected officials.
“It’s pretty clear that the city’s system is somewhat different than the county’s, but it would be ideal to have consistent rules where they connect,” said Baird.
The Moab City Council is considering a similar resolution to the county’s. The council tabled an e-bike agenda item at its April 27 meeting; at the city council’s May 25 meeting, City Attorney Laurie Simonson noted that consistency in policy is the goal:
“We were trying to get all the various governmental entities to generally be on the same page with regard to electric bicycles,” she said, “so that we don’t have a patchwork of someone thinking they can take an electric bicycle on some portion of a pathway only to find they’ve crossed a jurisdiction and it’s confusing, and at a certain point electric bicycles are prohibited.”
In spite of complications, commissioners voted to pass the resolution with the understanding that adjustments may need to be made to achieve consistency.
“There’s a lot of weeds, it seems, that we can get bogged down on this,” said Commissioner Sarah Stock. “I just think that e-bikes should be allowed on paved pathways. I don’t think they should be allowed on the singletrack all over the county.”
Other commissioners pointed to ongoing promotion of active transportation and efforts to reduce traffic congestion, and suggested that a more permissive e-bike policy might advance those goals.
Commission Chair Mary McGann was absent from the meeting; Commissioner Jacques Hadler recused himself from the e-bike discussion and vote, as he serves as a consultant to Moab Cyclery, which rents and sells e-bikes.