Lahey

Longtime Aspen resident Vince Lahey rides an electric bicycle, or e-bike, recently. Lahey is trying to get the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Department to modify its position on e-bikes.

A longtime resident of Aspen is circulating a change.org petition online in hopes of getting the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Department to consider modifying its stance regarding class 1 electric mountain-bikes — e-bikes — on county-managed singletrack trails.

Vince Lahey counts himself as an avid rider of a class 1 e-bike, and he is of the opinion that such two-wheeled modes of transport ought to be legally allowed on trails that allow other types of mountain bikes.

To that end, on Wednesday, Lahey booted up his petition, the wording of which states: “We’d like the director of Pitkin County Trails and Open Space, Gary Tennenbaum, to reconsider the county’s ban on all e-bikes from Pitkin County trails.”

As support, Lahey invoked in his petition wording from a recent position toward e-bikes taken by IMBA, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the world’s largest fat-tire advocacy group.

“In August, the International Mountain Bicycling Association changed their position on e-bikes, writing, ‘We support trail access for all class 1 eMTBs and support shared use on trails as long as access is not lost or impeded for traditional mountain bikes. IMBA recommends class 1 eMTBs be managed independently from traditional mountain bikes and we encourage land managers to develop separate regulations.’”

Lahey’s petition concludes, “By signing this petition you simply encourage Mr. Tennenbaum to do exactly what the IMBA suggests. Please help us in our efforts to create fair and equal access to the amazing singletrack trail system that we all should be allowed to enjoy, regardless of challenges we all may face as a result of age, injury or altitude.”

Thing is, Tennenbaum does not possess the unilateral authority to modify OST’s policy toward e-bikes.

“All regulation changes must go through the [Pitkin Board of County Commissioners],” he said.

His authority in this context would be limited to presenting the results of the petition to the BOCC and making recommendations one way or the other. Or, he could do nothing. There is no legal mandate for him to act on the petition.

As it stands, class 1 e-bikes are allowed only on paved and crusher fine trails, like the Rio Grande and East of Aspen Trails, according to Tennenbaum. They are prohibited from accessing county-owned singletrack.

That prohibition was enacted by the BOCC last year “after a public process showed support for allowing this use on paved and crushed gravel trails,” said Tennenbaum, who estimated that OST manages about 80 miles of trails, about half of which are paved/crusher fine.

Lahey, who moved to Aspen in 1994, understands that OST policy is based at least partially on what he perceives is an unfair prejudice toward e-bikes on the part of traditional cyclists.

‘Dump of glutamate’

Lahey, who said he was a psychology major at the University of Colorado-Boulder, goes brainstem deep when explaining the roots of that prejudice.

“When a competitive athlete gets passed by an e-bike, one of two things will happen based on how their brain interprets the event,” said Lahey, who describes himself as a “50-year-old competitive skier, former ski coach with Aspen Valley Ski Club, two-time Colorado Freeride Champion, recovering from a partial knee replacement and still loving mountain biking thanks to my e-bikes.”

“In scenario one, the competitive rider is passed by an e-bike rider and interprets the passing as a challenge that he or she accepts,” Lahey said. “The athlete’s brain receives a dump of glutamate — the excitatory neurotransmitter. The dump results in a feeling of intensity that leads to increased energy, stamina and confidence.

“Seconds into the chase, the athlete will determine that the threat is actually an e-bike rider and not another muscle-powered athlete and they will end the chase. The experience leaves that athlete with a powerful addition of energy to use as they please on the rest of their ride. They are left feeling like a dog that has just chased a cat that got away — no kill, but the chase was a lot of fun for them.

“But for those competitive athletes who are passed by the e-bike rider and sense that they were just beaten by a stronger rider, GABA — the inhibiting neurotransmitter — is released into their brains,” he continued. “This release discourages them from giving chase and essentially encourages them to accept defeat. Even after they realize that the threat was not real and their emotions not warranted, it’s too late. For the next 40 minutes, their bodies will suffer emotions similar to depression until the released GABA flushes itself out of their brains. 

“Unfortunately for e-bike riders everywhere, the negative event will stay with the competitive athlete forever and the negative impact of the original event will be reinforced each time an e-bike rider passes them again. This is why we often hear so many negative things said about e-bike riders. It’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way our brains work.”

While that assessment may be true, a lot of people oppose e-bike access to singletrack because they fear such access will open a regulatory Pandora’s Box that eventually will lead to other forms of motorized vehicles to be allowed on trails now reserved for human-powered transportation.

Lahey thinks, when it comes to class 1 e-bikes at least, that concern is misguided.

“Class 1 e-bikes are limited to a one-horsepower motor,” he said. “They are only assisting the rider when he is pedaling. The idea that a one-horsepower e-bike is in any way relative to, say, a regular dirt bike, like a Honda 250cc dirt bike — that’s 25 horsepower. We’re talking about huge distinction between a pedal-assisted e-bike motor and a dirt-bike motor. The federal government has made that distinction and, in Europe, they’ve made that distinction. In Europe, class 1 bikes are allowed everywhere.

“Class 1 e-bikes are designed to go up to 20 miles per hour, but only with you assisting it,” Lahey continued. “If you’re going uphill, your top speed is closer to 6-7 mph. I have a computer on my bike and I’m always measuring how fast I’m going. My bike rides, whether I’m out one hour or three hours, always come out to an average of 7-8 mph.”

Lahey admits this is a polarizing issue within the Roaring Fork Valley outdoor community.

“I know there is concern about e-bikes overpopulating trails that are already overpopulated,” he said. “But I think you’re only going to see expert riders on most of the singletrack, same as now. I don’t think any of the local shops are going to rent a $2,000 bike to someone they don’t think has the necessary skills.”

He also understands that opposition is ingrained and will be hard to overcome.

“I think that the voice of the avid cyclists who are offended by their interactions with e-bikes on roads is, they’re not good for roads, so they’re not good for trails,” he said. “I know that, since we have started circulating our petition, [Tennenbaum] has received a lot of calls from people who are opposed to e-bikes on OST singletrack.”

Petition confusion?

Everyone is allowed to petition, Tennenbaum responded. 

“His petition has generated some calls to me from folks against having e-bikes on singletrack since my name was in the petition. Some people were confused that OST created the petition, which it did not.”

As for the possibility of class 1 e-bikes ever being allowed on OST singletrack trails, Tennenbaum leaves the door cracked open a bit, at least partially because of a directive issued three weeks ago by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. That order mandated that the directors of the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management begin the process of allowing e-bikes on any trails under their jurisdiction that already allow regular mountain bikes.

That order has implications in the Roaring Fork Valley, as there are several parcels — Prince Creek, the Crown and Red Hill, among them — managed by the BLM that allow mountain bikes. 

“We are watching what happens with the BLM rule change,” Tennenbaum said. “OST will be updating the Glassier Management plan in 2020, which has trails directly connecting to the BLM. If e-bikes are allowed on the BLM portion of the Crown, then during the update we will go through a public process to see what changes the public would like to see on the property and allowing e-bikes can be considered. The trails at Prince Creek would also see an update to that management plan to see if the public supports e-bikes there, since those trails connect to the BLM.”

To access Lahey’s petition, which contains a link to IMBA’s position statement on class-1 e-bikes, go to: change.org/p/gary-tennenbaum-class-1-e-bike-access-on-pitkin-county-s-mountain-bike-trails?recruiter=7812934&recruited_by_id=a95061b0-1d64-11e4-af03-b762859e93d9&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=petition_dashboard