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COLUMN: Public paths don't belong to fitness fanatics

August 17, 2017 Updated: August 17, 2017 at 4:25 am
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What is it about bicyclists that makes them so competitive and dismissive of anyone who isn't fit enough to look good in logo-emblazoned skintight spandex?

Reporter Scott Condon of The Aspen Times published an excellent article on the rise in popularity of electrically assisted bicycles and the growing conflict in Aspen over their use on public bike and pedestrian trails.

This passage by Condon caught my attention: "When cyclists are huffing and puffing their way up a climb, it strikes some of them as cheating when they encounter an e-biker covering the same ground quicker and easier." Condon quotes Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association Executive Director Mike Pritchard as saying in response "There's just something weird that goes on in your brain."

Weird doesn't begin to describe it. It's behavior seen in the spandex set all over Colorado. It's seen in the many dangerous encounters that drivers, pedestrians, dog walkers and horseback riders have with bikers who think they are entitled to "full use of the lane" no matter how narrow the path, how fast or slow they are going, whom they obstruct because they can't keep up and whom they blow by with their high-speed antics.

The e-bikes are allowed on roads and trails where motor vehicles are permitted because they are currently defined that way. Condon says Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, who is also chairman of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors, is adamant that e-bikes "have no place on the Rio Grande Trail because of the potential danger they pose to others on the popular and sometimes crowded trail. He contended it would be irresponsible to add to the mix pedal assist bikes capable of higher speeds."

Higher speeds than the bikes pedaled by Lance Armstrong clones that are capable of going at least twice as fast as the 20 mph e-bikes are capable of? That seems a bit arbitrary and capricious. If speeding bicyclists are a problem, then speed limits need to be established and cops with radar guns need to be deployed to issue tickets. That's what they do in Boulder.

And if Pritchard, who says "Normally on a trail that you might be able to go 10 miles per hour on, you can go twice as fast," is so concerned about being overtaken, he should be advocating for no passing regulations for all bicycles so that they can't overtake the slowest bicyclist or pedestrian on the trail. I'm not holding my breath on that one.

E-bikes serve a valuable purpose by allowing those like me who probably should not parade around in body-hugging biker gear for aesthetic reasons and those who don't pedal 500 miles a week to enjoy the network of trails built for our use and enjoyment, too, even if the massively thighed huffers and puffers are annoyed by being passed by someone who is "cheating" on the uphill grades.

These bikes are eco-friendly, quiet, nonpolluting and serve the needs of the less-abled in enjoying their right to use public trails infrastructure. Think of it as an Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation to old people who can't qualify for the Tour de France. After all, electrically powered wheelchairs are allowed on any trail for that very reason. Michael Wampler, owner of Aspen Velo bike shop, rents e-bikes to tourists. "Eighty percent of our customer base is gray-haired," he said.

If we are to accept either Newman's or Prichard's argument that it is the speed differential that determines who can and cannot use a public trail, then bicyclists must be banned because they go faster than wheelchairs and wheelchairs must be banned because they go faster than an elderly lady walking with a cane.

But this isn't about logic; it's about fitness addicts whose brains go "weird" by being passed by someone riding an e-bike who they think is "cheating" by not putting in the same amount of sweat-equity they have.

The rest of us shouldn't have to pander to this nonsense. Public lands managers should allow e-bikes equal and full use of all public highways, roads and trails where nonassisted bicycles are permitted so that the elderly and less fit won't be discriminated against.

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Readers can contact Scott Weiser at scott.weiser@altnews.us.

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