Electric-powered bikes could have their legalized day in Colorado Springs' mountainous parks following an official analysis.
That analysis began Wednesday evening, when city parks administrators convened local advocates, elected representatives and bike shop owners in what Scott Abbott called "a first-ever community conversation" about the emerging technology.
The meeting was designed to start answering the question several communities have grappled with in Colorado and beyond: "Should the city expand e-bike access?" said Abbott, the Springs' regional parks, trails and open space manager.
The parks department will soon ask the wider public in an online survey, Abbott said.
Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, the local mountain biking nonprofit, gathered input from an online poll launched in February. The group's executive director, Cory Sutela, said 662 responses represented "close to a 50/50 split between people saying there should be more access vs. people saying there should be lesser or no access."
The e-bike debate has been polarizing nationwide. Proponents say the charged boost makes cycling more inclusive for people hampered by disability and age. Opponents, meanwhile, say the wheels threaten the trail experience for others and pose unforeseen consequences with e-bike capabilities still developing.
Reportedly the largest growing sector of the cycling industry, e-bikes gained a victory last year, when a secretarial order was issued to expand access on Bureau of Land Management trails. In recent years, Jefferson and Boulder counties have allowed certain e-bikes at certain parks and open spaces.
In the Springs, Class 1 e-bikes — with a pedal-activated motor that ceases at 20 mph — are only allowed on urban trails. They've been seen on dirt at such cherished preserves as Red Rock Canyon, Ute Valley and North Cheyenne Cañon.
"There's more every year, and I think it's just going to keep increasing," Sutela said. "It's a difficult topic, and we've got to wrestle with it."
At Wednesday's meeting, equestrian Eleanore Blacketer expressed concern over "the ability for a bike to have higher speeds than what we might normally see." Horses could perceive e-bikes as predators, she said, and the consequences could be "catastrophic" for the animal, rider and cyclist.
But Ron Ramsey called the popular perception of hard-charging e-bikes false. More were like him and his wife, he said, preferring gentler rides in retirement. He mentioned some cars being faster than others, "but we have laws to keep them in check." And that was the problem with e-bikes, he said: "We need regulations to keep the behavior in check."
Cycling aficionado and city councilwoman Jill Gaebler struggled to envision enforcement. Still, she sounded in favor of exploring e-bike access.
"We all fund and pay for these trails. They are ours," she said. "We need to ensure we're keeping each other safe, but letting people enjoy our trails and the outdoors of our city, that to me is paramount."
Medicine Wheel has warned of "a major change in use that will have impacts on all users." In the case of new policy, the group has suggested a "careful, incremental approach" and "not a blanket change to allow (e-mountain bikes) on all trails."
Public surveying would last two weeks, Abbott said.
"We'd hope to come around cleanly in 2021 with at least a presentation of what we might think could be a future policy," he said.