Guest editorial: Pedal-assist bikes have a place on Park City’s trails
I’m deeply thankful to the Park City community, Mountain Trails Foundation (MTF) and pioneers who built our trail network. Your efforts are life changing. Living here and not riding a mountain bike is like living here and not skiing. But there’s 25% loss of oxygen at 8,000 feet — the same as missing half of a lung. And we’re all growing older.
A new technology has gained mainstream adoption: pedal assist. In this case, we’re talking about it on mountain bikes. It provides a nominal amount of auxiliary assistance to bicycle pedals from a small electric motor, only when pedaling. The contribution is adjustable by the user. They’re still 100% bicycle, particularly on a mountain bike. It’s never cheating and the rider’s heart rate, and their overall speeds, are about the same.
The sales momentum is unstoppable: 60% of mountain bikes sold in Europe are now pedal assist. It’s expected to be at least 50% here in two years or less. Most local retailers report that it’s already at least 30% of their sales. It’s the greatest innovation to cycling since the bicycle chain. Quite simply: It makes the sport accessible.
Park City is in the phase where we’re still scared to death of them. We’re the only trail network in the entire state with a ban. Naturally it’s angering lots of people. Tourists, the elderly, and people with handicaps are being berated by “true cyclists” on the trails who feel empowered by The Ban. The city’s recent solution has been to provide an optional “sticker” so they can choose to maybe defend themselves against verbal harassment that’s bordered on physical altercation at times. A single ski-shop that can stay open in summer to rent them might bring at least 10 important year-round jobs back into our economy — something we’re badly needing.
Discriminating against particular user groups has never been The Park City Way. We were all novices once, and we will all be in our 50s and older, facing muscle decline. If you’re in your middle ages or older, a MTF supporter, and believe pedal assist on a bicycle is a bad idea, you know what it’s like to be an illegal immigrant who votes for President Trump. And maybe even donates to his campaign.
The real-world results of these bikes is simply astounding. People of all experiences can ride together. You can experience wildlife. The expert cyclist also enjoys them like a new sport — the most fun I’ve had in YEARS is now on a pedal-assist bicycle. This list goes on and on…
Possible damage is that of a mountain bike — probably less. Kids can do extended rides. The added weight is a non-issue. Data from rental bikes shows speed average, including downhill, of only 10 mph. Focusing on top speed of the contribution is a bit like fearing all BMWs. In the tests I’ve run as an elite rider, at my fastest I’m still slower than most racers on the same trails.
And finally, they seamlessly integrate into all trails. Dozens of use-cases show this. MTF has spoken to some, and they’ve known that since summer, before this issue flared up again at the City Council, and before City Council voted to kick the can, again.
I urge you to do your own research and to, most importantly, spend time on a pedal-assist bicycle. Embrace what was once The Park City Spirit: open mindedness, being welcoming, being of logic and reason, and that zealots who fear change have little place in policy making. I miss those days.
MTF is running a survey about this, and the city will be launching theirs shortly. Go to mountaintrails.org and click the survey link in the middle of the page.
Andre Shoumatoff is a digital technologist in the ski, outdoors and bike industries. He also co-owned and operated a rental-focused bicycle shop in Park City for four years.
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A reader argues in a letter to the editor that people who ride e-bikes are friends, not foes and have as much right to the trails as other bike riders.