During the COVID quarantine, I’ve been riding my bike a lot, and I’ve noticed new signs put up on the Phil’s Trail system by the USFS and the Central Oregon Trail Association posting “No E-bikes” and “No Pedal Assist.”
I am 68 years old and have been a bike enthusiast all my life. Three years ago, I had a heart attack and an emergency triple bypass. My heart blood-pumping function was rated as “failure” after my surgery, and a subsequent pacemaker implant has improved it up to “below average.” My cardiologist tells me that it will never get back to “normal.”
I bought an electric mountain bike so that I have the stamina and confidence to continue my bike riding enjoyment. My bike has “pedal assist ,” which means that it has an electric motor that amplifies the torque provided by my legs. The amplification can be selected in four ranges from “eco” to “turbo.” There is no throttle, and my bike does not move unless I pedal it. The electric assist is limited to a maximum 25 mile per hour, which I can reach only when going downhill.
I’ve had multiple comments from avid mountain bike enthusiasts about my electric bike ranging from neutral to hostile. The most aggressive being “If I ever catch you on a trail, it’s going to get ugly. Real ugly.”
Let me share with you some of the reasons that I was given by people objecting to my e-bike and my rebuttal. “You’re going to be ripping up the trails.” No, my bike has the same form, function and tires as mountain bike. “You’re going to be kicking up rooster tails.” No, I can’t rev my engine and spin out. “That’s just cheating” Maybe, but my pedal assist is just like using a lower gear. “You’re going to be zooming by people”. No, I can’t go any faster on a single track than you can. “I’ve got to use my muscles to go up hill.” Yes, and so do I. “You need to be physically fit to mountain bike.” Wow, that’s just snobbery. “There are lots of forest roads where you can ride instead” So the trails were created for only a select few? “The COTA trails are reserved for human-powered bikes.” Pedaling my bike is not human powered?
The Central Oregon Trail Association’s mission is to provide for “human-powered multi-use trails.” While an e-bike is considered a bicycle on a road, COTA considers it a motorized vehicle on a single track trail.
The National Forest Service has taken COTA’s position on the subject. Unlike a wheelchair or a scooter, the USFS does not consider an e-bike as an enabling device for the physically challenged. That’s where I disagree. My e-bike allows me access to enjoy public lands just like any other citizen. I would definitely not be able to access the Phil’s Trail system without this assistance, and my family would not let me ride on a mountain bike trail without it.
I believe that it is a blatant form of elitism and discrimination against the elderly and physically challenged to prevent pedal assist bikes on trails. Take down the “No Pedal Assist” signs: You are preventing me from using and enjoying public lands.