National Parks Trying To Get A Handle On E-Bikes Electric assisted bicycles are on trails in the national parks. Enthusiasts think that's a great thing, but some traditional riders and environmentalists see big problems ahead.
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National Parks Trying To Get A Handle On E-Bikes

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National Parks Trying To Get A Handle On E-Bikes

National Parks Trying To Get A Handle On E-Bikes

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E-bikes - electric-assisted bicycles - are popping up in many places, including at national parks on roads and trails. Now some parks are struggling with how to regulate e-bikes. From member station WKSU, Mark Arehart reports.

MARK AREHART, BYLINE: It can be tough sometimes to tell an e-bike apart from a regular road or mountain bike. The motor and batteries are integrated into the bike frame and often hidden neatly away. But start pedaling, and you can sure feel the difference.

So the harder I pedal, the more juice it gives me. Whoa.

As of now, you can ride your e-bike in national parks across the country.

NATALIE LEVINE: There are many parks where traditional bicycles are currently only allowed on park roads. So in those situations, adding electric bicycles there might not be as big a concern for us.

AREHART: Natalie Levine is with the National Parks Conservation Association.

LEVINE: But in a place like Cuyahoga, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Acadia National Park, they have trails that aren't park roads where we think there should be more analysis of the impacts of these bicycles.

AREHART: In Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which sits between Cleveland and Akron, there are miles of dedicated mountain bike trails.

STEPHEN METZLER: And this trail here was not built with e-bikes in mind.

AREHART: Stephen Metzler heads the Cleveland area Mountain Bike Association and says, with the added motor, e-bikes are much heavier, and that raises concerns.

METZLER: Speeds on a downhill with a heavier bike - it could potentially cause injury to the rider and to other trail users.

AREHART: Cuyahoga Valley rolled out a draft policy allowing e-bikes on roads and multi-use paths but banned them outright on its mountain bike trails. Park official Pamela Barnes says they're playing it safe for now.

PAMELA BARNES: We, at this time, don't have enough data to be able to answer the question, is an e-mountain bike different than a traditional mountain bike, as far as impact on the trail or on resources?

AREHART: Bike shop owner Chad Marn has no problem with people of any ability using e-bikes in national parks, but he's against allowing them on mountain bike trails.

CHAD MARN: If someone lacks the physical prowess or skill set to handle that, providing them an engine doesn't necessarily change those facts.

AREHART: But Pete Smakula, who owns an e-bike shop in Akron, disagrees.

PETE SMAKULA: People who have different abilities will still look at a section of trail and go, yeah, I can do that or I can't.

AREHART: But ban or no ban, mountain biker Cody Rider says e-mountain bikes are already on these trails anyway.

CODY RIDER: I think it's a lot like cars. You can also drive considerably over the speed limit and make it an unpleasant experience for everyone around you and unsafe for that matter, too.

AREHART: With the popularity of e-bikes on the rise, even Chad Marn, who doesn't want to see them on trails, recognizes that he's fighting a losing battle.

MARN: I've actually asked the opinion of a lot of the different bicycle people that I trust, and the resounding theme is, it's inevitable. Quit fighting it.

AREHART: Manufacturers are indeed racing to put out more and more e-bike models as cyclists who want a little extra boost continue to embrace them. And it's that popularity that's pressuring national parks to figure out whether to welcome or restrict them.

For NPR News, I'm Mark Arehart.


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