JACKSON HOLE, WYO – An increase in the prevalence of electronic bikes prompted government leaders to look into safety and legality issues regarding two-wheeled bicycles with motors. State statute has not yet caught up with the trend to declare definitively whether an e-bike is considered a motored vehicle or simply a souped-up cycle. Currently, an e-bike is considered by the state to be a moped, basically.
While waiting on legislation, town and county officials met yesterday to make their own determination by ordinance of what would be allowed on the countywide pathway system and in roadside bike lanes.
Different classes of e-bikes separate power and speed into three categories. Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are bicycles that have been equipped with a rechargeable battery and electric motor that provide power assistance to the rider. E-bikes that meet the federal Consumer Product Safety Act definition of a “low-speed electric bicycle” are bicycles that have fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts that provide a maximum assisted speed of 20mph when powered solely by the motor.
Numerous local bike shops now carry e-bikes in their rental and retail fleets, and there has been a significant increase in e-bike usage locally over the past year. After studying it for the past year, a Pathways Task Force, chaired by former Alliance director Craig Benjamin, recommended all e-bikes meeting the federal definition of “low-speed electric bicycle” be allowed for use on Town of Jackson and Teton County pathways.
The path to acceptance
Public discussion on the subject ranged from individuals worried about the speed of e-bikes and safety issues, to some in the community expressing a need to use one for health or practical reasons.
Nearly all town and county electeds felt e-bikes mostly fit the community’s stated goals in developing alternative modes of transportation in order to get cars off the road.
Councilman Don Frank summed up the majority opinion of the joint board, stating, “We’ve built a robust multi-modal transportation infrastructure. We’ve got a communitywide commitment to be sustainable. This is the way we are going to get cars off the road,” he said, adding safety was up to individuals. “Our first line of defense for safety is good citizenship. We all have to advocate for mindful and careful behavior. I’d like all of us to work toward being advocates of responsible behavior, and also being kind to each other. It’s really that simple.”
Mayor Pete Muldoon and commissioner Greg Epstein were in support of e-bikes as a means to expand the user group of pathways commuters who may be unable to use conventional bikes without some sort of motor assistance, or find it impractical to commute solely via pedal power.
Others were hesitant, worrying about safety concerns or compliance.
Councilman Jim Stanford was the lone dissenter, believing e-bikes are not right for Pathways. “I’m not comfortable providing motors to a non-motorized pathway,” he said.
Stanford agreed with Frank that safe use of the pathways ultimately comes down to courteous and conscientious behavior—something he was less convinced would happen organically in his experience.
Town and county staffers were instructed to draw up new guidelines allowing e-bikes on the Pathway system provided their classification did not allow the cycles to travel in excess of 20mph without pedal assistance.