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Expanded trail access proposed for electric bikes at Tahoe

April 13, 2021 GMT

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service is proposing a five-fold increase in the number of miles of trails open to certain electric bikes in the forests surrounding Lake Tahoe.

The proposal by the service’s Lake Basin Management Unit covering parts of six counties in California and Nevada would add 120 miles (193 kilometers) to the current 25 that allow such access, not including dirt roads, among the total 385 miles (619 km) of trails.

“This project is our effort at being proactive and managing e-bikes,” said Jacob Quinn, engineering technician for the unit.

Many of the public comments they’ve received are from users who are older or with various levels of mobility who say e-bikes have allowed them to continue recreating as their mobility has changed, he told the Reno Gazette Journal. A final decision should be made by the end of the year.

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Backers of e-bikes at Tahoe told the newspaper the proposal is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough.

“The general sentiment with e-bikes is pretty polarized,” said Amanda Wentz, a board member with the Biggest Little Trail Stewardship, a nonprofit group that builds and maintains trails throughout the Reno area. “From a management perspective, it makes sense why they are so tricky — it’s a grey area.”

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit spans Alpine, El Dorado and Placer counties in California, plus Douglas and Washoe counties and Carson City in Nevada. Nevada has not adopted a tiered e-bike classification system, but California has, depending on the speed the bike can travel and how much assistance riders must provide the vehicle.

Expansion of current access would only apply to Class 1 e-bikes, which are equipped with a motor that assists the rider when they’re pedaling and stops assisting when the bicycle reaches 20 mph (32 kph).

Wentz dismissed claims by critics that bikes chew up trails.

“There’s just not enough power with an e-bike to actually do that,” she said. “I think there’s misconceptions about the amount of damage they can do.”

According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, “User conflicts caused by speed are more about behavior than technology. Both traditional cyclists — especially fit cyclists or racers — and e-bike users have the potential to cause speed-related user conflicts.”

“From a trail-builder standpoint, between a regular and class one e-bike, there’s really no difference in wear on the trail. It’s just a philosophical problem that needs to be resolved,” said Randy Collins, owner of College Cyclery in Reno.

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Under the proposed plan, no trails that access the Desolation Wilderness will be open to e-bikes, nor will the Tahoe Rim Trail. South Lake Tahoe’s Pope Baldwin Bike Path, the highest-use trail in the Tahoe Basin, will also remain closed to e-bikes.

“On a summer weekend, there will be thousands of users on it every day,” Quinn said. “Our intent was to not introduce another use to a trail that is already at capacity.”

New and enhanced trailheads including Elks Point and Pine Drop Trailhead in the Kings Beach area would be open to e-bikes, as would the Incline Flume, the Angora Ridge trail system and a new trail to be built in the Emerald Bay area.

Truckee-based High Fives Foundation CEO Roy Tuscany said his e-bike has made it possible to compensate for his loss of power in his legs since he broke his vertebrae more than a decade ago.

“I can get up the hill. I get to go places that have been withheld from me for the last 15 years.”