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Mountain Home Magazine

E-Bikes: The Good, the Bad, & the Easy

Aug 01, 2023 09:00AM ● By Jimmy Guignard

You’re following your riding partner on your rented electric bike, or e-bike, at an effortless nineteen mph on the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The mile markers from Darling Run to Tiadaghton zip by about every three minutes and fifteen seconds. Pine Creek flows on the right while sycamores and pines clip by on the left. Your partner suddenly stops pedaling to point out a rattlesnake. His speed drops to thirteen mph, while you’re still cruising at nineteen and looking at the kingfisher chattering over the crick. The four-foot gap between bikes disappears. You have a choice—crash into the back of him or swerve (but not toward the snake!). What do you do?

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are bicycles with an electric assist from a rechargeable battery. They have become A Thing. Bicycling magazine states the sale of e-bikes surged 240 percent from 2020 to 2021. That put 880,000 e-bikes on the roads and trails in 2021. Some of those bikes are right here in Tioga and the surrounding counties. Along with the surge came a jolt in e-bike rider issues.

One reason for e-bike popularity is the speed. An e-bike raises the rider’s power-to-weight ratio, enabling a person to ride farther faster, turning Joe Offthecouch into Joe Tourdefrance. Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources states in its regulations that e-bike riders must pedal to use the e-assist, and cannot exceed twenty mph. (Some e-bikes have a throttle that works independent of pedaling.) The regulations, which focus on behaviors, not bikes, are important to reduce risk; you can (and should) check them out at before you plug into your inner Greg Lemond. The regs apply only to Pennsylvania state parks and forests.

Jim Hyland, district manager for Forest District 16, suggests introducing e-bikes into the wild is pretty complex. Forest District 16 covers about 160,000 acres in Bradford and Tioga counties and includes much of the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a new hot spot for e-bikes. Jim was involved in the decision-making about the rail trail in 1998, and he is a member of the Rail Trail Advisory Committee. He talks about the rail trail the way cyclists talk about revered racers, calling his work “a great honor.” He wants people using the trail, and he wants them to be safe and experience the forest. But, as the bookshelf in his office attests, he has a bit of an Ed Abbey streak.

Like Abbey, who in his books urges people to get out of their cars (off their bikes?!) and “walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees” to see what’s really there, Jim worries about people “becoming more and more removed from forests.” In his view, the technology that gives us e-bikes changes people’s experiences of the forest. The issue, for Jim, is effort, or the lack thereof. If people don’t work a bit, they may not appreciate where they are and what they see. He’s concerned about the rail trail becoming a “race track,” though he recognizes that, for some, they may see more of the forest. It’s complicated.

Curt Schramm, the CS in CS Sports in Wellsboro, likens the influx of e-bikes to the influx of snowboarders on ski slopes back in the ’80s. A former ski patroller, Curt said skiers followed certain “rules” on the slopes that made it safer for all involved. Then snowboarders started ripping down the slopes, doing their thing and proclaiming “What rules?”

Not that Curt is opposed to e-bikes. He sells them. He suggested to Pine Creek Outfitters in Ansonia, a mile or so from the Darling Run rail trail access, that they take two e-bikes he’d ordered and rent them. Now, PCO has six e-bikes and two more on the way. Other places, like Pettecote Junction Campground in Cedar Run, rent e-bikes as well. As Curt says, e-bikes aren’t going anywhere. Except maybe out on the trails.

For some people, e-bikes are a game changer. Sherri Stager turned to cycling when her body no longer tolerated running. She rode a human-powered bike called Pink Cadillac—she’s an Elvis fanatic—around the hills of Tioga County with the local bike crew. Then her heart—a fairly important muscle for cyclists—tried to quit. She got a pacemaker. That surgery was followed by back problems. Unable to pedal Pink Cadillac the way she used to, Sherri began to think about alternatives that would keep her pedaling with her posse.

Enter Burning Love. (It’s that Elvis thing again.)

Burning Love is Sherri’s Specialized Creo e-bike, a Class 3 e-bike with a pedal-assist up to twenty-eight mph (no throttle). Though she could, Sherri rarely rides faster than the people she’s riding with, preferring to chat with her buds on regular bikes at speeds around fifteen mph.

Sherri rides because she likes to be outside and socialize with local riders (we can’t figure out why, but we’re glad she does). She appreciates seeing grazing deer, glowing red efts (see Share the Road), blooming mountain laurel, and exploring new terrain. She enjoys time to reflect. She “feels cleansed” after a ride, and enjoys the jolt of endorphins. She knows the rules of riding in a pack, controls her speed, warns others of hazards, and lets slower cyclists and hikers know when she overtakes them. For Sherri, an e-bike makes sense.

Burning Love doesn’t mean her rides are effortless. One Memorial Day, Sherri rode over eighty miles of gravel and paved roads with around 8,000 feet of elevation gain west of Pine Creek, a ride that, even with the e-assist, physically wrecked her. Sherri says of her effort, “I couldn’t have done it without the e-bike.”

Sherri’s ride was not crowded. Riding e-bikes in crowded places like the rail trail gets complicated fast when you add hikers, runners, kids, horses, and wildlife to the mix. Research suggests e-bikes cause worse injuries during crashes because of their weight (often exceeding sixty pounds) and speed. E-bike speeds rival bike race speeds. The skills of many riders don’t. Maybe e-bikes are, as Jim says, “too convenient.”

He suggests there’s a lot to learn for most e-bike riders, and the people regulating them. Riders should watch speeds in crowded areas. Warn others of your presence. Be prepared for mechanical issues. A battery can get a rider out there but a dead one can’t get them back.

Sherri sums it up well: “If it gets you outside and moving your body, do it. But be sensible. Wear a helmet. Don’t be stupid.”

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