Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association approaching e-bikes with management in mind 

RMOW open house draws over 100 people

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - OPEN HOUSE Roughly 100 people attended the Resort Municipality of Whistler's open house on e-bikes at the Whistler Conference Centre on March 13.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • OPEN HOUSE Roughly 100 people attended the Resort Municipality of Whistler's open house on e-bikes at the Whistler Conference Centre on March 13.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) sought feedback on its proposed e-bike policy at an open house at the Whistler Conference Centre on March 13.

The proposal would allow Class 1 e-bikes on the Valley Trail and on all off-road areas except for: any trail where biking is prohibited; the alpine trail network above the Flank trail; and in the Emerald Forest Conservation Area.

Class 2 and 3 e-bikes would be allowed only on roads, forest services roads and off-road trails that allow motorized traffic (though no off-road trails in Whistler currently have this designation).

Electric adaptive mountain bikes, meanwhile, would be allowed on any trail that allows biking, though in practicality, would be limited because of their width.

Mayor Jack Crompton said he was pleased to see roughly 100 people attend the open house, while an online survey had helped boost the number of survey responses to over 220.

"We take public input to inform the decisions we make. The input we receive will determine a lot about what our policies are," he said.

Crompton said while early results indicate a level of comfort with Class 1 e-bikes, there are still safety and speed concerns that need to be considered before the policy is set in stone. He added there seems to be a general acceptance of Class 1 e-bikes on off-road trails, but the response is more mixed when it comes to prohibiting them in the alpine areas.

"People were not shy. We are Whistlerites, after all," Crompton said.

The RMOW expects the policy to be developed in April and implemented in May.

With the RMOW in the process of drafting its e-bike policy, the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) sought to get its thoughts out in advance.

WORCA conducted its own e-bike survey in November and released the results compiled from more than 850 respondents last month.

WORCA president Dale Mikkelsen said while the organization is being included in the RMOW consultation process, it wanted to make its views clear beforehand, namely that WORCA concerns itself with human-powered recreation and is not designed to enforce policies in areas that prohibit e-bikes, such as the Alpine Trail Network.

"Even if WORCA came out and said 'No e-bikes,' what is our ability to enforce that?" pondered Mikkelsen. "We really don't have it.

"What we're really looking at is accepting the users as they are allowed by the governing body of that trail area."

While 55 per cent of respondents were WORCA members, nearly 80 per cent intended to register for 2019. Mikkelsen said the group wanted to have an understanding of not just its members, but of trail users as a whole.

Though the policy is still months away from being revealed, Mikkelsen said WORCA is operating under the assumption that any trail not specifically banning motorized traffic will allow Class 1 e-bikes, which are defined as bikes with motors that assist the rider only when pedalling and will not provide assistance once the bike reaches 32 kilometres per hour. For reference, a Class 2 e-bike will provide assistance even if the user is not pedalling but will stop once the rider hits 32 km/h, while a Class 3 e-bike will provide assistance even if the user is not pedalling, but its threshold is 45 km/h.

WORCA compiled a report after sifting through its survey results and came up with 10 recommendations for action, with a need for increased, clear signage leading the way. Mikkelsen explained a few different types of signs would need to be installed, such as updated trail etiquette explanations at major trailheads as well as on-trail direction clarity.

"The trail builders, over time, have established a primary direction, so what we need to do is go through a signage program and establish what are two-way trails, what are downhill-primary trails and what are uphill-primary trails so users coming from either side of the trail will know what the expectation of that trail is," explained Mikkelsen.

"I was surprised how neutral the stance was on e-bikes in general. We had strong opinions on either end of the survey: 'E-bikes should be everywhere and they're the most amazing things ever' to 'E-bikes are the worst thing in the creation of bicycles.'

"The broad consensus was pretty middle ground. I wasn't sure which way I'd see it lean, but I thought it would lean harder one way or the other."

One of the long-running concerns over e-bikes is that trails will see additional wear and tear from riders being able to ride longer and further. Mikkelsen said WORCA would monitor the trail impact for this.

At the RMOW's open house, some responses suggested that if an area bans e-bikes, then cross-country bikes should also be prohibited and, knowing these ideas have at the very least been pitched, Mikkelsen said WORCA will also analyze the user impact in the coming years, respecting the policies set by landowners, and would be willing to communicate what its learned.

"We might come back in a year or two and say it hasn't been an issue, or we might come back in a year or two and say, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, we've got a major problem with this element of e-bike use," he said.

Another recommendation from the survey was building on the existing plan to encourage visitors to contribute to the trail network's maintenance.

Full results and the report are available at www.worca.com.

The full RMOW presentation and survey are available at www.whistler.ca/services/transportation/cycling/e-bikes. The survey is live until March 31.

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