Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Dear Smarty Pants, my question is about biking on the Ecusta Trail. Are electric bikes going to be allowed on this trail? Also, I wanted to know if the Dupont State Forest and the national forests allow e-bikes. I would hate to buy an e-bike and find out that there are many places where they aren’t allowed.
My answer: Note to readers: If you refer to me in a mildly insulting but pithy way, strangely enough I’m a little more likely to answer your query. Also, I’m pretty sure I haven’t been called Mr. Smarty Pants since fifth grade, when Sister Philomena took a dislike to my sense of humor. Sadly, it was not a deterrent.
Real answer: The Ecusta Trail, which will be a 19-mile, multi-use greenway between Brevard and Hendersonville on a former railroad bed, is still a few years away from completion. But excitement is building, as it runs along U.S. 64 and should bring in thousands of riders and walkers and provide a nice economic boost.
Henderson County is further along on its section. The county recently put out bids on construction of its first phase of the project, but as noted in a recent Hendersonville Lightning article, the county will have to conduct a second round of bids, as it only had two contractors enter bids and it needed at least three.
“We should have phase one bids open by the end of August, with hopes that the Board of Commissioners will approve a contractor at one of their September meetings,” Henderson County spokesperson Mike Morgan told me via email. “We are hoping to be able to hold a groundbreaking event in late September/early October.”
Henderson will build its section in phases, he added, and one phase is fully funded. Phase one will come in around $9.9 million, Morgan said.
The Town of Brevard, taking the lead for the Transylvania County side of the project, estimates the total for the whole project at $43.4 million.
Now, back to e-bikes, also known as electric assist bikes.
Christopher Todd, business and community development director for Henderson County, said via the communications department that the Rail to Trail Advisory Committee “has discussed the use of e-bikes on the Ecusta Trail.
“The use of e-bikes will be allowed on the trail,” Todd said. “The development of trail rules/trail etiquette will say that all users including e-bike users need to be aware and respectful of other users on the trail. We will likely not allow the use of e-bikes with throttles, only those using pedal assistance.”
For those not familiar with e-bikes, bicycling.com offers a pretty good explanation in a May 2022 article: “Generally speaking, e-bikes are bicycles with a battery-powered ‘assist’ that comes via pedaling and, in some cases, a throttle. When you push the pedals on a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can zip up hills and cruise over tough terrain without gassing yourself.”
Trust me, we’re all better off not getting gassed.
The second type of e-bike is the throttle type.
“In addition to the pedal-assist feature, some e-bikes come with a throttle that engages the motor with the press of a button. These belong to a separate class of e-bike that, obviously, doesn’t offer a pure cycling experience; they’re also illegal in some municipalities,” the Bicycling.com article states.
Throttle bikes tend to be faster (up to 28 mph), and more expensive than peddle assist, which hold things under 20 mph. That throttle speed in particular can become a problem on crowded paths or streets.
At DuPont State Recreational Forest on the Henderson/Transylvania county line, e-bikes are currently prohibited.
DuPont Forest spokesperson Kirsten McDonald told me via email that the park is part of North Carolina’s state forest system.
“Our administration develops rules at the state level and then opens the proposed rules for public comment,” McDonald said, noting the most recent rules were open for public comment in the summer of 2021. “Based on input from the public comment period, the N.C. Forest Service moved forward with the rule that classifies all e-bikes as motorized vehicles and excludes them from all NC State Forests – including DuPont State Recreational Forest.”
McDonald did note that DuPont is working with consultants to develop a master recreation plan, a process that includes looking at issues such as trail use, user types, trail density and more, including the “sustainability and compatibility of e-bikes with our current user groups and multi-user trail structure.”
“With all of that said, I do want to be sure that you know about the places where people can ride pedal assist e-bikes,” McDonald said. “Green River, Cascade Lake, Reasonover, Pinnacle Mountain, and Sky Valley Roads are all near (DuPont) and are open to e-bikes.”
Our national forests in North Carolina, including Pisgah National Forest, are not open for e-bikes. These areas fall under the purview of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Their website states electric bicycles “are considered motor vehicles under the U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Rule.
“E-bikes can include pedal assist and throttle twist varieties and are only allowed on roads and trails designated for motorized use,” the site states. “These roads and trails (including off-highway vehicle trails) are identified on Motor Vehicle Use Maps available at Ranger District offices and online.”
On a personal note, my wife and I have looked at these e-bikes and are leaning toward them for our next purchase. As they become more and more popular, I suspect the powers that be will become more tolerant of them.
And they are becoming super popular.
“Electric bike sales jumped by an incredible 240 percent over a 12-month period as of September 2021, compared to two years prior, according to the market research firm NPD Group,” according to the Bicycling.com article. “It’s a nearly $27 billion industry as of last year (2021), and there’s no sign of a slowdown.”
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