Sometimes you need a little help to get through a tough time. That’s the idea behind the e-bike in Pennsylvania.
E-bikes are electrically assisted bicycles fitted with electric motors to assist riders on steep terrain or to travel longer distances.
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Class 1 models are legal on Pennsylvania highways and many bike paths. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is working on new regulations that would allow this relatively new technology to be used on more trails.
“The purpose of the policy is to provide guidance for the use of e-bikes in state parks and forests,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said Monday in a press release about the desire for the agency to update its regulations. “On land it manages, the DCNR will allow e-bikes on trails already open to traditional bike use, provided users follow certain guidelines.”
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Class 1 e-bikes weigh less than 100 pounds, have pedals to power the bike, and the motor does not exceed 750 watts or propel the rider over 20 mph. The age limit is 16 in Pennsylvania.
“Because they make outdoor recreation accessible to more people, we are updating our policy to provide these opportunities on our lands, while working to limit their impacts on other visitors and on our natural places. “Dunn said.
The agency welcomes written comments to [email protected] through August 31 about its draft e-bike policy.
If you ride an electric bike, it is important to check the regulations the first time you enter public land. For example, e-bikes are not permitted on state playgrounds operated by the Pennsylavnia Game Commission. The agency’s director of communications, Travis Lau, said there were discussions a few years ago to allow them, but they were never approved.
Lindsay Baer, Somerset County Parks and Trails Manager, manages part of the Great Allegheny Passage between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. She said e-bikes along the GAP have become popular over the past two years. “The GAP Conservancy is currently working on a study to determine who uses e-bikes on our trail and what type of e-bikes they use,” she said in an email.
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She believes there is confusion over which types should be allowed. For now, “we tell everyone that the only e-bikes allowed on our trail systems are non-throttle pedal bikes. The pedal assist usually hits around 20 mph, but of course the top speed limit on the trail is 15 mph.
Craig Rosman, owner of Route 31 Bike, Board & Ski in Somerset, has been in the cycling business for 32 years and believes e-bikes are helping more people enjoy the hobby.
This is his seventh year of renting and selling e-bikes.
“You don’t need any special license or permits,” he said of riding Class 1 e-bikes on highways and other places where people ride bikes.
Class 2 are e-bikes that can propel a bike over 20 mph and have a throttle. “A throttle takes away the feel of a bike, you’re really riding a glorified moped,” he explained. Class 3 is powered by a throttle.
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He said e-bikes are very safe, but he recommends riders wear helmets. “You only have one brain and it’s good to save it.”
Rossman reminds people that e-bikes are just a bike. “You get as much exercise as you want by limiting how often you use the power assist.” He said they have three or four power levels to help a rider conquer steeper hills.
There are many Class 1 e-bike models to suit budget, needs, and comfort level. Some offer more power, longer battery life, and improved suspension designs.
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Its prices range from $1,750 to $4,000. He suggests trying out a few models before making a purchase to see which model and options fit your needs.
There are also e-bikes to help people enjoy other outdoor hobbies.
“Every mountain bike I get that’s electrified, in a week, is gone,” he said of the hunters who like to ride quietly and without having to pedal as much as a regular bike. Some models have optional trailers for hauling a deer or tree stand. “I never thought they’d buy a bike just to go hunting, but they’re quieter than an ATV. I have a waiting list for the next two coming,” he said of the great interest in off-road models.
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They are also popular with anglers who can go fishing in the streams that flow along the trails.
Mountain bike models have full suspensions to help people stay comfortable on the terrain and they offer more torque to help the rider get through steep hills.
Battery range is 20 miles to 50 miles depending on travel speed, type of terrain, rider weight, and amount of rider pedals.
Chargers work in standard household outlets. Rossman said battery technology has advanced and they don’t have issues associated with older battery designs that needed to be fully charged between uses or had memory that shortened their lifespan.
People should decide which model they want based on the distance they want to travel and the type of road or trails they will be taking. He has customers who regularly run 35 miles.
What he discovered is that the pedal assist of an e-bike makes biking easier and fun for families.
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“The average e-bike customer jumps three times more often than they did before to purchase an e-bike. If that’s not amazing enough, they’re going four times further than before,” he said of the results of the rider survey.
“A ride that was once a messy five or 10 mile ride is now a full afternoon 25-40 mile to see our beautiful terrain,” he said.
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Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter via email on your website homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.