The Boulder City Council will decide this week whether to approve a plan to allow e-bikes certain open space trails, including Boulder Valley Ranch. Credit: John Herrick

Update: Boulder City Council voted on Thursday, June 1, to repeal the city’s prohibition on riding electric bikes on certain open space trails. This is expected to include: all trails east of Broadway where regular bikes are already allowed, the Boulder Creek Trail, Chapman Drive, which connects Boulder Canyon to Flagstaff Road, and trails near Wonderland Lake.

The Boulder City Council on Thursday, June 1, plans to approve an ordinance to allow electric bikes on certain open space trails, according to interviews with councilmembers. The vote comes as e-bikes gain in popularity for recreation and daily commuting. 

If approved, the ordinance would allow e-bikes on 34 miles of city trails where conventional bikes are already allowed. These trails include the Boulder Canyon Trail and those east of Broadway, such as Boulder Valley Ranch, the South Boulder Creek Path and Marshall Mesa. 

Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks Department pitched the proposal late last year to improve connectivity between trails managed by the City of Boulder — which prohibits e-bikes on open space — and those managed by other local governments that permit e-bikes. The inconsistent policies have meant e-bikes are allowed and prohibited on the same trail in some places. 

Councilmembers, many of whom own e-bikes, view the change as another way to make cycling more accessible, particularly for children and older adults. 

“E-biking has transformed how I personally travel locally, and I’ve seen e-bikes revolutionize transit for many others, too,” Councilmember Rachel Friend told Boulder Reporting Lab. “If we want to help people mode-shift out of cars and onto bikes, we have to make it fairly easy and safe.” 

Separately, councilmembers have supported a new city program to provide residents a voucher program to subsidize the cost of buying an e-bike, in part to encourage people to drive less. Some view allowing people to ride on open space trails as a way to make cycling safer. 

“By allowing people to ride on some flat open space trails that are wider and can easily accommodate e-bikes means they are not riding on busy roads. And so we reduce those conflicts with cars,” Councilmember Matt Benjamin told Boulder Reporting Lab.

To allow e-bikes on open space, officials have proposed repealing the city’s open space ban on “electric assisted bicycles” and to authorize e-biking as a form of “passive” recreation. Open Space and Mountain Parks would then designate certain trails to allow e-bikes. The plan would only permit class one and class two e-bikes, which typically max out at 20 miles per hour. 

Not everyone is happy with the plan. The Open Space Board of Trustees voted 3-2 against the city staff proposal. Some members argued that e-bikes don’t qualify as passive recreation. They pointed to the city’s most recent 2005 open space Visitor Master Plan, which defines passive recreation as “non-motorized activities.” Allowing e-bikes on open space would require voters — not the city council — to amend the city’s charter, they argued. 

The reaction from the cycling community has been mixed. The Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for recreational mountain bike access and organizes volunteer trail work activities, has called for the city to launch a pilot program to study the impacts of such a change before making it permanent. Meanwhile, Community Cycles, a Boulder-based advocacy organization, “strongly supports” the plan to allow e-bikes on city open space trails because it helps “complete our bicycle transportation network.” 

Some councilmembers want the proposal to go further. They’re interested in allowing e-bikes on more trails than those proposed by open space officials, including Chapman Drive, a dirt road connecting the Boulder Canyon Trail to Flagstaff Road, and those near Wonderland Lake in North Boulder. 

Worried the proposal could be expanded, residents who live near Wonderland Lake have been sending councilmembers emails concerned that additional riders would create conflicts with other visitors to the area. For that reason, Councilmembers Tara Winer said the city should allow e-bikes on certain open space trails, but not Wonderland Lake. At least not yet. 

“I’m happy to wait,” Winer said. “I think we should come back in a year and ask the community how it’s going. That way people won’t be so stressed out.” 

Opening city trails up to cycling has been controversial ever since the Boulder City Council outlawed riding on trails near the Flatirons in 1987. 

Councilmember Mark Wallach said he believes e-bikes should be allowed on some city open space trails, but not others, such as the Mesa Trail. Wallach said he would have preferred to see a proposal supported by both Open Space and Mountain Parks and the Open Space Board of Trustees. 

“I want my experts to jointly tell me where it is good and where it is not good,” Wallach said. “I would like them to inform me as to whether this is step one of a much greater expansion.” 

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

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  1. No no no no no no no.

    It’s unsafe for hikers, runners and regular bikers. E-bikes should not be on any trails, period.

    1. Agree with Chris Justice. This is a terrible idea…and yet, because council members like their e-bikes, I fear we are doomed to have the city’s open space ban on “electric-assisted bicycles” lifted. Open Space is no place for motorized vehicles of any kind.

  2. The horse left the barn years ago. eBikers are already safely riding on open space trails.

  3. The last thing we need right now is to invite more bikes on our trails — they have enough miles to explore already. These e-bikes will make our trails more unsafe then they already are with their weight, speed and numbers. Our open space trails should not be accessible to e-bikes, nor should children be on them. These bikes are not safe on our trails for “true” passive recreation users (as our original open space was defined), such as walkers, runners, and especially equestrians. Our city and open space staff need to be more mindful of the “true” meaning of safety and passive recreation on our lands, and also the safety of its users (not cyclists). Boulder Valley Ranch open space trails should not be accessible by e-bikes, there are enough altercations with mountain bikes as it is on this trail system with its winding curves through to Lefthand, and grades that allow riders to pick up too much speed. I have had too many close calls already with bikers about speed since bikes were allowed to use this trail system. Today, we now have hearing issues due to ear buds, and also with e-bikes poaching the trails. Please keep these e-bikes where they belong, on city bike paths. If you want to improve safety for this group reduce speed limits on roads.

  4. Terrible idea to permit ebikes on the already overly crowded open space trails. Also, motorized is motorized. I have seen more motorized (gas powered) bikes and quads on the trails and greenways this spring than ever before. I advocate for ebikes, but strongly encourage they remain for road use in the designated bike lanes.

  5. Boulder has a reputation of not being friendly to older people. I was once a biker that climbed mountains, rode 30 miles to breakfast, even took biking vacations to places like Napa Valley and New Mexico mountains. Now I’m 73 and have health issues. My ebike gives me the ability to still enjoy biking, get exercise but also flip a switch to get home. I don’t feel particularly safe on most roads anymore, there are too many bikers hit by inattentive motorists. My days of riding fast are long past.

    1. Completely agree…..the naysayers are extremely ageist in their attitudes. Everyone gets older and health issues arise no matter how fit and active you remain.

      1. Pedal assist type e-bikes limited to 20 MPH are surely fine as no different to ordinary bikes. I believe this is category 1. Other heavier, faster e-bikes should stay on the road side trails. I agree with the ageist comment. Boulder has plenty of nadgery trails that remain human powered only. The ones added are really just liaison trails with few amounting to serious mountain biking say. The broken links and mixed jurisdictions needed fixing. Shame Chapman isn’t included yet. Excellent trail that would have opened up the mountain more.
        So many e-bikes are being sold these days with uphill assistance for older mountain bikers we can expect more demands.

        Riding around Steamboat it seems the trails are restricted for an ultra few who barely really go far in any numbers. It’s amazing they get to run the show like that.

        Here in Boulder we can look for more complaining but at least people will be out riding.

        Some good destinations would be fun. How about a cafe or two in the hills?

  6. A compromise on this issue would be to restrict the weight of e-bikes to no more than 60 pounds. Unfortunately, many e-bikes now using the trails are actually the equivalent of motorcycles with huge wheels and large frames which weigh 100 pounds or more. These electric motorcycles have effectively “gamed the system.” If you collide with these “motorbikes” you will be far worse off than colliding with a standard e-bike that is closer to a regular bicycle in size and weight. I don’t mind electric-assisted bicycles, but I don’t want to share the path with motorcycles. The distinction is not so much in the speed but in the size and weight.

  7. I have been an environmental activist since the 1970’s and have been riding mountain bikes since the early ’80’s. I’ll turn 70 this year and, after two back surgeries, I am unable to mountain bike any longer. I go e-biking now with my wife and friends – all around my age – and its a great way to get outdoors, explore and get some exercise. For anyone unfamiliar with e-bikes, the vast majority of them require some level of peddling/peddle assist, unless you want to burn through your battery and limit yourself to very short rides. Most e-bikers I know tend to be older, or have some physical limitations that make e-biking their best and often only form of environmentally safe wheeled transportation.

    Banning e-biking on flat trails wide enough for people and mountain bikes in Boulder smacks of both social intolerance and ecological ignorance. From what I’ve observed, the vast majority of e-bikers are older, or have physical limitations that have led them to invest in an e-bike. They tend to be more cautious riders due to their age, or physical limitations and usually ride at off-peak trail usage hours because many of them are retired. I have never seen an e-biker riding at a speed where they don’t have full control of their bike. I’ve also never seen an e-bike in an accident with a pedestrian, or mountain bike – not something I can say for mountain bikes, or road bikes. In short, banning e-bikes from a social justice point of view is simply ageism that comes from a selfish desire to keep trails solely for those allowed to use them today. It may be human nature to want to keep something we enjoy to ourselves, but we also have the capacity for compassion, kindness and inclusion – things that have historically been in generous supply in Boulder.

    Environmentally, what do people think will happen if the e-bike ban continues on Open Space in Boulder? The same individuals that might otherwise ride their e-bikes for some exercise and a bite to eat in Boulder will drive to one of their favorite lunch spots, then drive again to a scenic outdoor location to enjoy the variety and beauty our community has to offer. Finally, they’ll drive back home. The result: more CO2, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, benzene and formaldehyde in Boulder’s already-toxic air. In other words, discouraging the use of e-bikes comes at a higher environmental cost to our community’s Open Space, our broader environment and the health of all other living things. It’s time to both put an end to ageism in Boulder and to stop the environmental insanity of banning peddle-assisted e-bikes from Boulder Open Space Trails that are flat and wide enough to accommodate both bikes and pedestrians. Socially and environmentally it boils down to practising the very values that have made Boulder the special place that it is.

    1. Lot’s of good points. The issue reminds me of the one about snowboards in the early 90’s. Some resorts banned them while others welcomed the alternative, in the meantime skiers griped about the impact on moguls. After a few years of market forces everyone just accepted them and adapted to the riding style. I personally believe it drove innovation in ski technology – maybe just coincidence, but notice how they’ve gotten shorter and wider.

      I think we’ve had those few years adjusting to e-bikes now, no need for more studies, yada yada. My bias is from the aging legs perspective and a limited number of years left. I’d really like the opportunity to continue gaining altitude and getting to those remote areas and terrific views, while minimizing the environmental impact. Does it make sense to regulate what type of bike goes where, maybe. Gas powered would seem to fall under the intent of the original ban on motorized vehicles, given their noise and air pollution. E-bikes on the other hand are just assisting our human limitations in pedaling endurance. A throttle is a nice addition too, especially for hill starts and cruising home after a work out.

      At the end of day, I think self-regulation and the Darwin effect will rule on the trails. You don’t actually need a motor to hit 20mph or more, gravity assist works quite well, though you might need a death wish in some cases. The paved bike paths are where I see the larger potential for problems. I back onto one and regularly see very young folks going flat out, often with a passenger or two onboard, and of course none with helmet on. Like most of us learned, once they experience a dose of road rash they will hopefully modify their behavior. Navigating a busy multi-use path is perilous for all in these days of higher density living. Also, as an analogy, I see just as much reckless behavior out there from spandex clad “road” bikers as e-bikers.

      Not sure what the answer is but I don’t think it is banning the e-bike, especially not on rural trails where the density issues of the urban pathways may have tainted our views. Perhaps a little more education on the rules of the road, trail etiquette and common courtesy, along with some basic physics of momentum and the limitations of the human anatomy, would raise awareness to an appropriate level of coexistence?

  8. Is there any categorization of approved e-bikes? Some I see in California are full on dirt bikes.

  9. Glad to hear this. Particularly, the South Boulder Creek Trail is a missing link that will connect the city bike network to the US 36 bikeway.

    By the way, excluding Class 3 e-bikes is silly. Yes, they can go up to 28 mph, but they almost never do. It’s easy to ride them at the speed of other bikes and e-bikes and top out at 20 mph.

  10. No! Bad idea for everyone but e-bikers using the trails. Who is going to enforce the speed limit, how will you carry off the victims of crashes, which will be many, who will maintain the rutted out overused trails? With the added expense why not just create more designated e-bike lanes, off open space trails. E-bikes belong on pavement

  11. Hello, my name is Samantha McBride. I am a resident of Boulder, living in North Boulder. As an equestrian and boarder at The Boulder Valley Ranch, I am extremely concerned for the safety of equestrians in connection with e-bikes on the trails that encircle the BVR. Because E-bikes have the ability to travel faster than a traditional bike, folks riding e-bikes on the open space trails may not slow down when approaching horses or folks hiking in the trails, thus possibly causing harm to others on the trails.

    A horse is a flight animal, meaning if something scares them , their instincts are to “run away”. When this happens while you are on a horse, it puts the rider in possible danger. A bike or e-bike , approaching a horse at a fast speed , either from behind or head on can cause a horse to spook and become anxious. The majority, not all, of bike riders on traditional bikes are courteous, announcing themselves and asking if they can pass equestrians that they encounter on the OSMP trails. A person on an e-bike approaching at a fast speed could cause the horse to react in a negative manner, a serious situation that can put the horse and rider in harms way.

    I don’t understand why OSMP would ever even consider e-bikes on their trails. If we are honest about what e-bikes really are, small electric motorcycles, which are not allowed on MPOS trails, why would you consider letting e-bikes on your trails?

    I believe if you allow e-bikes on the OSMP trails, we will see an increase in negative e-bike / horse and rider incidents… possibly resulting in injuries to horses, riders and possibly e-bike riders.

    Please think carefully before making a bad decision by approving e-bikes on OSMP trails. It seems that e-bikes are already becoming an issue in Boulder with the many teens riding them on sidewalks, with no helmets, multiple teens per bike and at fast speeds.

  12. We need more “walk right, pass left, announce your approach” signs. Even with one ear bud out I jump out of my skin when someone whizzes past. And I’m not that jumpy.

  13. The rapid shift in transportation modes from fossil fuel to electric is the best thing to happen for the environment in decades. The fact is more people are using small, electric powered transport. We’re Boulder! Unless we’re completely hypocritical, we want to encourage this trend.

    Ebikes, scooters, hoverboards, electric skateboards, even public transport in the form of an electric rickshaw. I’ve seen them all on the bike path. We are rightly proud of how we have enabled safe and beautiful transport by bike and on foot. We need to adapt to the needs of our aging population, and also to the needs of future generations who don’t grow up with the idea of the car as the only way to get around. We should welcome every opportunity to get people out of their cars.

    Finally, it’s not the electric motor. The problem is people riding too fast or recklessly, with or without a motor. E-bikes are not going away and they’re already on the open space trails. That’s the reality our elected representatives are dealing with.

  14. There are now more ebikes in my area than regular bikes. They are not the problem. The racing Lycra bikers pass me on my ebike every day. There is so much fear and ignorance about ebikes. Let me start by adding a simple truth: Ebike rules can not be enforced. More and more the trend is to make ebikes look like regular bikes. Is the city going to train the police in ebike engineering and put up trail blocks to inspect ebikes for class, modifications, top speed or if the rider was even using any peddle assist at all? Ebikes are not the fastest riders. Ebikers are mostly older people. I ebike as I have stage 4 cancer. I can’t ride a regular bike. Too exhausting. By banning ebikes in town you are just making good people criminals. I have rode on all the forbidden trails and guess what? They are full of ebikes already! Ebikes do not disturb birders. I love to watch birds too. Ebikes are great for this activity! I also hike and wouldn’t want ebikes in the mountain trails and that makes sense unless it is a dedicated mtn bike downhill trail which Boulder should have. I mean Boulder is said to be a bike town right? Well bikes are now assisted and it’s great. Please try one.

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