On Friday I had an encounter with an electric motorbike rider at Stony Creek Metropark. The result was somewhat good, with him leaving the park without riding (due to my threatening to call the police on him), but it took a lot of mental energy on my part to stay topical, impersonal, and yet pointed so the goal (preventing him from riding) was accomplished in a safe and legal manner. It would have been better if he’d understood why riding an electric motorbike on mountain bike trails is a bad thing, but he didn’t seem to. Either I didn’t explain it well enough, or he didn’t care.
Much of the mountain bike trail access that we currently enjoy is specifically because we are a human powered user group. It was a huge battle in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s for mountain bikes to be seen as a legitimate user group, but thankfully in Michigan we have mostly won and are seen as fair, equal users in great part because riders are moving under their own power.
Bringing electric motorbikes onto the trails, under the guise of “electric mountain bikes”, puts that at risk. The worst case is a blanket ban because park staff doesn’t have a practical way differentiate between electric motorbikes and pedaled mountain bikes entering the trails, so it becomes foot traffic only. (Hell, many people — cyclists or not — would look at this guy’s bike and not realize it’s motorized…) That’d be awful, and not something that we can risk via inaction. That’s why we, the mountain biking community along with other trail users, need to work to curb this kind of behavior.
Richard Cunningham over at Pinkbike explains this very eloquently in much greater depth, in a piece titled A Secret Trail and an Argument Against E-Bikes.
After giving this a day of thought about what went right in the confrontation and what could have done better, I distilled them into a list. Here’s my DOs and DON’Ts for what to do when you encounter someone at a mountain bike trail riding an electric motorbike:
DON’T presume that the rider already knows they aren’t allowed to ride their motorbike on mountain bike trails. With the explosion in electric motorbike availability there is a fair chance that the rider simply doesn’t know any better.
DO consistently use the term “electric motorbike” and not “electric mountain bike”. Despite being based on a bicycle design, having a motor makes it a motorbike and maintaining this point is crucial.
DO inform the rider that they have a motorbike which is not permitted on trails designed for human power use only.
DO remain polite and calm, but direct.
DO inform the rider that you maintain and/or use the trails and have a vested interest in them.
DO inform the rider that using a motorbike on trails designed for human powered use threatens trail access.
DON’T simply use “because it is illegal” as your main argument, this frequently falls on deaf ears. Appeal to trail access.
DON’T engage in discussion about motor assist vs. throttle control, total power output, impact to trail surface, physical ability, etc. Debating nuance will weaken your message and wear you down. A vehicle that is powered by anything other than a human is a motorized vehicle and should not be on the trails.
DON’T act in a threatening manner nor physically contact the rider nor his/her motorbike.
DO call the police or the land manager (park office, parks and recreation department, etc) if you see the user riding their motorbike on the trails anyway. Inform them that someone is riding a motorbike on the trails then wait around for the police.
DON’T be afraid to call the local police instead of confronting the rider yourself. That’s their job: enforcing laws, such as those which already prohibit the use of motorbikes on trails.
DO keep your distance. Close enough to be conversational, but far enough away to maintain your safety and appear unthreatening to the rider.
DO remember that you don’t have the legal authority to stop the motorbike rider, but you do have the moral authority to engage, educate, and report.
I would prefer that an rider realize why riding a motorbike on mountain bike trails is a bad idea and stop of their own volition. Unfortunately, as was illustrated to me yesterday, some people just don’t understand or won’t care and refuse to change until threatened with a penalty.