Safe Trails: It's Electric!

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by Erick Wikum

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In recent years, pedal power received a literal boost with the advent of e-bikes, which provide assistance when a rider is pedaling. While e-bikes appeal to a wide range of people for a variety of reasons, e-bikes provide an especially important benefit for those who, due to age, disability or fitness level, are unable to ride traditional bicycles. E-bikes can allow these individuals to regain mobility and fitness, all while enjoying reduced stress and other mental health benefits.

Last year, Ohio passed laws covering the usage of e-bikes. Ohio categorizes e-bikes into three classes. Classes 1 and 2, equipped with a motor or a throttle-activated motor, respectively, cease to provide assistance when the bike reaches 20mph. Class 3 is similar to Class 1, but has a specification of 28mph. Ohio permits e-bike use on trails unless prohibited by the trail manager. Since the manager of the Little Miami Scenic Trail (the Ohio Department of Natural Resources) has not prohibited e-bikes, then class 1 and 2 e-bikes are currently permitted there. Class 3 e-bikes, which can exceed the trail speed limit of 20mph, are not permitted.

While bicycling involves some inherent dangers, riding an e-bike can be especially dangerous. A recent analysis conducted by researchers representing various New York City medical centers found that “while population-based rates of pedal bicycle-related injuries have been decreasing, particularly among children, reported e-bike injuries have been increasing dramatically particularly among older persons” (see BMJ article).
A typical speed for a recreational cyclist is between 10 and 14mph. An additional 6mph from 14 to 20 may not sound like much, but the higher speed impacts stopping distance and the severity of crashes.

Here are four important tips for riding an e-bike safely:
1. Always wear a helmet!
2. Inspect your e-bike to ensure it is in good working condition before each ride. Be sure to verify that your brakes work.
3. Familiarize yourself with your e-bike’s handling and gain confidence at slower speeds before graduating to faster speeds. Practice braking. Hone your e-bike riding skills in a quiet setting before braving a busier environment.
4. Come to a complete stop at intersections and wait until it is clear and safe to proceed. To the extent that your e-bike is heavier than a standard bicycle, your e-bike may also be somewhat slow to accelerate, so allow plenty of leeway to cars.

Riding an e-bike can be a great way to enjoy the Little Miami Scenic Trail. And yet, due to heightened potential for serious mishaps, e-bikes need to be treated with healthy respect. An electrifying e-bike experience should include fresh air and views of nature, but not ambulance lights.

August 2020

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