EV Bikes

Spearfish, SD, officials are considering e-bike regulations

Officials in Spearfish, SD, are studying how e-bike use is increasing in their city. Spearfish is just one of many cities in the U.S. that have not adopted local ordinances regulating where and which e-bikes can be ridden.

While the three-tier system for defining e-bikes may seem like the law of the land, many cities across the country have not yet addressed the issue.

In Spearfish, the Parks and Recreation Department is studying the use of e-bikes on a recreational trail that runs through the town of 12,000, as well as on the trails of Lookout Mountain, a popular mountain biking spot.

The reason the city is now deciding to examine how to handle its use is because of citizen complaints following what Parks and Recreation Director Tyler Ehnes called “negative interactions.”

In a meeting with the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Advisory Board, Ehnes said, “If you can imagine a bicycle going up the recreational trail at 28 miles per hour, that’s extremely fast.” I think that’s where the speed comes into play. I think in third grade people get a little nervous because they don’t know how fast it can happen.”

It’s a common dilemma cities face: How fast is too fast for an e-bike?

Concern over Lookout Mountain takes a different form. Users raise concerns about increasing erosion, a position Ehnes disagrees with.

“Claims of erosion are simply not true…” “It’s still a bicycle tire,” he said.

In 2023, the Northern Hills Ranger District took up the issue of e-bikes and concluded that they are motorized vehicles. This distinction effectively banned all e-bikes from the region’s forest trails, which are used by hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders.

“As always, I’ve tried to contact other agencies to find out what they’ve done and how they’re dealing with it so we don’t have to recreate the wheel. When I reach out, I usually see a trend, and sometimes you can figure out what the general consensus is,” Ehnes said. “It’s completely different in every organization.”

On the other side of the state, in the city of Sioux Falls, the city ordinance allows Class 1 (maximum assisted speed of 20 mph and no throttle) and Class 3 (maximum assisted speed of 28 mph and no throttle) e-bikes. but Class 2 e-bikes (which have a throttle) are prohibited.

What is confusing is the existence of a South Dakota state statute. It explains that Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes are permitted on any bike path or multi-use trail in the state unless otherwise prohibited.

Potential user conflicts are just one aspect of considering how e-bikes should be legally regulated in the city. The city must evaluate whether it can effectively enforce any law it passes.

“My concern as director is that as ordinances and regulations are passed, enforcement will be difficult,” Ehnes said. We do not have the staff to police these areas and even if we did, the Parks Department would not have the authority to issue tickets or fines for violations of the regulations. “I called the district ranger and said, ‘Okay, you have the regulations; do you enforce them?’ He kind of laughed and said, ‘I don’t have the staff to enforce it.'”

Some residents want the laws to take effect regardless of their ability to enforce them.

“I have spoken to several concerned citizens…. While they understand that enforcement is an issue, they believe that a passed regulation would give them the ability to say something if another user violates the rules. Kind of a self-patrolling mentality. “Right now they feel like they can’t say anything because there’s nothing on the books,” Ehnes said.

One possible solution the city is considering would be to post speed limit signs to encourage good behavior. The city plans to accept input from the cycling community and citizens both for and against the use of e-bikes.

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