Not so long ago, the nine-mile uphill road ride from Aspen Highlands to the Maroon Bells was an elite realm reserved for cyclists willing to push their heart rate to the max and stretch their lungs to the limit. Now on a busy summer day, these huffing, spandex-clad masochists might be joined by as many as 400 riders on e-bikes—bicycles equipped with an electric motor assist—cruising almost effortlessly uphill at 20 mph, many chatting and taking photos, en route to the most coveted view in Colorado.
“It’s just a wonderful way to see the mountains,” says Derek Attema, owner of Silver City Cycles, an Aspen-based e-bike rental and delivery company that started with 10 bikes in 2020 and grew to a fleet of 40 bikes this summer, all of which will rent out most summer days. “When you’re in a car, you see the scenery going by. On a bike, it feels like you’re going through the scenery. Our clients [of which 80 percent are riding to the Bells] are having experiences they never imagined they could.”
But that accessibility has resulted in LA-style bottlenecks along the corridor—the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District reported that 70 percent of congestion stems from e-bikes—and it’s a big problem for land managers. Most notably, e-bikers unfamiliar with the rules of the road occupy an entire lane, often riding three or four abreast and even stopping for photos in the middle of the lane, idling Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses shuttling visitors up and down every 15 minutes between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. from May through October.
According to data from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the Aspen Police Department, e-bike accidents are also on the rise. Often, inexperienced cyclists can pedal uphill with ease, but they struggle to maneuver the e-bikes, which are heavier than human-powered bikes, and crash on the downhill. Aspen Journalism reported that severe e-bike injuries in the area have doubled from 2019 to 2021.
“These are mini motorcycles—some people don’t respect how fast and powerful they are and how dangerous they can be,” says Attema.
Last summer, multiple stakeholders, including the Aspen Chamber and Aspen Skiing Company, launched an education campaign about e-biking in and around Aspen. In January, Pitkin County commissioners supported a proposed remedy that included a controversial reservation system. Since then, that plan has evolved into a voluntary monitoring system that asks commercial e-bike outfitters to install radio frequency identification (RFID) chips on their rental fleets to track e-bike traffic and rider habits, and to screen a short video “How to E-Bike in Aspen” and distribute “Biking to the Bells” fliers that spell out e-bike etiquette.
“We will use that data to develop the next program,” says Brian Pettet, Pitkin County public works director. “As long as e-bikers can stay safe and share the road constructively, then we won’t have to take the next step, like reservations.”
Where to Rent
Maroon Bells E-bikes
Silver City Cycles
Brian Pettet, Pitkin County public works director, says too many e-bikers treat busy Maroon Creek Road as a dedicated rec path. Here are the basic rules he says e-bikers should follow.
- Stay to the far right in your lane.
- Ride singe file.
- Yield to buses.
- Do not stop in the traffic lane.
- Do not wear earbuds.
- Do wear a helmet.
- Announce yourself when passing another rider (politely).