While facets of the economy are struggling because of the surging COVID-19 pandemic, Aspen bike shops are not one of them.
And much of the bike boom is thanks to e-bikes, though pedal-powered bikes also are making a comeback because they fit so well into social-distancing parameters.
“E-bikes brought the bike industry back,” said Patrick Dietz, owner of Aspen Bicycles on Hyman Street across from the Wheeler Opera House.
E-bikes are especially good for Aspen, he said. Unlike mopeds or motorcycles where a rider has to follow the rules of the road, e-bike riders can go on bike trails as well as paved and dirt roads. To top it all off, they’re environmentally friendly.
“It’s the best vehicle I’ve ever found for this town,” Dietz said, who’s been selling, renting and fixing bikes in Aspen for 45 years.
Dietz said he’s sold 200 e-bikes during the last four years, mainly to locals and second-home owners.
“Two hundred e-bikes in four years is a lot of e-bikes,” he said. “E-bikes sell more than regular bikes ever did — incredibly so.”
He also rents town-style e-bikes, as well as road and mountain-style e-bikes that can suit any rider.
Toni Sears, assistant manager at Basalt Bike and Ski, said the volume of e-bike sales at his shop this year is up probably 1,000% over last year.
“We had more bikes sold in eight weeks this spring than in the two years before,” he said. “We have people out there that otherwise wouldn’t be on a bicycle.”
But it’s not just e-bikes.
Bike shops in Aspen can’t keep lower-end, regular pedal-power bikes in stock. And if you’re looking for kids’ bikes, forget about it.
“If it’s below $4,000, it’s pretty much not available,” said Tim Emling, owner of The Hub of Aspen, located on Hyman Avenue near Aspen Art Museum. “If you’d have told me this would happen when they turned off the lifts (in March), I’d have said you were dreaming.
“It’s been crazy.”
The Hub, which mainly focuses on bike sales over rentals, has even taken over the next-door office of a realty company that moved out as a storage space just to keep up with demand. He said he recently somehow got a hold of six kids bikes, which haven’t even arrived yet and are already sold.
In addition, his service department is slammed with people digging bikes out of garages that haven’t been ridden in years because of the pandemic.
“We’ve had 40 bikes in for service for months,” Emling said.
Dietz said he’s particularly fond of his e-mountain bike, which is not allowed on area single-tracks but is ideal for double-track dirt roads and forest roads.
“I haven’t been up Aspen Mountain in 35 years (on a bike),” he said, “and I’ve been up it 10 times this year already.”
E-mountain bikes are perfect for riding up or down Midnight Mine or Little Annie roads, while touring or road e-bikes are popular for rides up to the Maroon Bells on Maroon Creek Road or to Ashcroft and the Pine Creek Cookhouse up Castle Creek Road, said Dietz and Sears.
“You don’t need to get in a car,” Dietz said. “It will take you wherever you want to go.”
Pryce Hadley, ranger supervisor for Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program, said that when he started in the summer of 2015 virtually all the bikes on area trails were pedal-powered. But since 2018, e-bikes are taking over a greater portion of the use every year, he said.
“We see a lot of e-bike traffic on the paved trails,” he said. “We call it the Woody Creek lunch bunch.”
Many Aspen tourists like to take the Rio Grande Trail down to the Woody Creek Tavern for lunch and, in pre-e-bike years, often would face a daunting uphill slog on pedal-powered bikes. Now, with e-bikes, the trip back to Aspen is much easier and the excursion has become even more popular, Hadley said.
And while the number of e-bikes has increased exponentially, the number of e-bike accidents on popular trails like the Rio Grande or Owl Creek have not, Hadley said. So far this summer, rangers have responded to 13 bike accidents on Open Space program trails and just three have involved e-bikes, he said.
“Definitely it’s a minority of accidents that involve e-bikes,” Hadley said, “which frankly is a little bit surprising.”
E-bikes are not allowed on single-track trails. While some riders do disregard the rules, the numbers are not high, he said. Still, if you’re caught on a single track with an e-bike, you will receive a ticket, Hadley said.
Gary Tennenbaum, director of the Open Space and Trails program, also said e-bike use is up “significantly” this year over last, though he agreed that overall bike use also has increased because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
“More people have more time to get outside,” Tennenbaum said.
He said he’s all for the trend.
“I have no issue with people on e-bikes,” Tennenbaum said. “Our biggest issue” is etiquette and people who don’t know how to pass and other rules of the trails.
E-bikers, as well as regular bikers, must announce themselves when passing other bikes or pedestrians, he said. In addition, they need to slow down around hikers and runners, be aware of who and what is around them and refrain from riding two and three abreast on trails and roads, he said.
“We need people to do that,” Tennenbaum said. “That has to happen. The education of people riding (e-bikes) needs to increase.”
Bike traffic has significantly increased on Maroon Creek Road and Castle Creek Road this year, he said. And while he’s less concerned about traffic on Maroon Creek because it is limited thanks to the bus shuttle service, Castle Creek is another story.
“Castle Creek is a free-flowing road,” Tennenbaum said. “I am worried that somebody’s gonna get hit. And I don’t want to blame it all on bikes. This year, motorists have been pretty bad too.”
Another problem area road popular with bikers is Fryingpan Road, which heads out of Basalt to Ruedi Reservoir.
“Fryingpan Road is a dangerous road,” he said, adding that he’s talked to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office about the issues.
The bottom line is bikers and drivers need to learn to be tolerant of one another.
“The use is not going to go away,” Tennenbaum said. “We all have to do our part. Everyone needs to play nice in the sandbox.”