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Okanagan Rail Trail e-bike rules drive up controversy

Click to play video: 'Okanagan Rail Trail e-bike rules drive up controversy' Okanagan Rail Trail e-bike rules drive up controversy
WATCH: New rules banning certain classes of e-bikes on the north end of the Okanagan Rail Trail have some electric bike enthusiasts concerned. The Regional District of North Okanagan quietly passed the bylaw last year, and now that signage has gone up this spring those with a stake in the bike business are speaking out – May 10, 2022

New rules banning certain classes of e-bikes on the north end of the Okanagan Rail Trail have some electric bike enthusiasts concerned.

The Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) quietly passed the bylaw changes last year, but now that signage has gone up this spring, those with a stake in the bike business have become aware of the rules and are speaking out.

Read more: Riders in Belleville modifying e-bikes to travel twice the speed limit

The regional district said the new rules banning class two and three bikes on its part of the rail trail, and other RDNO trails, were in response to complaints.

“The nature of a lot of the calls or complaints were around potentially hazardous conditions, around speed,” said RDNO general manager of strategic and community services Ian Wilson.

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However, some riders, including the owners of Pedego Oyama, an electric bike shop near the rail trail, feel the regional district has gone too far in banning class two bikes.

Class one bikes are pedal-assist while class two e-bikes include a throttle. Class three bikes can go up to 45 km/h.

Read more: Electric bikes called a boon for search and rescue team

“The throttle, for the retired group and the older demographic, it’s a winner. It gets you out. They are not sitting in front of the TV. They are not burdening our health system because they are using their knees and backs,” said Pedego Oyama co-owner Murray Fraser.

“All of a sudden you’ve taken that away and I think that is really unfair.”

Bike shop co-owner Sheila Fraser says she personally finds the throttle on level two bikes helps her as she lives with arthritis in her knees and the extra acceleration helps her get her bike started from a stand still.

“These bikes with the throttle are truly an assistance to a lot of our riders,” Sheila Fraser said.

“I would just hate to see anything discourage people at this time especially as we start a new seasonal tourism timeframe right after we have had so many struggles to get through COVID and the heat domes and everything else. I don’t want this to be a wrinkle discouraging anyone from coming and enjoying what we already have here in the Okanagan.”

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Read more: Way paved for completion of Okanagan Rail Trail

The regional district is defending the new policy, saying it’s focused on safety.

“Bylaw enforcement is only one of our tools in the toolbox. We really prefer to focus on education and voluntary compliance. This does give us the option that if there is a hazardous condition or an incident that we do have that tool available,” Wilson said.

No one has yet been ticketed under the new rules.

E-bike enthusiasts argue a bike speed limit would be a better way to address the issue.

“That might be something that we could also explore as an additional educational tool. We have heard…in some other areas that it is tricky. How do you monitor speed? How do you enforce that,” Wilson said.

Class two bikes with the throttle actuator deactivated are still allowed so, for now, the bike shop has made the necessary changes to its rental fleet as the debate over which e-bike types are right for the rail trail continues.

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