Letter: Re: There’s Trouble In Them There Hills

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On May 22, Tex Haines criticized the ongoing modifications by mountain bikers to local wilderness trails, particularly the steep Telonics trail from Top of the World to the Big Bend area of Laguna Canyon, On Aug. 14, Billy Fried argued that current Laguna Wilderness Park prohibitions against motorized vehicles should be waived for e-bikes.

E-bikes are great. Many Laguna Beach residents could use one to get around town or out the canyon. But I disagree with Mr. Fried. He dismisses the damage done to the environment by mountain bikers cutting “unauthorized” trails, blaming instead, horses, rangers, and trail builders. Unlikely. He wants to attract “well-heeled consumers” to boost the local economy. Full Disclosure: Mr. Fried rents e-bikes for $150 per day or $150 per person for a two-hour tour of the town.

There are three legal classes of e-bikes. Class 1 adds boost while pedaling, up to 20 MPH on the level. Class 2 is like class 1 but can also run on pure electricity, no pedaling. Class 3 is like Class 1, but they are typically heavier, and they go up to 28 MPH on the level. They all can go faster on a steep downhill. The prohibitions against motorized vehicles in wilderness areas exist for two reasons: pedestrian safety and habitat conservation. The parks were always intended for, and designed for pedestrians. Mountain bikers were gradually accepted as quasi-pedestrians, fait accompli. Mountain bikes are a safety hazard to pedestrians, and to the riders themselves. Crashing, typically on a rutted, rocky trail or fire road, comes with the territory. Bikes can and do cause erosion, compounded by the number of bikers, the incline, and rainy weather. Mountain bikers modify existing single-track trails with banks, cuts, and short wooden bridges across gullies. They also cut new trails, illegally. These are, arguably, reasonable trade-offs to facilitate mountain biking.

Currently, proponents seek only to admit Class 1 e-bikes, but Class 1, 2, and 3 look alike. E-bike designs will continue to evolve. Allowing motorized vehicles in the parks is an irreversible paradigm shift. At some point, heavier and more powerful e-bikes are effectively motorcycles, not compatible with narrow, steep, and treacherous hiking trails.

Laguna Beach residents should respect what we have been given. James Dilley preserved the Greenbelt, and others preserved Main Beach, Laguna Canyon, and Crystal Cove State Park. They will last as long as we defend them.

Joel Harrison, Laguna Beach

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  1. Joel, for the record, I have been transparent in wanting to introduce visitors to our lovely town via eBikes, as well as having locals experience them and hopefully switch their mode of transportation around town for the betterment of all. My company made a significant investment in eBikes, and we are not a non-profit. However, we lend our bikes out generously on our First Sunday bike rides. But we do not have a dog in the fight for off-road eBiking. Our bikes are for street riding only, and we do not permit them in the hills. Nor do we lead tours there. I’m not even a mountain biker. But I know many who are getting older and this is the only way for them to continue participating in a sport they love. I did not say it was horses, rangers and trail builders who degrade the park. That was a quote by Brian Lopes. But here’s where I have a problem with your logic. Saying trails were always intended for hikers is like saying roads were always intended for horses, or snow packed mountains were always intended for bears. Humans have a healthy predilection for recreation. The trails are but a tiny part of the open space ecosystem. Mountain biking is a super healthy sport. Electric bikes are no different from analog bikes. They are silent, don’t pollute, and have a top speed governor. The laws that were written decades ago were for carbon spewing engines. It’s fatuous to lop eBikes into that category. If overcrowding is your worry, then some effective management is warranted – like designating certain trails as single use only. But blind prohibition is just lazy, antiquated thinking. eBikes have a growing role in our transportation grid to get people out of cars and into healthy, outdoor recreation. Make America Healthy Again!

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