A guide to riding electric bikes — commonly called e-bikes — in Summit County

Pioneer Sports/Courtesy photo
Two people atop e-bikes smile while exploring Summit County's recpath.
Pioneer Sports/Courtesy photo

Over the last several years, electric bikes have steadily risen in popularity. Whether you want to explore a new area with a leisurely ride or you want to use a bike to commute to and from work, e-bikes can provide safe and fast transportation. 

E-bikes have taken hold in Summit County as well, but in order to truly enjoy the exhilarating activity, it is also important to understand the power of the equipment, local restrictions and safety precautions that come with riding e-bikes.

What is an e-bike?

Also known as powerbikes, pedelecs or booster bikes, e-bikes are bicycles with an integrated electric motor that do not exceed 750 watts of power. They are commonly classified into distinct types. 

Class 1 e-bikes are equipped with an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide help when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20 mph.

Class 2 e-bikes are also equipped with an electric motor, but they have a throttle that can provide assistance regardless of whether the rider is pedaling. They cease to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20 mph, however.

Class 3 e-bikes have a pedal-assist-only electric motor, similar to Class 1 e-bikes, but they have a maximum motor-assist speed of 28 mph.

There are also e-mountain bikes on the market that are designed for individuals to use on natural terrain, trails and other non-paved surfaces.

Summit County/Courtesy photo
An example of a class 1 e-bike.
Summit County/Courtesy photo

Where can you ride an e-bike in Summit County?

The U.S. Forest Service and Summit County’s Open Space and Trails Department have set up rules and regulations in order to preserve trails and protect the public from potential e-bike accidents. 

“Essentially, if you are not pedaling the bike, it is not legal,” Summit County open space and trails manager Katherine King said. “… If you are riding a bike on the recpath that you don’t have to pedal to propel forward, that is not legal to use.”

According to Tyler Kirkpatrick with the U.S. Forest Service, all e-bikes are considered motorized vehicles by the U.S. Forest Service, regardless of the class. As a result of e-bikes being designated as motorized vehicles, they are not permitted on non-motorized trails in the Dillon Ranger District, including those that are open to mountain bikes. That differs somewhat from the rules on county-run open spaces, where e-bikes are allowed on recpath trails, which are otherwise closed off to motorized use.

“At the county’s level, you can ride Class 1 e-bikes on our paved recpath system,” King said. “On natural surface trails, you can ride e-bikes anywhere motorized use is allowed.”

All Class 2, Class 3 and unclassified e-bikes remain prohibited on Summit County’s recpath system and on motorized vehicle trails. 

All classes of e-bikes are permitted on the trails at Frisco Peninsula Recreational Area and on certain ski area trails, including at Copper Mountain Resort, Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort, which operate on Forest Service lands but have specialized permits and agreements with the Dillon Ranger District. 

Forest Service officials recommend checking in with the Dillon Ranger District before riding e-bikes. Local motor vehicle use maps can also be found at

Pioneer Sports/Courtesy photo
Two e-bike riders take a break from their ride while on the Summit County recpath near Frisco.
Pioneer Sports/Courtesy photo

How to ride an e-bike

Although riding an e-bike seems as easy as riding a conventional bicycle, the e-bike’s motor and weight do pose a few potential hazards. 

With most e-bikes weighing anywhere from 40-50 pounds, it can be easy to quickly pick up momentum on a long downhill section. Riders want to be sure to know how to use the brakes and be wary when they summit a hill that leads to a downhill section.

“A lot of the same rules apply for e-bikes as they do for regular bikes in terms of trail etiquette and trail courtesy,” King said. 

King said that some of the major rules to remember while on an e-bike are to always stay on designated routes and to yield to hikers and equestrians. 

“Downhill riders need to yield to uphill riders always on the trails,” King said. “On the recpath, in particular, we ask that people signal when they are passing — looking for a safe place to pass and letting people know they intend to pass.”

King says many of Summit County’s e-bike riders are visitors riding on a rented bikes. 

Riders not being aware of their surroundings is one of the more common local issues with e-bike riders. 

“There may be people riding bikes who don’t ride bikes in other settings,” King said. “We want them to have some level of awareness of their surroundings or be familiar with our recpath and how busy it can be. We just want them … to always travel on the right side of the recpath and to pull off the recpath to take a photo or take a break.”

Overall, e-bikes can prove to be a fun activity and mode of transportation if you follow the rules, maintain a safe speed and wear a helmet while exploring the natural beauty of Summit County. 

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