As more e-bikes hit Saskatoon's trails, city administration taking 'close look' at regulations

Electric bikes, better known as e-bikes, are becoming more popular in Saskatoon, but officials with the Meewasin Valley Authority say the faster, motorized vehicles may present challenges for others using the trail.

Meewasin Valley Authority working with city to ensure motorized bikes properly accommodated, regulated

A bike lane signal in Toronto. Officials say the City of Saskatoon's administration is working to figure out how electric bikes fit into the city's bicycle bylaw. (James Dunne/CBC)

Officials with the Meewasin Valley Authority are in conversation with the City of Saskatoon to discuss where electric bicycles fit into the city's trail systems.

Equipped with both pedals and an electric motor, "power assisted" bikes, or e-bikes, are becoming more popular across the country. Officials with the MVA say as more end up on Saskatoon's trail system, it's important to be able to legislate and manage the motorized vehicles.

Alan Otterbein, the manager of design and development with the authority, said while it hasn't received complaints about e-bikes, the MVA regularly receives complaints from people who experience poor trail etiquette — cyclists passing pedestrians too close while travelling too fast, for example.

"As these [e-bikes] become more popular, it could bring up even more issues or concerns," he said. "And given electric vehicles could be going faster, there are different aspects of it that could be challenging for people out there on the trails."

A cyclist on the Meewasin Valley Trail system in Saskatoon. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

He said the Meewasin Valley Authority has already been in conversation with the City of Saskatoon about amendments to the city's bicycle bylaw to include e-bikes. Currently, the vehicles are not regulated under municipal bylaws. 

Danae Balogun, the City of Saskatoon's active transportation program manager, said a report on the bike bylaw is expected to be presented to city council this year, noting administration is taking "a close look at e-bikes, especially as they get more and more popular."

She said it's likely the city's bylaw will follow regulations provided by Transport Canada and the province. This includes rules that prohibit riders under the age of 14 and restrictions to ensure a bike's continuous power output rating is 500 watts or less. 

One of two e-bike models GM intends to start selling next year. Saskatoon cyclists say e-bikes are becoming more popular in the city. (General Motors)

The city's bylaw may also include restrictions that prohibit a bike from providing further power assistance when the bicycle attains a speed of 32 km/h on ground level.

Cathy Watts, co-chair of the advocacy group Saskatoon Cycles, said she feels more education and awareness about trail etiquette is needed. She expects more cyclists overall, including those on e-bikes, will be turning to the MVA trails with the removal of some of the city's bike lanes. 

She said while more infrastructure on the trails would be ideal, it's important for cyclists, whether on e-bikes or regular bikes, to be courteous and aware of proper trail engagement.

City workers melting together the street after removing bike lanes from Saskatoon's Fourth Avenue N. earlier this month. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

"If you have education and people understand they need to be respectful of each other, then they're going to slow down when the trail gets really, really narrow." 

Stan Yu, a cycling advocate and regular cyclist in Saskatoon, agreed. He said while more bikes and a diversity of vehicles on the valley authority's trails may mean more opportunities for collisions and conflict, users can continue on in harmony if everyone is on the same page.

"This will ensure a harmonious kind of interaction so that everyone can get to where they need to go safely, regardless of what mode of transportation they are using."


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