Bike Safety Education at Jackson Hole Middle School

FOP is teaching the next generation of riders

Jackson Hole’s extensive multi-use pathway network connects most neighborhoods to the schools. Because of this, hundreds of kids bike to school every day – many on e-bikes. Friends of Pathways supports kids biking to school and wants to give students the skills they need to do so in a safe way, while preserving the pathway experience for all users.

Each spring Friends of Pathways visits Jackson Hole Middle School to teach bike safety in an assembly setting and outside using a bike skills course. The curriculum focuses heavily on balance, pedaling, starting, stopping, passing, speed control, signaling, bike maintenance and pathway etiquette – all great things to brush up on, no matter what kind of bike you are riding.

Friends of Pathways has hired Aaron Nydam as our Bike Safety Coordinator. Aaron will assist in our efforts to provide pathway etiquette and bike education to our youth, visitors, and residents alike. Watch the video and read on for more information about e-bikes and kids.

Many thanks to the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole for supporting our bike safety education program.

So your kid wants an e-bike…

An overview of the wild world of e-bikes

When it comes to e-bikes, there is much to learn. How do you even begin to dig into all the specifics on battery life, battery volts, motor torque, cadence sensors and countless other e-bike components? And, what about e-bike maintenance?

Friends of Pathways thinks REI’s  Electric Bike Basics Series is an excellent place to get acquainted with the e-bike marketplace.

Additionally, People For Bikes has a video education series titled E-Bike Smart that has a lot of good information.

Locally, the Town of Jackson defines an electric bicycle as a bicycle or tricycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts.

The variety of experiences comes down to how power is governed within the three classes of e-bikes on the market.  The two main differences are the presence of a throttle (in addition to pedal-assist), and the maximum speed at which the motor will assist the bike while pedaling:

Class 1 – 20 max mph pedal assist, no throttle
Class 2 – 20 max mph pedal assist, throttle
Class 3 – 28 max mph pedal assist, no throttle.

A bike’s pedal-assist mode (PAS), determines how much power or “oomph” the motor provides while pedaling. Most e-bikes have multiple pedal assist modes that work by altering the total power output (watts). The higher the pedal-assist mode, the greater the percentage of output the motor will produce, and the less effort the rider has to exert on the pedals to propel the bike forward. If the rider stops pedaling, the motor will stop providing output. It is important to know that when you engage a throttle on a Class 2 e-bike, it overrides the PAS. So, you don’t need to pedal.

Speed: Some e-bikes are hard to control

The “feel” of riding can vary greatly from e-bike to e-bike based on the quality of software. Not all e-bikes are created equal. For example, lower-end e-bikes tend to be jerky, and twitchy, and limit the rider’s ability to control the speed. These differences result from the bike’s ability (or inability) to regulate the rate at which power is applied. Two sensors are involved. The cadence sensor acts as an “ignition” switch, and then a torque sensor turns the pedals into a “gas pedal”. By monitoring the amount of pressure applied to the pedals, the torque sensor allows you to slowly ramp up the output of the motor by pedaling faster and decrease the output by pedaling slower. So, just like a traditional bike, an e-bike with a torque sensor allows the rider to always be in control of the speed of the bike via the pedals. Go faster? Pedal faster. Slow down? Pedal slower.

It is notable that many popular brands do not have a torque sensor, and as a result, speed is more difficult to manage and riders tend to only use the throttle.  Which means the bike does not naturally slow down when not pedaling. In fact, because of safety concerns many areas prevent kids under the age of 16 from riding a Class 2 e-bike with a throttle. However, in Jackson, we do allow youth to ride Class 2, while requiring a helmet.

Note that the speed limit on the Town of Jackson’s pathway network is being enforced at 15 mph and at 10 mph in selected congested areas. It may take great restraint for a young e-bike rider to abide by the law if they are using a Class 3 bike, or any e-bike for that matter.

Weight: Some e-bikes are very heavy

E-bikes are impressively heavy, with some weighing over 70 lbs! With heavier bikes, a throttle can be helpful in starting from a standstill, especially when carrying a heavier load. However, the greater mass and force of these bikes can be problematic for steering and stopping. This is especially relevant for lighter tweens and teenagers who sometimes don’t even weigh as much as the e-bike they are riding. Always consider the weight and size of both the bike and the rider when purchasing an e-bike.

E-bikes are an investment in your kids’ safety as much as their mobility, so take the time to do your homework, test-ride before purchasing, and involve your children in the decision making. Make sure you understand what you are buying for your kid before sending them out on our pathways and streets. This may prevent buyer’s remorse – or something even worse. If you are thinking about purchasing a direct to consumer e-bike, like a RAD bike, try one before buying. And if you aren’t a skilled bike mechanic, take it to a bike shop for professional assembly.

Where to go from here

E-bikes are a new domain for most parents. Before any bike riding occurs, be explicit about your expectations and make sure your child understands the importance of helmets, communication, hand signals, situational awareness, visibility, kindness, and valuing others’ safety and experiences.

FOP takes pathway safety very seriously. Our aim is to foster a shared responsibility within our community to accommodate all pathway users. Parents play an enormous role in this effort. If you have any questions or just want some advice on e-bike use and kids, please feel free to contact Friends of Pathways Bike Safety Coordinator Aaron Nydam at aaron@friendsofpathways.org.