*Local learning series written by Justin Ancheta, owner of Soul Graffiti Productions
How is our local Bike Culture? Rated & Reviewed
-Justin Ancheta & Family, biking to Briar Patch, April 2021.
Here at Soul Graffiti, we have been a part of many world wide Bicycle & Music trips focusing on the Bicycle Revolution. With trips over the Pyrenees Mountains – France to Spain, to doing a cross country Bike and Train tour from California to New York, we gather our resources and experience to drop into how Grass Valley and Nevada City rate for bike culture. Specifically, we are focusing on electric bikes (Ebikes) and how we may create a more safe and prosperous bike culture in our neck of the woods.
After both experiencing first hand, and hearing from others about how it is for them riding Ebikes in our community, we have summarized a few highlights and ratings that can help bridge the gap for the transition families and communities can make to bike more locally and creating a smaller carbon footprint.
Here is the criteria using in our ratings:
Ease, Legality and Etiquette
Each category will be ranked from a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best. We’d be happy to hear your thoughts and experiences with these as well, so please comment and let us know how it is for you.
Ideally, with more momentum from the adoption of Ebikes in the area, it will help motivate safer bike routes and infrastructure to be built while also helping to increase our knowledge around safety, legalities and etiquette for both vehicles and bikers. The idea of “how we share the road” will take everyone’s collaboration.
Ebike Safety in Grass Valley/Nevada City – Rating: 6.5
You can’t go wrong with safety where there aren’t cars and you have a two laned bike throughways. The Litton Trail offers a glimpse of this safety and infrastructure maturity, yet it doesn’t last very long. Most EBikers need to share the side of the road or take a lane in some circumstances to get from point A to point B. Although this does create for some risky situations, the EBike allows for more safety because you have the ability to match speeds of traffic and take lanes with more ease. Overall, I’d rate the area for Ebikes around a 6.5. A regular bike rates closer to 3.5.
Regular biking in the area is rated less in safety due to the inability to match speeds up hills when in a traffic area, plus the many mountain bike trails that so many folks enjoy can also be a bit treacherous. Definitely wear your helmets! As stated, Ebikes are a bit higher in rating locally due to the ability to match speeds better and take lanes. However, a good way for EBikes to increase in safety locally is to have increased bike awareness through marked lanes to “share the road” with bikes, and also more knowledge of how to signal in traffic.
Drivers locally are notorious for getting angry at bikers and showing this attitude when bikers take a lane, and then passing on blind turns or sometimes pushing bikers off the road. A way to keep safe is to fully take a lane if you feel the edge isn’t large enough to bike safely with cars flying by. Ideally, all you bike advocates and environmentalist can set the stage for compassionate communication and empathy for those drivers that don’t know about the ease, fun, and excitement of getting around by bike.
The largest steps toward safety is educating the community, making yourself visible (lights and bright colors), knowing your hand signals and use them, and taking the lane when necessary. Definitely watch out for ice in the winter and stay clear of snow patches. The spring, summer, and fall season is pretty ideal and more safe than winters for sure, but winter is not ruled out as a mode of operation if you keep to safer routes.
Ebike Routes in Grass Valley/Nevada City – Rating: 3.5
With countless off-road mountain biking in the area, there are plenty of enjoyable nature trails to get your Ebike onto with safety, ease, and joy! As stated before, the idea of more connecting trails like the Litton Two Way Bike Lane, is a great example of where we can go when we choose to add more routes. Updating even further with road signs with Ebike and Bike sharing markers. After being carless for almost a decade in the Bay Area Ebiking around, I can’t say enough about how important it was to organize and support local Bike Coalitions and Advocates that support this infrastructure.
After lots of research online and talking to locals, I find that the mountain biking community is highly visible and organized, allowing for easy access to many free amazing resources and trails throughout the county and surrounding areas. That said, road biking and EBiking is pretty M.I.A. (Missing-In-Action) both online and from what I see in the connected area. There are many Ebike shops popping up locally and I do see a rise in ridership coming soon, but in regards to advocacy and leadership, you have to look at the larger organizations such as CalBike.org that is working to create incentives for Ebike purchases in California, plus adding infrastructure improvements. The only things I see visible in our local area are for mountain bike support such as www.bonc.org (Bicycles of Nevada City). This rating is low at 3.5 due to the comparison to mountain bikes locally, plus how many connection points and road awareness could be put up to support riders feeling safe and cared for. The more people feel Ebiking is safe, the more riders and support there will be!
We had to rate each of these categories separately, as they differ in ratings based on our understanding of Ebiking locally.
Lets start with ease! This is the highest rating yet of 8.5 because Ebikes allow you to power up those steep inclines and charge on the declining hills with your rechargeable braking system (if you have that option). Riders don’t have to be afraid of the hills anymore when you have an Ebike with pedal assist and throttle options.
My favorite is the throttle because you can more easily support how much pedal assist you want, or completely take over at times with the electric motor and cruise as if you are on a motor bike, which you are!
For all you older folk that still want to get out and ride but are afraid the hills are too much in our area, get an Ebike and that will solve it. And for you young folk that want to support a more green and carbon neutral future, plus have a more enjoyable mode of transportation – get an Ebike! As for the heat, cold, snow, rain, and ice – you can solve lots of this by getting the right gear for the season. Rain ponchos and foot and pant-wear that is rainproof, plus gloves, will allow you to ride in rain and not get wet. Maybe even bring a change of clothes in a backpack to assure your dryness upon arrival.
Legality is a 6.5 rating due to how our culture can be more aware of the improvements in our legal system, and how cops can be more knowledgeable about Ebikes safety and use.
Currently in California, EBikes are supposed to stay under 20 MPH, under a 750 Watt maximum, and can have 2-3 wheels with fully operational pedals.
My experience of Ebikes is that it is easy to get carried away and find yourself going up to 45 MPH and having systems that are 1000+ Watts of power (not to encourage this, but 48V to 72V power systems allow for this). Even with the extra power, I’ve found that it helps me match traffic and allows for more safety in merging situations. You can always stay under 20 MPH by setting your bike to do this and watching your speedometer.
Etiquette rating is 2.5 due to the capacity for more knowledge and awareness of the biking community at large. I’d be so happy to hear of a local chapter or bike coalition formed to advocate for the safety, knowledge, and ease of Ebikes and road biking in the area. As much as bikers need to have proper hand signals, marked clothing and gear (lights), the driving community needs to share the road with bikes. It’s potentially one of the easiest ways for our society to cut back on our fossil fuel addiction and increase more walkable and bikeable locations in our county. I can’t stress enough to share the road both ways. If someone barks at you, do your best to give bikers a good rap by keeping your cool. There is already too much hate and violence in our world and the more we can be the change we wish to see, the more we will feel it.
In summary, even though our community isn’t the most bike friendly area in California for a mode of transportation, Ebikes and the awareness of this radical transformation in local transportation could revolutionize the fabric of our culture.
Try it sometime! Go to your local Ebike dealer and rent a an Ebike for a day and take it around town, the Litton Trail, go to downtown Grass Valley and Nevada City and see how it feels to you to power up those hills without any struggle. I have a hybrid SUV and I can’t stress enough how the smaller and lighter the vehicle, the better the battery powered system works. I’m a bit disappointed in the Hybrid modeled SUV’s due to the inability to have good gas mileage in our area due to hills, hot, and cool weather. That said, the hybrid model of an Ebike using your leg power and electric power is phenomenal and can save you hundreds of dollars annually, up to thousands if you use it enough instead of your vehicle.
So let’s get on the same page here… whether you make the transition to an EBike yourself, or you see more of them on the road, remember to smile and be courteous, giving ample room to pass bikers waiting for clear marked road areas for passing and most of all practice “Patience.” If someone is on a bike they are doing something good for the environment, our community, and themselves all at once. Try it out and you will feel amazing!
Ancheta is a bike touring musician, born in California and raised in the Sierra Foothills of California, has toured Europe and across the United States raising awareness around Bicycles in the past decade of his life.
He now resides in Grass Valley, California and is the owner of Soul Graffiti Productions, SF Garnish Music, and performs regularly regionally with his partner, Maren Metke, mother to their daughter, Juniper.