Summer is here and the bikers are on the road. It seems hectic in town, but are bikes to blame for the congestion?
Employees of A-Frame Fine Wines & Spirits say they have seen multiple bike accidents outside of their store. After sitting on the store’s repurposed ski lift seat for 30 minutes on a Tuesday evening, one can see how: many bikers come down Main Street at fast speeds weaving between the bike and car lanes.
Some bikers pass cars going well over 20 or 30 miles per hour. Pedestrians look for a crosswalk but give up and head right across the road, sometimes without looking at traffic. Cars whiz by well over the speed limit. Runners, skaters, bikers, and cars zip about, with right of way principles seemingly misunderstood by many.
Bicyclists shamelessly ride through both stop signs at Liberty Bar and the A Frame.
Between June 1, 2023, and August 9, 2023, there were 15 traffic collisions. According to Christina Ackerman, Executive Assistant to the Chief at the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, of these 15 traffic collisions, 1 was a Vehicle vs. Bicycle, 1 was a Vehicle vs. Deer, 1 was a Vehicle vs. Bear, and one was a Bicycle Crash only. Ackerman wrote that there have been 3 hit and runs, 13 reports of illegal camping within town limits, and 17 reports of theft or shoplifting, including 1 bicycle.
Many of the bikes flying down the road appear to be rentals, but definitely not all. Wave Rave’s Steve Klassen said that the most dangerous area in town is the bike path coming down from Lake Mary Road.
The speed limit is 15 mph, but it is rare to see riders obeying the signage, and the speed limit is not enforced.
“We get people coming in who haven’t ridden a bike in 25 years … and they want them,” Klassen said.
To add to the mix, 3 out of 4 people who rent bikes don’t rent or wear helmets, despite Wave Rave offering a helmet to everyone who rents a bike. Legalizing the throttle was a mistake, thinks Klassen. “The cat’s out of the bag,” he said. He thinks a lot of the safety issues stem from the Town’s decision to change the rules and allow Class II e-bikes.
Previously, Class II e-bikes were not allowed on town trails. Now, people are able to rent and ride both.
The distinction between Class I and Class II e-bikes is a throttle that allows class II e-bikes to reach top speeds of 20 mph with no pedaling required, while Class I e-bikes can reach 20 mph only when the rider is pedaling.
However, “most kids,” said Klassen, “can figure out how to change the settings on a bike using an app. So you can rent them a Class II. But that doesn’t mean they can’t turn it into a Class III with a few clicks on a keypad.” Class III e-bikes can reach top speeds of 28 mph.
Another shop owner who rents e-bikes explained that there has been an extreme increase in the number of bike crashes in town. He said that it is crowded on the Lakes Basin path because it is too narrow and many e-bikes have wide handlebars that clip each other. “There is a certain irony to it all, because the path is the best thing we’ve done [as a town],” he explained.
Taking a bike out to the Lakes Basin is a must-do for many visitors. His main issue is with the Class III bikes, which can be low-cost, extremely heavy, and come with cheap parts. To him, these are essentially motorcycles.
“What we have now in town are 80-90 lb. motorcycles on every sidewalk, and someone’s probably gonna have to die for the proper legislation to be enacted,” he said.
E-bikes have been a topic of discussion all over town.
“I know there is a reluctance to enforce, but it is such a free-for-all,” the rental shop owner said.
He referenced Huntington Beach, which has a speed limit of 10 mph that is strictly enforced. He also said that the Town’s Outdoor Recreation Manager Lawson Reif has been applying for grants to widen the Lake Mary Bike Path.
Pokonobe Lodge and Marina employee Jose Jules said that “lots of visitors ride their bikes up around Lake Mary. Today two people even rode their bikes onto the lake dock.”
The roads around Lake Mary and other lakes and attractions are narrow and can be winding.
“I see deer on my commute all the time, and people riding bikes, and e-bikes. Some of those turns are pretty blind,” Jules said. There seem to be near-collisions between bikers and cars on those roads every day.
Things may be crazy in town, but things are a bit calmer at the Mountain. The Mammoth Mountain rental shop at Main Lodge said that only one helmet had been cracked this season, and no other significant damages had been found on bikes or gear.
Mammoth Mountain Bike Park Patrol said that bike accidents on the mountain have been minor and few. Bike Park Operators said that things have been mellow.
Families are out riding, and no one has been trying to bring Class II or Class III e-bikes to the lifts… yet.