Missoula bike shops give mixed reviews to proposed e-bike, scooter share system

Hellgate Cyclery mechanic Pat Scharfe repairs a bicycle wheel in the shop last week. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

As the city of Missoula considers allowing an electric bike and scooter share system, some local bike shops are wary while others support the notion.

The Missoula City Council is discussing the implementation of a dockless e-bike and scooter system, which would require ordinance changes allowing Missoula residents and tourists to rent the vehicles for a day.

While bikes are strongly encouraged in the Garden City, a few Missoula bike shops are uncertain if the city is ready for an e-bike share program and want the city to ensure proper maintenance of any such system.

In other cities that use a similar dockless share system, including Seattle and Santa Cruz, California, bikes and scooters are sometimes left piled up on sidewalks, creating barriers for pedestrians, said Dave Hartman, co-owner of Hellgate Cyclery.

Hellgate Cyclery mechanic Pat Scharfe said that while visiting Seattle a year ago, he saw about 27 e-bikes piled up within 12 blocks and heard about bikes being thrown into rivers.

“I don’t know if Missoula’s quite ready for it,” Hartman said. “(Bikers) basically leave them wherever they want and it just becomes sort of a mess. I think they’re a little unsightly, and I don’t see it being any different here.”

Hartman thinks the share system might affect bike rental sales at other shops, but also sees an economic benefit to businesses.

“Ultimately, if it’s a local that rents one a couple of times, and they keep renting them, they might want to buy a bike,” Hartman said. “So I can see a benefit of sales off of that as well. But I think mostly the only detriment to shops I would see are tourists who are renting them for a day that would otherwise rent from a shop.”

E-bikes fall into three categories. Changes to the city ordinance would allow Class 1 and 2 vehicles where regular bicycles are currently allowed, including commuter routes like the Bitterroot Trail and the Milwaukee Trail.

Class 1 bikes top out at 20 mph, and are generally powered using a motor that assists pedaling, while Class 2 bikes have motors that exclusively propel the bike to a speed of 20 mph.

Class 3 bikes reach a maximum speed of 28 mph.

According to state law, e-bikes are considered bicycles if they do not exceed 20 mph and have an electric motor of less than 750 watts. Some mountain trails in the Missoula area are prohibiting use of any e-bike.

Bike Hanger employee Jay Evans specializes in e-bike repair, and owns a Class 3 e-bike that he rides every day. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Bicycle Hangar employee Jay Evans owns a Class 3 e-bike and thinks a bike share system would be beneficial, as long as the bikes are regulated and taken care of. E-bikes are the same as traditional bikes, but have a battery and centralized motor attached.

E-bikes are great for those who cannot operate a traditional bike or who live in an area with a steep grade, like the South Hills, for example.

“It’s a good thing, or has the potential to be a good thing, but it needs to be managed well,” Evans said. “I think that’s where the city is taking an interest in how to implement it, not just whether to implement it.”

Evans, who is the only mechanic at Bicycle Hangar that repairs e-bikes, said he wants to see only Class 1 e-bikes used in the share system and hopes the system operators will keep bikes corralled and maintained.

E-bikes have gotten popular, and at Bicycle Hangar, manager Joe Riemensnider said that rentals and sales of Giant brand e-bikes have steadily increased.

Last year, the shop had two e-bikes for rent, now they carry about six. Both residents and tourists rent the bikes. Evans plans to train other employees in how to repair and sell e-bikes in the future.

“They’re really picking up steam,” Riemensnider said.

While the share system bikes might be cheaper for a daily rental compared to Bicycle Hanger rental prices, having a professional’s help and guidance on how to properly operate them is an important aspect of the industry and user safety.

Chad Dilworth, the manager of Missoula Bicycle Works, said that while the share system may affect rental business, he just wants to see more people using bikes.

“On the other end, if it keeps people out of their cars and biking, that’s going to be good for the city,” he said.

Electrically assisted bikes and scooters gain traction with Missoula City Council