This article will attempt to convince you that it’s worthwhile to get your lazy ass out of bed before everyone else when you want to hit the singletrack trails so that you get the best snow conditions and don’t put other non-electric riders at risk. It also lays out a template for how to deal with encounters with your friendly local law enforcement officer, and explains why you should avoid the locals.
When I used to XC ski (back when there was actually real snow) I noticed something particular about snow. If you wanted the best quality snow to slide on, it was always better earlier in the day. I kept going out skiing earlier and earlier until I was hitting the trails at the break of dawn and usually wrapping up a few hours later at around 9:00 AM. I noticed a couple of things while XC skiing that have carried over directly to my wintertime electric fatbiking.
The snow is better the earlier you go out
There is a lot of reasons for this, but mostly it has to do with the fact that first thing in the morning the air is cold. Really cold. The half melted snow of yesterday has had a chance to setup overnight if it dropped below freezing and now it is ready for you to track up. If you want good traction, cold snow is better than warmer snow. If you want a firm surface to ride on that has the least amount of friction, again cold granular snow beats the crap out of slushy snow every time. There is no doubt in my mind that on any average day, the closer you head out to dawn, the better the snow quality will be. I don’t meditate or eat before I head out, as soon as I wakey wakey I get up, get my Chamois diaper on and go hit the trails.
There are less other trail users out in the early morning
Electric bikes are dangerous, not just to you but to others as the BBSxx units are essential completely silent but allow you to scream uphill at over 15mph. I’ve had 2 close calls where I was hauling ass up a steep singletrack trail while someone else was flying down the trail at breakneck speed. Both close calls were averted, but if you do collide with another biker and you have a motor and they don’t, take a guess at who is going to be in trouble (spoiler alert: Not the other guy). When things get out of control DON’T look at the guy (or girl) that is about to hit you, look somewhere else and that is where your ebike will go. Preferably look somewhere that doesn’t have a tree and allows you to get out-of-the-way without serious and permanent injury. Both close calls I had were when I was riding around lunch time, a never even seen anyone else in the woods before 9:00 AM, and I live 1.5 miles from one of the most popular singletrack riding spots in Central New York. On weekends it is not uncommon to have 50 riders in the woods at one time.
Don’t park in the main parking lot
Where I ride the main lot is called the Party lot because there are always dudes setup with easy chairs swilling beers after a long singletrack ride. My advice is to find somewhere else to park that is more discreet. I also throw my ebike inside my minivan so no other riders or rangers can see my ebike. I don’t drink and I don’t have any friends so I tend to avoid normal bikers. If you’re riding an ebike in the woods you probably should too. You can pull off to the side somewhere along the road that is close to the trails.
Get friendly with the Rangers
Yup, that’s right. Rangers are people too, and they want you to like them. For 15 years I lived close to the biggest state park in central NY and I’ve been in the woods almost every single day but I have only seen the Rangers a grand total of twice. The Rangers want your help to keep the park clean and safe for everyone. Talk to them like people, ask for their contact information in case you see anyone else doing anything illegal. Don’t act like you’re a criminal, because you’re not. Remember to carry a copy of HR 727 with you (download it here), if your ebike is less than Nominal 750W and goes less than 20mph then you are legal in the USA unless local statutes specifically prohibit it. All my motors, even my BBSHD’s, all have 750W stamped on the bottom of the motor, so even if I get harassed, there is a good chance I will be able to talk my way out of it.
Don’t talk to the cops, ever
Wow doesn’t that one directly contradict the ‘get friendly with the Rangers?’ You bet your ass it does. There is a video that is a must-see video about dealing with the police right here. Rest assured that 99% of the people who are currently in jail would NOT be in jail if they actually knew and exercised their rights. Let’s assume that you don’t want to waste 50 minutes of your life watching these two guys talk on that Youtube video. The gist of what he is saying is that YOU SHOULD NEVER TALK TO THE COPS, EVER. It’s pretty simple, really. Your conversation with any police officer should be one of 3 things
- “Am I being detained”
- “Am I free to go?”
- “I do not answer questions”
That’s it, the supreme court has decided that it’s not within your rights to remain silent, instead you must respond with “I do not answer questions”. A Police Officer (or Ranger) can write you any ticket for ANYTHING they want to. It’s up to the courts to sort it out. If you are getting written a ticket that you don’t agree with, don’t argue with the officer, just wait till court to make your case. There is little more that you can do.
So what do I do? Talk to the Rangers or not talk to them? I talk to cops like I talk to anyone else, but if they start asking questions about my bike or my trail riding then I don’t say anything at all to them except “Respectfully sir, I do not answer questions”. I know that sounds confusing, but just trust your instincts on this one. Just remember that anything you say CAN AND WILL be used against you. Nothing you say can help you, unless you can weasel your way out of getting a ticket in the first place.
It’s pretty likely that you can get the ticket thrown out of court even if you represent yourself without a lawyer.
Here are 3 examples to show how to deal with the Johnny Law:
- You see a Ranger sitting in his truck and your ebike is safely tucked inside the back of your van so he can’t see it. I stop the van, go over to introduce myself and act very friendly. I make sure to tell the Ranger that I’m in the woods every day and have removed a tractor-trailer load full of garbage out of the forest in the last 15 years. I get their business card or contact info and tell them that I’ll report anything illegal that I see. If you’re cool enough to them if they DO get a complaint about some guy in a rainbow-colored spray painted minivan riding ebikes in the woods they might even ignore it because by you actions you made it clear that you do NOT perceive yourself as a criminal and that you care a great deal about the forest.
- The Ranger sees me coming out of the woods with the ebike and starts asking questions. I hand him a copy of HR727 and I show him the 750W stamp on the bottom of the motor. Other than that I don’t answer any questions about anything, when he asks me questions I say “I do not answer questions, sir”. If he writes me a ticket I graciously accept it and say thank you and tell him to have a good day. I then try to fight the ticket in court (which is the proper place to contest things like this).
- The Ranger or a Cop shows up at my door and asks if he can ask me a couple of questions. This conversation alternates between me saying “I do not answer questions”, “Am I being detained”, and “Am I free to go”. You should not say ANYTHING else to any officer of the law that is coming to question you. Nothing you say can be used in court to help you (that’s hearsay), it can only be used against you.
Don’t be afraid to turn around and ride the other way
If I am following another biker and he’s going too slow I won’t overtake him, I’ll just turn around and go the other way. If I see someone in the woods walking or skiing I will often just turn around and ride the way I came. If I end up coming up on riders then I lay off the throttle and just pedal past them with pedal power and I say hi. I don’t stop, I don’t talk to them. With my battery in a backpack and the way my bike looks, for most people they can’t really tell with a cursory inspection that there is even a motor on it. Why create potential conflict when it can be avoided so easily?
Don’t mess with the locals
I’ve had the windows to my van shot out while I was sleeping in it with my wife about 1 hour from my house. I climbed into the driver seat fully naked and then started up the van with every intention of running the guy over for self-defense (true story). He jumped into his friend’s truck and they took off and I started after them, but then I stopped because I realized I had no idea what I was going to do if I caught up with them or if they had just stopped their truck in the road. They had already shot at me several times for no apparent reason and I didn’t have a gun. Instead, I just got dressed and left.
See someone dumping trash? Just walk away. Locals are dangerous and ones that feel threatened are doubly so. They just like to just have a good time and sometimes having a good time means shooting out the windows to your car while you’re still in it.
Try not to take it personally. It’s not really about you at all.