PARK CITY — The basket went by first. There were some sunglasses in there, some kind of sweater, and I think a bag of chips, although it was hard to tell because the bicycle zipped around me pretty quick.
I was out for a ride on my road bike, going uphill in the Thaynes Canyon area of Park City, and while I know I’m not the fastest climber on Earth, I didn’t think I was going that slow — to get passed by a basket.
The guy on the bike with the basket looked over his shoulder. “Hey,” he shouted, not even breathing hard, “looks like you need more gears!”
Then he slowed down and showed me his secret weapon: He was on an e-bike. When you pedal uphill the battery does most of the work; it’s like George Hincapie just hopped on and took over.
I asked him how much that cost.
“Two bucks,” he said.
• • •
It turns out that Park City, the place that once turned silver mines into ski lifts, is back in the innovation business. Last month the town, in conjunction with Summit County, launched the first all-electric bike share program in the country.
They ordered 88 bikes from a Canadian bike-share operator, Bewegen Technologies, and set them up at nine stations around the Snyderville Basin, stretching from the Kimball Junction area to the heart of downtown Park City.
On July 19, Summit County and Park City officials hopped on the bikes and rode them to the McPolin barn. No one fell off and the program was officially declared up and running.
Bike shares aren’t new. Over the past decade, more than 1,000 cities around the world, including Salt Lake City, have implemented the cooperatives. But it’s only been the last couple of years that e-bikes have been added to fleets. In 2015, Birmingham, Alabama, became the first American city to use e-bikes when it added 100 of them to its bike share system. Baltimore followed suit in 2016; San Francisco added 100 e-bikes earlier this summer; and now, going exclusively with e-bikes, Park City has joined the pedal-assist ranks.
It only makes sense in a place where not even the pancakes are flat. “We have plenty of hills,” understated Chris Robinson of the Summit County Council. “This is a convenient way to get around that’s not real sweaty.“
The initial public response has been more than encouraging. In the bike share’s first month the Park City e-bikes were ridden nearly 6,000 times for a combined 19,000 miles (user stats are updated daily at summitbikeshare.com), an average of 200 rides per day.
As with most programs, a credit card app unlocks the bike and the user gets charged according to how long the bike is used. The Park City prices are $2 for the first 45 minutes, then $2 for each additional 30 minutes. There are also reduced rates for monthly and yearly passes.
Ideally, Robinson points out, the bikes will appeal to tourists and residents alike, helping cut down on traffic congestion and air pollution.
“This is one of our attempts to solve what we consider one of our major threats: too many cars on the road,” he said. “We’re victims of our own success, we can’t get around.”
The long-range plan is to add more miles of paved trails and “make it so the bikes are not looked at as just recreation but a viable means of transportation.”
I took my turn on a Summit Bike Share e-bike last week. I successfully downloaded the app (well, my wife successfully downloaded the app) and used my smartphone to unlock a bike. I cruised up the hills past the ski areas at Canyons, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley at 12-14 mph (top uphill speed on the bikes is 14.5 mph). It’s not effortless. You still have to pedal. But it’s not that sweaty. And you can put a lot of stuff in the basket.
I kept looking for someone to pass.