by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
A Facebook advertisement prompted Councilman Mike Miller to propose a ban on electric bikes on the beach. The city has an ordinance in place prohibiting motorized vehicles and mopeds on the beach, so Miller suggested restricting e-bikes as well.
“It was a Facebook ad about the availability of e-bikes for use on the beaches of Sanibel combined with my knowledge of e-bikes that were the impetus for the proposal,” said Miller.
Federal law considers e-bikes to be regular bikes, not motorized vehicles. That means they are legal to ride on most beaches across the country. While bikes on the beach has not been a major issue for Sanibel, it has been reportedly occurring more in the past year.
“In the last year or so I have seen more and more bikes on the beach,” Jim Cryder, president of the Sanibel Bike Club, said during public comment in the May council meeting. “In my personal opinion, bikes should not be allowed on the beach.”
Standard e-bike tires are not wide enough to work efficiently in the sand. It takes “fat tires” or tires wider than 3.5 inches. Since riding an e-bike in soft, loose sand is very difficult, it is common to ride close to the water where the sand is more compact – much like when walking.
“I think this is driven not only by the motor on an e-bike, but the fact some of the tires are four inches or wider than that, so it’s possible to ride them in the sand,” said Miller.
Safety was a concern for the council. As riders travel parallel to the water on their bike, beachgoers are traveling perpendicular from the water and there is a possibility of a collision.
In addition to human safety, repeated disturbances to shorebirds threatens their survival. These birds may have flown hundreds of miles before reaching the beach and arrive exhausted and hungry. So, the simple act of flushing them off their feeding and resting grounds burns up their reserves of energy and reduces their ability to complete their journey.
Resident Allison Ward said she never noticed bikes on the beach until recently and thinks it’s “horrible for our wildlife. People bike down where the birds are, where the sand is packed, and they scatter the birds which are just trying to rest…This is our sanctuary island.”
While it was a unanimous vote by council to have City Attorney John Agnew draft an ordinance prohibiting e-bikes on the beach, Councilman John Henshaw said he was reluctant to vote ‘yes.’ “I think it’s unsafe to say only e-bikes and staying silent on other bikes,” he said.
The draft ordinance is scheduled to be on the council’s June agenda for discussion. It’s the first of three steps.