So far just a few people have taken the e-bikes out for a spin from the company’s
shop at 277 Pine Street, though Sharp says initial reviews are good. His is the only business approved to rent the bikes for use on the path.
The cycles Sharp rents can hit about 28 miles per hour, though scofflaws will find they can’t go over the speed limit — each bike is set to keep riders to the agreed-upon 12 mph top speed.
The commission initially worried high speeds could be dangerous, especially when the path is congested, so Sharp compromised with the speed limit. They also wanted to generally preserve the ban on motorized vehicle traffic along the path, and allow only some exceptions.
“Their main concern is that you open up the bike paths to all kinds of motorized things, that you’re going to have ATVs,” Sharp said.
ATVs are still not allowed and Jesse Bridges, the director of Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront, doesn’t foresee problems with electric bikes, saying he welcomes the added mobility option.
The e-bikes can be pedaled or powered by a small, light motor that riders control from switches on the handlebars. Many people do a combination of pedaling and cruising. The bikes rent for $20 an hour and $45 a day. Sharp is also selling them for $2,350.
An environmentalist and attorney, Sharp was instrumental in winning the court battle that led to the creation of the bike path in the 1980s and also played a key role in blocking the Alden Plan, which would have plopped a towering hotel, condos and a parking garage on what is now Waterfront Park.
The entrepreneur is now using the path to further his business plans — and get people going. The motorized bikes aren’t some way for fat, lazy people to avoid breaking a sweat, but instead allow riders with physical limitations to enjoy the outdoors and scenery. Sharp knows firsthand after a paragliding crash in 1996 left him walking with difficulty.
“It gets more people out onto bikes,” Sharp said. “The parks commission bought that argument; they understand that.”
The option of switching to engine power means more people can make the 13-mile journey from the Burlington waterfront to the end of the Colchester Causeway, the trail on converted railroad bed that juts out into Lake Champlain.
“It’s a beautiful place to go but a lot of people don’t have the stamina to pedal a bicycle all the way out there,” said Sharp.