I love to chug around Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area on my old-school mountain bike, gasping my way up and down its twisty trails and sweating my way to happiness.
But a few weeks ago, I left my human-powered bicycle at home and hopped aboard one of the park’s new electric fat bikes.
Before you accuse me of cheating, listen up. I’m not giving up on the pedal-powered version of cycling. But I’m also an advocate for getting more people outside and moving, and e-bikes, as they’re commonly called, open up trails to folks who otherwise might sit on the sidelines. (Also, just because you’re riding an e-bike doesn’t mean you can’t get good exercise. Just put it on a low setting or use the electric boost only to climb hills.)
LCRA rents electric fat bikes at two parks
The Lower Colorado River Authority recently purchased a fleet of 15 QuietKat bikes for use at Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area west of Austin and McKinney Roughs Nature Park east of Austin. They rent for $65 a day, and a fully-charged bike lasts about six hours, depending on what setting you put it on.
I spent a morning riding one of the e-bikes at Muleshoe on a chilly February morning. The single-track trails at the park, located about an hour’s drive west of Austin, twist and turn through thickets of cedar and oak trees, then open up along Lake Travis. Some are flat; other parts are steep and rocky.
The bikes are beefy. The model I rode weighs 70 pounds –– without the battery, which adds another 5 pounds or so. They’re designed mainly for hunting and bike packing, but I found they work well on the trails at Muleshoe, too.
Tips for riding an electric fat bike
A few things to keep in mind? The rental bikes have five settings –– one to five. Start low. I started out on one, which gave me just enough boost to get up and over terrain that would have stumped me.
If you put the setting too high, you might get yourself in trouble, especially on the tighter trails. Take it slow, get used to the power, and then –– maybe –– take it up a notch. In the twistier sections of the Great Escape Trail, I never put the setting over two. I did crank it up to four when I hit the much wider and smoother paved park road, where I felt safer.
The bikes aren’t as nimble and maneuverable as my much smaller mountain bike, a Specialized Diverge. But they’ve certainly got more oomph. They’re pedal assist, which means the motor kicks in when you crank the pedal. But they also have a throttle, so the power engages with a twist of the wrist, too. You must be careful not to unintentionally press the throttle while you’re riding, which I did once.
Sam Blethen of QuietKat, which makes the bikes in Eagle, Colorado, told me that LCRA is one of the first park systems in the nation to rent e-bikes on site. That should come as no surprise. In the last few years, LCRA has become the maverick of the park world, installing Airstream Trailers and glamping tents at Lake Bastrop Park and partnering with concessionaires to rent inflatable standup paddleboards and small electric fishing boats. Ten new bungalows will open later this year at Matagorda Bay Nature Park, and the organization even hosts culinary events at some of its parks. The electric fat bikes are just one more innovation.
“These bikes open up the trails to more riders. You don’t have to be in great physical condition to ride them, so it helps get people out in the great outdoors,” Blethen said.
Sharing the trail with electric fat bikes
Park officials say they don’t expect any conflicts among trail users.
“A lot of our parks have multi-use trails so people can ride mountain bikes, hike or ride horses. For the most part, people are welcoming to whatever way in which you’re using the trail, and this is just one more way,” said Margo Richards, vice president of community resources for LCRA.
LCRA bought the fleet of 15 bikes after seeing them at a recreation expo in Denver. The bikes come in three sizes, and users must be at least 5 feet tall to rent one.
“E-bikes are not something that every hardcore mountain biker would like, but they potentially draw in a new type of visitor who wouldn’t get on a mountain bike otherwise,” Richards said.
That meshes with the park’s mission to get more people out to enjoy the outdoors.
If You Go
Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area is located at 2820 County Road 415 in Spicewood. The park is open from sunrise to sunset daily, and overnight camping is available. Entry fee is $5 for adults and free for ages 12 and younger.
Campsites at Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area range from $25 to $35 per night.
Ride an electric mountain bike. The park rents them for $65 a day on a first-come, first-served basis. Helmets are provided.
Eat & Drink:
Stop by Opie’s Barbecue at 9504 State Highway 71 in Spicewood on your way to the park to pick up a picnic lunch.
Take a spin on a paved road before trying out the single track, so you can get a feel for the bikes.