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Our world is still adjusting to the arrival of e-bikes. When the world first met e-bikes, we were essentially living in the wild west in terms of regulation, etiquette, and local, even national sentiment, as with any brand-new, rapidly-changing technology. Slowly, organized groups and lobbyists expressed strong opinions on either side of the access debate:
1. Yes, e-bikes should be allowed on all trails where traditional mountain bikes are legally permitted.
2. No, e-bikes should not be treated in the same way as traditional mountain bikes, and access should be more strictly regulated and limited.
Whatever side of the coin you're on, you're likely to be standing shoulder to shoulder with passionate people: in our experience, debates can get heated. However, as e-bikes become more common, classifications become more clearly defined, and the benefits of e-bikes continue to be researched and better understood, we're making great strides in demonstrating to the world just how great an electric mountain bike can be. Not just for some, but for everyone.
The Forest Service Makes a Big Step Towards E-Bike Access
A recent Forest Service announcement paves the way for local authorities to decide where and how e-bikes can be used on Forest Service-owned and managed trails.
The short version is that this is fantastic news.
The announcement, made on September 24, says: “To promote designation of NFS roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands for e-bike use, the proposed revisions include new definitions for an e-bike and a Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 e-bike, as well as guidance and criteria for designating e-bike use on NFS roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands,"
The National Forest Service is currently accepting public comments on this proposed legislation. The public comment period will end on October 26, 2020. Following that, a final decision will be made on whether to proceed with implementing an updated classification system and how it will correspond to e-bike access.
E-bikes are currently permitted on about 40% of Forest Service roads, trails, and "areas on NFS lands that are not designated for motor vehicle use," as we're sure you're aware.
As a result, this is a tremendous step in the right direction. We're overjoyed.
The Three E-Bike Classifications.
Part of what this legislation does is further define the three classifications of e-bikes. Sharpening the language around this promotes more uniform understanding and allows for greater cohesion in e-bike legislation across the country. E-bikes are classified as follows in brief:
Class 1: Only pedal assist, no throttle; maximum assisted speed is 20 mph.
Class 2: Maximum speed is 20 miles per hour, but it is throttle-assisted.
Class 3: Only pedal assist, no throttle; maximum assisted speed is 28 mph.
It should be noted that all classes understand that the motor's power is limited to 1 horsepower.
How This Legislation Compares to the NPS and BLM
In contrast to the National Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management are both part of the Department of the Interior. When it comes to electric mountain bikes, the Department of the Interior has historically been slightly more progressive than its counterpart. On August 29, 2019, the Secretary of the Interior signed an executive order requiring all National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management land to allow e-bikes access to all areas where other types of bicycles are permitted.
The newly granted e-bike access—an opinion shared by many others—is nothing short of fantastic and long overdue.
How States Reckon with E-Bike Access
Today, when it comes to state and local-owned/managed streets and bike paths, there is a dizzying array of regulations and philosophies regarding electric mountain bikes. Over the e-bike debate, states have adopted outdated rules and resorted to borrowing and retrofitting legislative frameworks in the absence of clear guidance. As a result, some states treat e-bikes like human-powered bicycles, while others treat them like motor vehicles. Furthermore, some states have yet to establish e-bike regulations at all.
We recommend researching the specific regulations established by your state and other local governing bodies, not only to be informed, but also because we think it's quite interesting.
Why Better E-Bike Access is Important
There are numerous reasons, in our opinion, why better e-bike access in less-traveled areas is critical. None, however, is more important to us than firmly believing that experiencing America's wild places should not be limited to the physically fit.
"E-bikes expand recreational opportunities for many people, particularly the elderly and disabled, enabling them to enjoy the outdoors and associated health benefits," according to National Forest Service legislation. We couldn't agree more and are proud to live in a country that recognizes the value of equal access for all.