Few topics are more controversial than the use of electric bicycles on non-motorized trails—perhaps only the idea of bikes in wilderness is more fractious—and the International Mountain Bicycling Association has waded into the fray by changing its policy to support Class 1 e-bikes on non-motorized trails.

Class 1 bikes are pedal-assisted—the motor is only activated by spinning the cranks, and there’s no throttle. The boost on e-MTBs cuts out at 20 mph.

IMBA’s statement says, “IMBA is supportive of Class 1 e-MTB access to non-motorized trails when the responsible land management agency, in consultation with local mountain bikers, deem such eMTB access is appropriate and will not cause any loss of access to non-motorized bikes. IMBA recognizes that changes in design, technology and the numbers of eMTB users is evolving, and believes these bikes can be managed in a sustainable way for both the environment and other trail users. 

As mechanical devices, bikes are banned from wilderness, and because they have motors, federal regulations bar e-bikes from non-motorized trails. Most state lands follow those rules, but there are exceptions.


Jeff Barber of Singletracks points out that in 2015, IMBA lumped e-bikes in with motorized vehicles and therefore didn’t support their use on non-motorized trails. Now that land managers–though not federal ones—are loosening their policies, IMBA is also loosening its stance.

“This new policy doesn’t go so far as to say IMBA will advocate for electric mountain bike access–the use of the word supportive seems to merely indicate they won’t oppose e-bike access in situations where land managers and local riders are already on board,” he wrote. “Essentially, it’s up to those land managers and local mountain bikers to decide whether e-bike access is appropriate.

“IMBA also makes it clear they will only be supportive of electric bikes on non-motorized trails if there are assurances this access won’t reduce access for traditional mountain bikes. This last bit addresses one of the strongest arguments most mountain bikers have against e-bikes, namely that they will cause us to lose access to existing trails.”

Initial resistance to e-MTBs has been high, but may be eroding. Last year, Singletracks polled its readers and 82 percent were against e-bikes on non-motorized trails. This year, the figure is 77 percent.


But the resistance is vocal. Dave Roll of Drunk Cyclist posted an open letter to IMBA on the site’s Facebook page, saying, “I will not be renewing my membership with you, ever. Your softening stance on Electronic Motorized Bicycles is not acceptable….By supporting motorized bicycles you are putting all cyclists into the same kettle and it will now be easier to push us off land. You are short sighted and not thinking long term.

“As electronic motorized bicycles grow in popularity, the moto crowd will take note and start levering that access for their own access. This puts the land owner in a precarious scenario. They have 3 options: One, allow more motorized trail access (puts us in danger). Two, not allow motorized trail access, and now they have to patrol trails and check bikes. Three, finally ban all wheel access. It is easier to ban a large swath in lieu of dealing with pressure. I have been told this by many land owners in reference to horses and bike disputes.”

IMBA responded, “We support local control and we advocate for non-motorized MTB access. That’s clear. We also recommend that eMTBs get their own (new) classification in the land management recreation spectrum. We are saying eMTBs are NOT mountain bikes. We can’t tell land managers what to do, but we’ve spent 3 decades educating them on the benefits of mountain biking and working with them to like us and allow us. That work isn’t going to stop.”

For an overview on federal land policies toward e-MTBs, go here.

For state-by-state policies, go here. Wyoming said, “We don’t see a need for a policy since we don’t think eMTBS are well suited to our trails. They are too “pedaly”.

For a good hard rant on the pros and cons of e-MTBs, go here.

Photo by Giuseppe Repetto/Ciclismo Italia