Last night, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordered the National Park Service to allow motorized, pedal-assisted e-bikes on all currently approved bike trails in parks.
“E-bikes shall be allowed where other types of bicycles are allowed; and e-bikes shall not be allowed where other types of bicycles are prohibited,” said the order. You can read the official document, here.
The new policy requires public lands managers to develop proposed new rules allowing e-bikes on all trails where bikes are allowed within their jurisdiction within two weeks. Though this rule change was ordered without public input, the order asks lands managers to come up with a timeline for seeking public comment about the rule change within the next 30 days. Conservation groups immediately decried Bernhardt’s decision.
“The Pacific Crest Trail Association is not opposed to mountain bikes or e-bikes, and we believe they should have their place on public land,” Mark Larabee, Associate Director of The Pacific Crest Trail Association said. “But we believe reclassifying battery-powered bikes as non-motorized not only would be illogical, it would displace mountain bikes without motors. More importantly, it would be a paradigm shift in otherwise sound government policy that could affect trails and wilderness areas across the country.”
All three classes of e-bikes are to be allowed, though the order specifies e-bikes must be pedaled while on a trail, not operated solely with a throttle, as class-2 bikes have, though it’s unclear how that could possibly be enforced.
In his directive, Bernhardt explains that this order is meant to add clarity to a murky regulatory situation governing e-bikes. Are they bikes? Motorcyles? Which rules should govern them? With this new policy, pedal power now all falls under the same classification.
The NPS praised the e-bike as a cleaner, more environmentally sound form of transportation that will reduce fossil fuel consumption and help eliminate traffic congestion in busy parks. They also argue that the bikes will allow more people to see more parts of the parks, people who might not otherwise have the physical fitness to reach more remote backcountry areas.
“They make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability, or convenience, especially at high altitudes or in hilly or strenuous terrain,” said NPS Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith.
In a bit of irony, authorities in Canada’s British Columbia Parks system just this week announced that class 2 and 3 e-bikes (which have a top speed, motor-assisted, of 28 mph while class 1 top out at 20 mph) are to be classified as motorized vehicles and not allowed on bike trails, in order to protect fragile backcountry areas precisely because e-bikes will allow more visitors to reach them.
The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) provided AJ with the following response:
Late yesterday the Department of the Interior released a new policy regarding e-bikes and eMTBs on federal public lands. The International Mountain Bicycling Association is currently reviewing this broad approach, and while we support the open public process that each land management agency will undertake, it is critical the secretarial order as currently written does not bind land managers to managing all classes of eMTBs as traditional mountain bikes. Land managers must be able to recognize eMTBs as three distinct classes and manage eMTBs separately from traditional mountain bikes. We will be participating in the public process ahead and working with the mountain bike community as we move forward.
Access to natural surface trails for traditional non-motorized mountain bikes is critical to the future of our sport. As technologies evolve, we understand the need to examine access for Class 1 eMTBs and the unique characteristics they possess compared to traditional mountain bikes. We support trail access for Class 1 eMTBs and support shared use on trails as long as access is not lost or impeded for traditional mountain bikes. IMBA recommends Class 1 eMTBs be managed independently from traditional mountain bikes and we encourage land managers to develop separate regulations. IMBA will continue to engage all stakeholders on this issue in an effort to reach outcomes that best suit all users.