WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — Call it the battle of the emails in the war over e-bike access on non-motorized public lands.
Last week, 54 trail conservancy organizations put their names to an email sent to the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management opposing allowing e-bikes on federal public lands that ban motor vehicles. PeopleForBikes responded with its own email to the Secretary of the Interior in support of allowing local land managers to make the decision.
Michael Carroll of the conservancy group The Wilderness Society said changes in Parks Service regulations regarding Class 1 e-mountain bikes might be announced next month. Class 1 e-bikes have a pedal-assist motor — but no throttle — providing power only when pedaling and turning off when the bike reaches 20 mph.
“We were concerned that the NPS was going to make that change, and we started hearing other federal agencies were also making strides toward taking steps to changing the definition of what an e-bike is versus a regular bike,” Carroll said. “From our perspective, a motor is a motor is a motor. And this is the motorization of non-motorized trails.”
The Park Service told BRAIN on Monday it is in the process of developing an e-bike policy but did not say when it will be completed. Currently, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management classify e-bikes as motor vehicles and does not permit them on non-motorized trails.
Larry Pizzi, who chairs the PeopleForBikes’ e-bike committee, also said he’s heard the Park Service is close to issuing a policy change by letting local land management jurisdictions make the decision of if and where e-mountain bikes will be allowed.
Pizzi said his committee held a land managers’ summit a couple weeks ago and said there is support for e-bikes on non-motorized trails.
“We had 50-60 people, a few from the industry, but most of them land managers and regional mountain bike advocates and some equestrian groups,” said Pizzi, the president of Accell North America. “Consensus seemed to be there should be a place for people to ride Class 1 e-MTBs.”
The Sustainable Trails Coalition said it still opposes use of e-bikes on non-motorized trails because it violates the Wilderness Act of 1964, said Tedd Stroll, STC board president.
Allowing e-mountain bikes access only on off-highway-vehicle trails is not safe for cyclists, Pizzi said.
“For the most part, they are bikes and completely different than any other motorized conveyance that might have access to public lands,” he said. “A number of people at the summit and some of the land managers spoke up and said they are worried about relegating them to OHV trails because there’s such a difference in speed that they feel someone might get hurt.”
Carroll speaks for many on the other side who think e-bikes should be allowed on federal public lands, just not on non-motorized trails.
“From an e-bike standpoint, we love that e-bikes are out on federal public lands,” Carroll said. “We think they have a place on both motorized trails and motorized roads and other places where motors can access the backcountry. If there’s a desire to see more trails opened up or created for e-bikes, we’re happy to have that conversation. But you have to go through the process.”
At February’s E-bike Summit in Chicago, The NPD Group estimated e-bikes were a $143 million market in the U.S. 2018.