Forest Service Announces Plans to Expand E-Bike Access on Trails

E-bikes on Trails
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The U.S. Forest Service, which manages 193 million acres of land and many of the country’s best mountain biking trails, became the latest federal agency to publicize its intentions to expand e-bike access last week. The proposed changes, announced in the Federal Register on Sept. 24, essentially pave the way for local jurisdictions to manage each trail individually in their travel plans, while more precisely defining the three e-bike classes and further distinguishing them from traditional mountain bikes—a possible gateway to permitting Class 1 e-bikes on non-motorized trails.

The debate over e-bike access on Forest Service trails has crackled for years, but up to now electric motors have remained prohibited on non-motorized routes. In April, a lawsuit filed in the Tahoe National Forest that claimed land managers had illegally permitted e-bikes on local trails was dismissed after the agency removed the inaccurate wording from its website. E-bike closure signs are common at Forest Service trailheads.

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Still, it has always seemed possible that the agency would change its stance. The International Mountain Bicycling Association has long supported Class 1 e-bike (pedal-assist, non-throttle bikes governed at 20 miles per hour) access on trails as long as it doesn’t imperil current mountain bike access. Last August, an executive order from the Department of the Interior ordered all its agencies, including the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, to allow e-bikes where “other types of bicycles” are allowed. But the Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, remained an outlier.

As part of the proposed changes, now the definition of a bicycle in the Forest Service Manual would read: “A pedal-driven, solely human-powered device, with two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other.”

In explaining its rationale to change its stance on access, the Forest Service’s notice cited e-bikes’ ability to “expand recreational opportunities for many people, particularly the elderly and disabled, enabling them to enjoy the outdoors and associated health benefits.” The big question for mountain bikers, however, is whether the increase in entry-level access will also lead to an increase in, say, electric motor-assisted descents of high-alpine singletrack.

A call Tuesday to a Forest Service spokesperson went unreturned.

Public comments, including anonymous comments, are being accepted here until October 26.

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