A significant portion of my fall was dominated by e-MTB advocacy work. Choosing whether to engage in the issue or not wasn’t an option as this growing segment of our sport is demanding more energy and resources to ensure its sustainable entry to trails.
E-MTBs were the focus of the group discussion portion of our 2019 Annual Member Meeting earlier this month, and discussion around e-MTB technology has moved to the forefront of most bike forums and my email inbox after the recent surprise decision by the US Department of the Interior (DOI) to allow all three Classes of e-bikes on DOI managed trails. This includes all trails managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
While the actual impact of the DOI ruling is negligible in terms of new e-MTB trail access (most trails on BLM are motorized and already e-MTB eligible, and most trails within National Parks are not open to any bikes), this decision led to immediate action by the National Hiking Association and the Back Country Horsemen of America to send letters to the DOI informing them of their objection to this decision, their strong opposition to e-MTB access to trails, and questioning the decision's overall legality.
This summer, the Tahoe National Forest opened its trails to e-MTBs as part of a pilot, and a lawsuit was quickly filed by the Back Country Horsemen for changing trail management objectives without adequate public process.
Closer to home, I was taken by surprise by a recent announcement from State Parks to allow Class I and III e-bikes and e-MTBs on their trails. We were aware of Class I considerations by Parks staff but were not expecting Class III to be included.
These recent changes at the land manager level are much welcomed by e-MTB riders and the industry, but they have a lot of recreationists on high alert for how the US will ultimately deal with e-MTBS on trails.
So, what’s Evergreen’s approach to this issue?
As a reminder, we started our work by getting engaged in the e-bike legislation that the Cascade Bicycle Club spearheaded to regulate the fast-growing e-bike commuter community– a great thing for urban areas to help get cars off roads.
We wrote two blogs on these early e-MTB developments in 2018. To brush up on Washington’s e-bike regulatory framework, read our 2018 E-MTB blog. Briefly:
- The legislation included e-bikes in the definition of a bicycle (RCW 46.04.710) established the three-class system for e-bikes based on motor size, type, and speed (RCW 46.04.169):
- Class 1: E-assist only while pedaling, with a maximum speed of 20 mph.
- Class 2: Can be propelled solely by the motor, with a maximum speed of 20 mph.
- Class 3: E-assist only while pedaling, with a maximum speed of 28 mph, and has a speedometer.
- The legislation also enabled Class I and III e-bikes on regional nonmotorized trails that have an improved surface for commuting and long-distance recreation purposes (RCW 46.61.710). In addition, it established that all unimproved single-track trails are closed to e-MTBs, unless signed open.
We worked hard to distinguish single track e-MTB management objectives from urban commuting and long-distance rail to trail or double track use. We supported this approach mostly to avoid blanket access of e-MTBs everywhere, as we have several concerns to evaluate. These conditions provided the first legal authority for land managers to adopt e-MTB access on trails.
Since then, we’ve been working to identify options for introducing Class 1 e-MTBs to trails– where it makes sense, where it’s sustainable, and where it does not significantly affect the existing user experiences on multi-use trails.
We facilitated three conference panels and presented at the People for Bikes e-Bike Summit in Bellingham over the course of the past 18 months, primarily to obtain land manager and user feedback about e-MTBs on trails.
Interestingly, our panel presentations and discussions did not trigger significant concerns amongst other users. Most of the concerns came from mountain biking community itself. Overall, support seems to be growing within our community; our recent survey results show 50% in favor of Evergreen increasing its efforts to introduce e-MTBs to trails, while 34% did not support increased efforts, and 16% were undecided.
Washington State Parks recent decision to allow Class I and III e-bikes on trails is resulting in an increased effort to work with our recreation partners to determine what this means for management objectives and user experiences on multi-use trails. E-MTBs represent a significant risk for our partnerships: Fear of increased speed, fear of increased use, and fear of increased hiker/biker/equestrian interactions are driving a new effort to oppose the technology amongst our hiker and equestrian friends.
For us as an organization, pushing for e-MTBs could mean losing access to our usual grant sources for non-motorized trails, creating even more pressure on already overcrowded and underfunded trail systems. It is of utmost importance we approach this methodically.
My guess is we’re not moving fast enough for some of you, and we’re moving too fast for others. Either way, you can rest in the knowledge that we’re doing as much as we can to be inclusive while not jeopardizing our partnerships and grant eligibility– all while keeping true to the sport of mountain biking.
Our next step is engaging a stakeholder committee with representatives from recreation, industry, and conservation groups to devise and agree on a “Washington Way” to manage e-MTBs on trails that everyone can support.
We did it with Wilderness. I’m hopeful we can find a balanced solution for e-MTBs too.
-Yvonne Kraus, Executive Director