Nothing makes you feel like a real-life superhero more than an e-mountain bike. And, as a great superhero once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This statement applies here and now with us as well. As an e-mountain bike rider, you can be the segment’s greatest advocate or worst enemy. As the saying goes, “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.”
We are not here to single out e-bikes as the source of all the etiquette problems that occur on the trails. And, we realize that Mountain Bike Action readers are among the most aware and educated riders out there, so we may be preaching to the choir; however, if we can reach just one or two riders, or bring a friend of a friend up to speed on things, we all win in the long run. Let us not forget we are all just people out there, and the way we act and treat each other has less to do with the kind of bike we ride and more to do with what kind of person we decide to be.
WHAT IS AN E-MOUNTAIN BIKE?
The e-bike classification system was developed by the bicycle industry to better define e-bikes and laws pertaining to them. Three classes were created based on maximum assist speed, motor wattage and operation. A Class 1 e-mountain bike provides assist only when pedaling and has a maximum allowed assist speed of 20 miles per hour. Its electric motor is limited to 750 watts (about 1 horsepower) of maximum power. Class 2 is identical but can propel itself via a throttle or pedal assist. Class 3 is pedal assist only and also has a 750-watt max but has an assist-speed cutoff of 28 miles per hour.
Most major mountain bike manufacturers have focused on producing only Class 1 e-mountain bikes. That is all that we review and cover here in the pages of Mountain Bike Action. Simple, right? Well, it is until you start digging into the regulations, and that’s where things can be a little confusing. Speaking of confusion, not all states have officially adopted the three-class system.
From the beginning, the U.S. Forest Service and BLM have treated e-mountain bikes, regardless of class, as motorized OHVs (off-highway vehicles). It was the logical thing to do in the beginning. Then Secretary of the Interior order #3376 came along, and it caused some confusion. “While confusing, the Secretarial Order #3376 simply directed the land management agencies within the Department of the Interior to develop regulations to expand the use of e-bikes,” says Todd Kells, IMBA’s Director of Government Affairs.
Some wording in order #3376 suggests that Class 1, 2 and 3 e-bikes have to be treated the same way as bicycles everywhere on its public lands. Because of that, we hear some e-mountain bike riders saying that it allows them to ride any trail on federal land. That’s simply not the case. “Order #3376 does not mean that anyone can ride their electric bicycle on any public land managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Bureau of Reclamation,” says Ash Lavell, PeopleForBikes Electric Bicycle Policy and Campaign Director. “These rules simply give local land managers within these agencies the authority to allow electric bicycles on non-motorized trails.”
Things are changing. We have seen regions in the USFS that have adopted e-mountain bike use on multi-use trails. Lake Tahoe has recently allowed Class 1 electric bicycles on 35 miles of its trails in the Truckee trail network. These are motorized trails that allow Class 1 electric bicycles as the only motorized vehicles, in addition to other non-motorized activities such as biking, hiking and equestrian use. And, we are seeing similar trails in the Mammoth Lakes area that are signed e-bike legal where motorcycles are not allowed.
Leased land within the USFS seems to play by its own rules, too. Big Bear Mountain Resort and the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park, for instance, lease land from the USFS and allow e-mountain bikes on their trails.
State and open-space trails vary greatly and change sporadically. For example, California state parks ban e-bikes on most of their trails, yet every county park in Arizona allows them. And the popular Demo State Forest in Santa Cruz? Nope. Mountain bikes are allowed, but e-bikes are off-limits. Yet nearby Wilder Ranch (A California State Park) has 16.5 miles of legal trail. In some cases, we have even found stickers on signs that say no e-bikes where they were in fact legal. These could have been fake stickers or just more miscommunication among the different sanctioning agencies.
So, regardless of what people say on a forum or what a sign says, it’s important to do your research to find out as much truth as possible. The more we follow the rules, the sooner we will find ways for everyone to be involved. After all, the staggering number of people switching to e-bikes will undoubtedly result in more inclusive access. It’s easy to see how confusion and misinformation can spread. The takeaway here is that it’s up to you to do your homework and find out if it’s legal to ride the trails. Don’t just take the local shop’s word for it or see something on an online forum and take it as truth. There are tools you can use to find legal riding. PeopleForBikes has a great e-MTB map that shows legal routes, and apps like Trailforks have filters that make finding legal trails easy. When in doubt, call the land manager’s office and find out for yourself.
A lack of enforcement is not a valid reason to ride trails that are illegal. “When you ride legally and only on authorized trails, you show that mountain bikers are responsible users,” says Lovell. “Individual riders represent the whole mountain biking community when they are out on the trails. Following rules, laws and best practices when it comes to trail etiquette will not only make your ride safer and more enjoyable, it will help build a culture where all trail users are sharing the trail responsibly.”
With pedal assist, we now have the ability to do things we didn’t think possible in the past. This forces us to resist some of the urges we might have out on the trail. Even though an e-mountain bike rider technically still has the right of way while going uphill, when riding in popular riding areas, it might be best to avoid going backwards up downhill trails considered one way just because you can. If there are simply too many riders coming down too fast and too often, you run the risk of hurting yourself or someone else. A little common sense goes a long way.
Uphill speed can be double that of a regular bike in the Boost mode of most e-bikes. Therefore, we can potentially blow past hikers and other cyclists. This should not be a common practice, and we should always announce our presence with a warning from a bell or friendly “bike back.” And no, a Strava PR is not an acceptable excuse. If you see someone ahead, make sure they either know you’re coming or don’t speed by them at an alarming pace. We have the power, so we must give the right of way to regular bikes, hikers and equestrians.
IT WORKS BOTH WAYS
For the most part, e-mountain bikers and mountain bikers have coexisted without too much drama, but that seems to depend greatly on the region. Riders in some areas seem to have accepted e-bikes, while others are a little less accepting. In some places, it’s not uncommon to hear snide remarks like “nice motorcycle,” even though e-mountain bikes are perfectly legal there. It’s an extreme example, but who can forget the viral video of the rider in Indiana who stopped a handicapped e-trike rider because e-bikes were not allowed on the trail (handicapped riders are exempt). It’s that kind of hostility that can divide mountain bikers and cause friction within our own community.
Some people have had this notion that because someone rides an e-bike, it makes them a cheater. Let’s think about that one for a moment. How do you feel when a hiker doesn’t want you on the trail because he or she doesn’t agree with your chosen form of recreation? It stinks, right?
It’s not anyone’s place to judge another’s mode of having fun. And, it’s not okay to be rude to anyone on the trail. There are just as many regular bike riders causing issues out there bombing downhill trails that hikers use. So, before we judge, let’s make sure we all take a good look in the mirror. As trail users, we really are all in this together.