Electronic bike use on public lands is on the rise and federal agencies have had to adapt to the new technology.
The Bureau of Land Management’s official stance is e-bikes are motorized vehicles, according to Challis Assistant Field Manager David Hilliard. Motorized vehicles are self-propelled and can move without human assistance. On public land managed by the BLM, motorized vehicles are allowed only on designated routes. Because e-bikes are smaller than most motorized vehicles they lie in a gray area, Hilliard said.
“We’ve had to look at it on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We get an interdisciplinary team of recreational users, biologists and range experts to look at the trails and routes, see where they go, see how they’re maintained and see how natural resources are affected.”
One attempt to clarify e-bike use is by dividing the technology into three categories. Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assisted motorized bikes that can reach 20 mph. Class 2 bikes are more similar to traditional motorcycles with power coming from a throttle on the handlebar. Class 3 can be pedal- or throttle-powered and can reach 30 mph.
The Forest Service has similar rules, but doesn’t differentiate e-bikes by classes. Local Forest Service officials are allowed to make special designations for e-bike use, according to National Press Officer Babete Anderson, but they can only do so under one definition.
Both agencies are working under a secretarial order related to e-bikes issued in August by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The order said e-bikes are allowed on any trail where traditional bikes are allowed. Implementing the rule has been difficult because both the Forest Service and BLM are tasked with preserving natural resources that could be harmed by e-bikes.
“Emerging technologies such as e-bikes are changing the way people enjoy their visits to national forests and grasslands,” said Anderson. “We are closely examining use trends and are seeking opportunities for public engagement in determining how best to balance use demands with what is best for natural resources on our forests and grasslands.”
According to the National Purchase Diary Group, a market research company, e-bikes were a $148 million market in 2018. That was a 79 percent increase from the previous year.