It’s a tale of two federal agencies and two wheels.
A recent call for public comment on using electric bikes (e-bikes) on federal land may have some trail bikers confused.
Last Fall, the Department of the Interior issued a call to expand the use of e-bikes on public lands. Last week, the Bureau of Land Management announced a 60-day public comment period on the proposed regulations for e-bikes on public land trails that now only allow nonmotorized bikes. But National Forests, under the Department of Agriculture, did not adopt Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt’s call to expand access to e-bikes. The Forest Service considers e-bikes motorized and bans them from nonmotorized trails.
“We want all Americans to have a chance to create life-long memories exploring and enjoying the great outdoors,” said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley. “The BLM is working hard to implement Secretary Bernhardt’s directive wherever it can because our agency believes these public lands are managed in trust for all citizens.”
E-bikes have small electric motors that help bikers go faster and easier up hills and on trails. Most e-bikes top out at 20 mph with minimal pedaling. Children, inexperienced riders and people with disabilities can keep up and enjoy the ride.
Shannon Bassista, a recreation planner at the BLM’s state office in Boise, said, if adopted, the new rule allowing e-bikes on BLM trails would only affect about 120 miles of trails in Idaho, “and the bulk of them are in the Owyhee field office” in the southwest corner of the state.
Most biking trails in eastern Idaho are on Forest Service land with hot spots at Kelly Canyon, the Big Hole Mountains and the Snake River Range areas. In these areas, e-bikes are only legally allowed on trails that currently allow motorized traffic.
“I think the Forest Service is closely watching this topic with how the (Department of Interior) is addressing it,” Bassista said.
Local mountain bike enthusiasts are generally in favor of e-bikes and see it as a way of getting more people out enjoying the activity.
“I’ve noticed quite a few of them on the trails,” said Danny Kelly, president of the Snake River Mountain Bike Club. “As a matter of fact, I bought my wife one this year. … I think it’s getting more people off the couch and more people riding, for sure.”
Looking through the public comments already received by the BLM on the e-bike proposal shows that most seem to be in favor, with a few logging reservations on the impact of heavier bikes on trails and the possible impact of crowding on a limited number of trails. More than 900 comments had been posted on the BLM’s online site as of Friday.
Kelly said he went to the site and posted in favor of allowing e-bikes.
“They don’t do anything to the trail than what a regular mountain bike does,” Kelly said. “You can’t burn out the tires and dig up the dirt. All it does is pedal-assist.”
Dan Verbeten, president of Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, likes the idea of e-bikes getting more people active in the outdoors, but also advocates taking a case-by-case approach as to what is appropriate for specific areas and trails.
“We’re in favor of access for people to ride bicycles,” Verbeten said. “There also has to be consideration for each area for which it is appropriate. … In this area, some of the BLM land is also critical migration habitat for some animals. That’s just a tough one to navigate.”
He said Teton Valley is blessed with a variety of outdoor activities.
“Honestly, throughout the entire (Big Hole) range the majority of trails would be accessible to e-bikes,” he said. “There’s about six that are nonmotorized.”
To comment on the BLM’s e-bike proposal, go to regulations.gov/docket?D=BLM-2020-0001.