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Policy change paving the way for e-bikes in national parks

Published August 30, 2019

WASHINGTON (BRAIN) — The U.S. Department of Interior on Friday said all classes of e-bikes will be regulated as traditional bicycles on non-motorized federal lands. The change will take place within 30 days and primarily affects the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

E-mountain bikes soon could legally access the same federal trails as traditional bikes with the agencies regulating them as they see fit, just like with other bicycles.

The DOI's decision also could boost an already booming e-bike market, according to Larry Pizzi, who chairs the PeopleForBikes' e-bike committee.

"I’m confident that it will have a significant positive impact once new rules are established that eliminate the ambiguity of where you can ride," he said.

At February's E-bike Summit in Chicago, The NPD Group estimated e-bikes were a $143 million market in the U.S. 2018.

According to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt's memorandum, "e-bikes advance 'Healthy Parks Healthy People' goals to promote parks as a health resource by supporting a healthy park experience that is accessible, desirable, and relatable to people of all abilities, and by minimizing human impact through the expansion of active transportation options in parks."

Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a news release that new technology needs to be embraced where it's safe and appropriate.

E-bikes "make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability, or convenience, especially at high altitudes or in hilly or strenuous terrain," Smith said.

The ruling doesn't affect U.S. Forest Service lands because it is governed by the Department of Agriculture. "In all likelihood, this will influence Forest Service policy in the near future," Pizzi said.

The Park Service said a majority of states have adopted e-bike policies that allow access to bike trails. Its revised policy provides consistency with state rules applying where parks are located.

E-bikes are defined in three classes in 22 states and now by the Department of Interior. Class 1 has a pedal-assist motor providing power only when pedaling and turning off when the bike reaches 20 mph. Class 2 provides assist up to 20 mph even when not pedaling and Class 3 will provide assist up to 28 mph.

Pizzi said Class 1 e-bikes are most appropriate on trails where mountain bikes are allowed. He said Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are better suited for a park's paved trails and bike lanes but each jurisdiction will establish its own rules.

"We are focused on Class 1," Pizzi said. "We don't want everyone to think this is unfettered access to federal lands all over the country for all types of e-bikes. Every jurisdiction will do what is appropriate and effective in their environment.

"We're really looking forward to working with the various federal agencies to further develop appropriate regulations around access, especially on natural-surface trails, in these various land management jurisdictions."

Some conservation groups criticized Bernhardt's decision, saying their concerns were not addressed.

"Let's be clear: E-bikes are motorized vehicles," said Michael Carroll, senior director of The Wilderness Society's People Outdoors Program. "Secretary Bernhardt's policy change paves the way for the complete motorization of America's remaining wild places. The Trump Administration has made it a standard practice to create new policies and management rules with industry behind closed doors, and this is more of the same. This new policy will forever change the experience for backcountry trail users. Families that have sought out non-motorized areas to hunt, fish, hike, camp and simply get away from the noise and chaos of daily life will now have their special get-away spots opened up to motors."

"What has happened to the management of our public lands?" said Darrell Wallace, chairman of the Back Country Horsemen of America. "We've worked for decades to engage with these agencies, and other user groups as partners in order to build and maintain a wonderful system of safe trails throughout the nation's public lands."

"Making this change behind closed doors undermines the long-standing collaborative relationships between trail users and federal agencies," said Tyler Ray, director of Policy and Advocacy for the American Hiking Society.

In 2014, PeopleForBikes began integrating e-bikes into the laws and policies of federal, state and local governments. The group, along with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, has maintained Class 1 e-mountain bikes should have access to non-motorized trails but managed in a sustainable way.

"PeopleForBikes' mission is to get more people riding bicycles more often," the organization said in a statement. "E-bikes are the fastest growing segment of bicycling and are introducing the joys of riding a bike to new riders every day. We're encouraged by efforts on the local, state and federal levels to clear the pathway for more ridership. We have worked with land management agencies across the U.S. for five years to advance consistent, safe and easy to understand e-bike policies that are implemented based on local conditions."

IMBA in a statement Friday said it's important for land managers to recognize the differences in e-bike classes and manage them differently from traditional mountain bikes. 

"Access to natural surface trails for traditional non-motorized mountain bikes is critical to the future of our sport," according to IMBA's statment. "As technologies evolve, we understand the need to examine access for Class 1 e-MTBs and the unique characteristics they possess compared to traditional mountain bikes. We support trail access for Class 1 e-MTBs and support shared use on trails as long as access is not lost or impeded for traditional mountain bikes. IMBA recommends Class 1 eMTBs be managed independently from traditional mountain bikes and we encourage land managers to develop separate regulations. IMBA will continue to engage all stakeholders on this issue in an effort to reach outcomes that best suit all users."

Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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