The recently released Order #3376 by the Department of the Interior to allow e-bike use on all trails under their jurisdiction that are open to ‘traditional’ bikes came out of the blue for me.
I’ve witnessed the growth of e-bikes since about 2010 and have seen the advances. However, I expected that the first e-bikes to be allowed on dirt trails, including narrow singletrack, would be the Class 1 e-bikes that provide motor-assist up to 20 mph. These bikes are typically only a little faster in terms of average speed over a normal pedal bike over the course of a 2 hour ride. Thus, many have argued that their impact on other trail users isn’t much different from existing pedal MTB’s.
My worry was always the slippery slope concern. I wondered what would happen when other motorized vehicle users demanded access. Once you allowed motorized vehicles on trails that previously were exclusively for human power, where would it end?
Well, the DOI opened the barn door and now all 3 recognized classes of e-bikes will be allowed on trails where pedal bikes are allowed. This means that bikes that have a throttle and don’t require pedaling (Class 2) and bikes that provide motor assist up to 28 mph (Class 3) may be on the trail with hikers, equestrians, and human-powered bikes.
Most concerning under this ruling is that if e-bikes are prevented from using a particular trail, then pedal bikes would be banned from that trail as well. Thus a MTB rider who might average 10 mph (fairly fast for a fit rider) might be kicked off the trail due to concern over an e-bike that could average twice that speed. And it wouldn’t matter that she had ridden that trail for 10 years, but under the new rule this non-motorized bike rider would be kicked off if the land manager didn’t allow ALL e-bikes on that trail. The land manager isn’t allowed to treat the three classes differently EVEN THOUGH THAT IS WHY THE CLASSES WERE CREATED.
No doubt, human-powered bikes will be affected by this change. We will lose access in some areas because land managers will determine that some trails aren’t suitable for much faster Class 2 and 3 bikes, thus no bikes can use the trail.
Ironically, this ‘win’ for e-bikes isn’t the win that many of their advocates think it is. Most of the arguments for Class 1 e-bikes have been about letting slower riders keep up with their friends and family who ride traditional pedal bikes. When faster Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are equated with Class 1 bikes, this argument and the sympathy and understanding many people have will evaporate.
Clearly the argument for Class 2 and 3 bikes is that users want to go faster – significantly faster – than their human-powered brethren. Mountain bikes have been (mostly) accommodated on multi-use trails because the safety record is pretty good and most hikers, runners, and equestrians don’t consider them a hazard. Now, mix in e-bikes that can go significantly faster and I believe you may see more pushback than even in the early years of MTB use.
So I think there is a likelihood that e-bike users on Class 1 bikes will have LESS access BECAUSE of Class 2 & 3 bikes than if the trails were only opened up to Class 1 e-bikes.
It’s always possible that the Administration is playing ‘3 dimensional chess’ and this rule was written to create uproar and have the ‘compromise’ be that they only allow Class 1 e-bikes on singletrack. Some might argue that this was the plan from the start. My guess is that this is unlikely and the DOI’s incompetence and lack of interest in the user experience is more likely.
In the scheme of terrible and incompetent things that the current Administration has done, this is one of the lesser evils but it illustrates their lack of interest in good governance. Only a political appointee with no interest in understanding the difference between 3 classes of e-bikes would rule that henceforth pedal bikes and bikes with electric motors are the same. Either the authors of this new rule don’t ride bikes, don’t talk to people who do, don’t think it matters, or, possibly, all 3.
So, to summarize, I expect that riders of traditional pedal bikes will see trails closed to them that they are used to riding and the e-bike advocates will not get what they wanted either. The classic lose-lose that doesn’t feel like ‘Winning’ for anyone.
What do you think? Will this order change Mountain Biking? Is it ultimately good or bad for e-bikes? Please leave a comment.
I guess we’re all annoying in our own special ways. As a friend once said, ‘If you can’t tell who the ass is in your group, it’s probably you’.
But here are some of the characters I’ve ridden with over the years – I’m sure you’ve encountered some of these types; some are bothersome and some just make me laugh:
The Short Hammer
You setup a ride with a compatible group. Semi-epic, 80 miles of dirt and pavement with 5000 feet of climbing. The Short Hammer shows up and sets a blistering pace from the start. I think ‘Joe is feeling good today – I’ll try to keep up’ Then at mile 20 he bails for home. ‘That was fun, but I’ve got the kids today’. So, he just about killed us all with his personal TT and now I’m struggling to finish the ride. Next time tell us at the start Joe, so we don’t ride your ride.
The Can’t Ride That Bike Dude
Tom needs to borrow a bike, so I accommodate him with my old hardtail mountain bike. It works fine but it’s a few years older than the bike he just left in the shop. The entire ride he tells me how much faster he would be on his bike. The seat hurts, he hasn’t ridden flat pedals since he was a kid. ‘What? it’s not tubeless? So much less efficient’. ‘It’s heavy, it has old school geometry, narrow bars – how do you ride this thing?’
Billy likes his music, especially from a narrow window of time when he went to high school in the 80’s. Thanks to Bluetooth speakers he can listen to the same tracks every single ride and share them with everyone around. Can I listen to my favorite nature tracks instead?
The Head-Down Racer
Louis sees every ride as a race. No looking at the view, no chats, no re-groups. It’s all business. Does he stop for hikers? No, that might affect his Strava time. Does he stop for uphill riders? No, he’ll just swerve off the trail and ride around them.
The Faffer is the rider who is constantly adjusting and fixing his bike, clothes, helmet, phone, etc. before, during, and after the ride. You might ride by his place at the agreed time and find out he’s working on a ‘minor fix’ like a Bottom Bracket replacement and will be ready to go in ‘a couple minutes’. You wait a half hour and are on the road – but wait – ‘I forgot to put fresh Stan’s in that front tire, and it’s bone dry’. You head back and he has to search for the tire levers, sealant, and valve core removal tool. 15 minutes later you’re about to head off, but ‘I’m going to grab a quick bite – do you want anything’. After a few pancakes (excellent of course) and a latte, you would be ready to finally head out to the trails if only it wasn’t getting dark.
The Trail Worker
I love people who build and maintain the trails. But, if we’re going on a ride together let me know ahead of time that you’re planning to stop to dig out drains, clear downed trees, put up trail signs, and re-route that ‘short’ 100-yard section that floods once a year.
The Dog Trainer
I love dogs! But if your dog isn’t trail-worthy and is going to weave in and out of my wheels, please leave Spot at home or we will both end up at the Vet.
Magellan shows up at the trailhead with paper maps, the Gaia GPS app, a Garmin, and the will to check all 3 at every intersection. ‘Dude’, I say, ‘We’ve ridden this area for 5 years, there are no new trails, there’s only 15 miles of them, and we’ve never gotten lost – what’s up?’ ‘Well I’m trying to update my database so we can create better loops’.
Steve shows up at that epic ride I mentioned at the top with his buddy from high school. ‘Super-good athlete but he hasn’t ridden a bike in ages – I’m sure he’ll be OK.’ Well, I’m not so sure. I haven’t played basketball since middle school and I don’t show up at your pickup game – don’t show up at my ride with an unknown quantity.
Josh is a great rider and environmentalist. He rides hard and does almost all his trips by bike. I try to shop and run errands by bike, too, so we’re pretty lined up. But seriously, Josh, please don’t shop during that epic ride, and ‘No, I won’t watch your bike for 10 minutes while you try on some shirts’.
Steve work a lot. He’s on a flexible schedule which means he’s always on call. Since he’s in Sales and dependent on commissions, he always answers the phone. ‘Man – just send it to voicemail’, I say. ‘Can’t – this is the big Acme deal – I have to take it – it will just be a minute’. 30 minutes later and I’m expecting a piece of the commission, but if I’m lucky he might buy me a beer.
I have to ‘fess up. I think I’ve been guilty of just about all this behavior at one time (well you’ll never find me with Bluetooth speakers), so you may not want to include me on your next ride.
Well not THAT narrow at 660mm, but 800’s wouldn’t fit!
I’ve landed in Bend in the last month and I think we’re going to stay for a while. Being on the move for the last 13 months has been fun and rewarding but it’s time to stay somewhere for a bit longer and Bend feels like the right spot.
I’m fortunate to find a number of volunteer opportunities and particularly to find that COTA (Central Oregon Trail Alliance) is such a force for good here. They have been creating and maintaining trails for over 25 years and seem to be very well organized.
Yesterday, I joined a group of about 20 other trail workers to get our Level 1 Trail Steward Training. Everyone seemed to have experience and we made fast work of repairs on the COD trail. It made for a fun and rewarding day – I’ll definitely be back.
As mountain bikers we get excited about new bikes, wheels, suspension, and all the other shiny bits. But most of us don’t pay too much attention to the clothes we wear until they let us down. On a recent chilly day up at 8500 feet in Park City, I realized I had owned my Pearl Izumi softshell jacket for 11 years. It’s been through cold and rainy bike rides, snowshoe trips, ski trips, travel to a number of countries, and it barely looks worn. It’s been saturated with mud and still came out clean in the wash. It has 3 back pockets and the 2 outer pockets are zippered for security. No more than I need and no less.
I can’t come up with a single complaint – no ripped seams, stuck zippers, or fabric tears – it’s my go-to jacket in cold weather and was worth every penny. If you need a good jacket for cooler weather, spend the money – you won’t be disappointed.
Tour des Suds is an annual mountain bike race in Park City to raise money for the Mountain Trails Foundation which builds so many of the trail in the area. Some treat it as a real race and some as a costume party and some try to do both. The race is a 7 mile climb to Empire Pass and we were blessed with great weather this year. One of the highlights for me is the knowledge that the return to the party back in City Park means a fun descent on Park City’s excellent singletrack.
I chose to start in the middle of the pack and enjoy the climb up rather than pretend to race. I chatted with other riders and enjoyed the creativity of the costumes. Occasionally we would stop on the singletrack and wait a minute or so while riders got moving again but everyone was chill and not aggro about passing where I was riding. There was even a beer/whisky hand-up about 5 miles up the mountain which surprised me for Mormon Utah.
This guy below carved a ‘helmet’ out of a watermelon and somehow rode all the way up. He told me it was very hot but he didn’t have time to cut vents.
We all convened back in City Park for race and costume awards. One of the awards was for the oldest finisher – he was 79 – and he finished just a little bit behind me. Even more impressive was the youngest finisher – the boy who won this was only 6!
Thanks Mountain Trails for a great event.
Below is the author at the top of the race