(TNS) – The growing popularity of e-bikes raises tough questions for land managers in Washington state and across the country.
Almost everyone appreciates how e-bikes can encourage more people to get out by improving accessibility for those who can’t ride a traditional mountain bike or enjoy the trails. But disagreement persists over what kind, if any, of e-bikes should be allowed in places where they could create additional safety risks or cause damage to fragile environments.
“The whole debate is where do you draw the line between e-bike and scooter, and then where do you draw the line on how much assist is actually needed to get people there?” said Braydon Shields, a mountain bike racer and the primary contact for customers looking to purchase e-bikes from Sporthaus. “It varies. It definitely does.”
Most of the e-bikes sold at Sporthaus are aimed at customers who want to use them on the road for commuting, perhaps to help them avoid rising gas prices. When motors and batteries are added to mountain bikes, the question of where they can travel becomes much more complicated.
Rules vary by agency, national parks, Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife Service largely allowing e-bikes to travel where other mountain bikes go unless local administrators institute specific guidelines. The US Forest Service announced new guidelines in March to allow all e-bikes on motorized roads and trails, then let local authorities decide beyond that, which the agency said opened 38% of all trails with the possibility of doing more soon.
In May 2021, Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5452, requiring the Department of Natural Resources to undergo a public process to collect information on e-bikes and get input from various groups, including tribes. , people with disabilities, conservation organizations and various recreational users. . This information must be submitted to the Legislative Assembly by September 30 and could lead to a policy that would replace the current regulations essentially treating electric bikes as equal to motorized vehicles.
Different bikes, different opinions
The general consensus among speakers at recent WDFW and DNR meetings was that Class 1 e-bikes should be allowed on all trails with mountain bikes, as the motor only engages while pedaling and ceases to assist at 20 miles per hour. It’s essentially a heavier traditional bike capable of climbing noticeably faster, which avid rider and Vice President of Yakima’s Single Track Alliance, Will Hollingbery, says can create additional risk.
Some reviewers are concerned about trail damage, although a 2015 International Biking Association study found that e-bikes cause only minimal additional damage to trails than traditional mountain bikes. However, they also noted that using a throttle can cause a lot more problems, and Shields pointed out that increasing the range of an e-bike would inevitably cause more damage.
Class 3 bikes are primarily commuter bikes and can travel up to 28 miles per hour with pedal assist, but the throttle comes into play with Class 2 e-bikes. These bikes, which are the only type banned by Washington State Parks on its bike-friendly trails, prompted far more pushback in state conversations.
“It’s a motorcycle, practically,” Shields said. “It’s a great tool for getting around, cutting your expenses, maybe even cutting your commute time to stay out of traffic, but it doesn’t have much practical use on a non-motorized trail. .”
Some e-bike advocates disagree, noting that the motor stops assisting at 20 miles per hour and allows access for those who cannot pedal for health reasons. Current state regulations make an exception for Class 1 and Class 2 riders, allowing them on the trails if they display an ADA parking placard.
Otherwise, a $99 penalty for non-obedience can be imposed on e-bikers on non-motorized trails or roads, although DNR spokeswoman Stacia Glenn said the app prefers to focus on the education. Hollingbery and others at virtual town halls across the state also expressed concern that some e-bike users, particularly those with Class 2 bikes, might be less experienced, which Shields said is certainly true in his limited experience selling bikes.
Efforts to allow e-bikes on trails have already garnered significant pushback, likely offering insight into the debates to come.
When the Trump administration announced a plan to allow all e-bikes on trails allowing bikes in national parks, a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a lawsuit claiming the government had failed to follow through. the appropriate process to assess the effects of the change. The Biden administration then gave park superintendents the power to ban e-bikes, and last month a judge ordered the government to take a closer look at the impacts of e-bikes.
Cowiche Canyon Conservancy spokesperson Cy Philbrick said the nonprofit Yakima is awaiting more information before formalizing its unofficial rule to allow e-bikes on its trails. He said trail construction generally restricts speed and their regulations require all cyclists to stay below 15 miles per hour.
“We want to do our due diligence and make sure we’re looking at the data and looking at what other federal and state management agencies have decided so that we can most reasonably fit in with those decisions,” Philbrick said.
Glenn said more than 100 people at each of the state’s two town halls and nearly 4,000 people who completed an online survey indicate a high interest in determining how much e-bikes belong on public land. Manufacturers could also play a role in politics or perception, according to Shields, who said some big bike companies such as Specialized and Giant have started selling their e-bikes through motorsport dealerships, in part. because they are better equipped to create financing plans. to help customers with far higher prices than traditional bikes.
Proponents and critics agree that more evidence and experience is needed to fully determine what these trends and the rapid growth of the e-bike industry mean for trails which are already seeing a noticeable increase in ridership these last years. Shields expects to see a typical process of trial and error as land managers try to figure out the best way forward.
© 2022 Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, Washington). Distributed by Content Agency Tribune, LLC.