‘I’m not out there ripping up trails’; BLM considers allowing electric bikes to share the paths

A mountain biker on a trail in Southern Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Bicycles Unlimited, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In an effort to allow more people the opportunity to recreate and explore the outdoors on electric bikes, the Bureau of Land Management is requesting input from the public on proposed e-bike regulations that will close to public comment on June 9.

Stock image, St. George News

E-bikes have small (one horsepower or less) electric motors that assist riders with pedaling, making bicycle travel easier for people with disabilities, younger children and people who aren’t experienced mountain bikers.

Given their use of a motor, the BLM currently manages e-bikes as off-highway vehicles, which does cause some uncertainty among e-bike users as to where they may ride their bikes on BLM land.

Currently, riding e-bikes on BLM land on nonmotorized trails is permissible only if a BLM manager has written an authorization for e-bike use in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

The proposed rule would amend the BLM’s current off-road vehicle regulations to add a definition for e-bikes, compatible with Secretarial Order 3376, Increasing Recreational Opportunities through the use of Electric Bikes. This change would permit BLM land managers the authority to decide whether e-bikes may be operated on public lands in their jurisdictions.

The proposed rule would also direct the BLM to specifically address e-bikes in the future regarding land use and implementation-level decisions.

Electronic bikes included in the proposal can be two or three-wheeled with a motor of fewer than 250 watts (1 horsepower or less).

There are 3 classifications:

  • A class 1 e-bike is pedal-assisted but will stop assisting once the bike reaches a speed of 20 mph.
  • A class 2 e-bike has a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bike, but will stop assisting once the speed reaches 20 mph.
  • A class 3 e-bike is pedal-assisted but will stop assisting once the bike reaches a speed of 28 mph.

In August 2019, a new national park policy allowed for class 1 e-bikes to be used anywhere traditional bikes are allowed in national parks. Class 2 and class 3 e-bikes are still treated as motor vehicles under the national park policy.

A mountain biker on a trail in Southern Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Bicycles Unlimited, St. George News

While class 1, class 2 and class 3 e-bikes are all included in the BLM’s proposal, under the proposed rule,a class 2 e-bike ridden without pedal-assist would not be permissible and would still be treated as an off-highway motor vehicle.

Dylan Gibson, a local resident and service writer at Red Rock Bicycle, told St. George News that he’s been riding e-bikes for about three years and started because he found them intriguing. He said the main argument of e-bikes on trails comes down to the class of bike and the rider’s mechanism for propulsion.

E-bikes propelled by a throttle are more like electric motorcycles and present danger to other riders, as they are easy to lose control of while riding, he said. Whereas, pedal-assisted e-bikes are not going to lose traction and are not prone to tearing up trails.

“The bike’s not going to go unless you’re actually pedaling. That’s the type of bike that I ride,” Gibson said, referring to a class 1 E-bike. “I’m not out there ripping up trails. Some of my friends have been racing for years, they’re more of a nuisance on their bikes ripping up trails than I am on an e-bike.”

He said a general misconception about e-bikes comes down to a lack of understanding.

“When someone actually rides it, they’ll get a better idea of it,” he said. “I think more or less, more education and experience with the bike, and people would be more open to it.”

Cedar High sophomore Hannah Edwards competes in girls JV A race, Eagle Mountain, Utah, Aug. 24, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Iron Giants Mountain Bike Team, St. George News / Cedar City News

In a national news statement released by the BLM Utah External Affairs office, the effort for the proposed change is said to be in line with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt’s call for the BLM and other Interior bureaus to expand access on public lands to e-bikes.

“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, and that people of every ability should be able to explore them to the greatest extent possible.”

Public lands designated by Congress as “wilderness areas” will remain off-limits to both traditional bicycles and e-bikes. And, e-bikes would not be given any special access beyond what traditional bikes are allowed.

While local BLM land managers have been able to permit the use of e-bikes in specific circumstances, the comment period provides an opportunity for the public to offer feedback on the proposed rule. The BLM will consider informative and unique feedback as part of composing its final rule.

The 60-day public comment period is open now until June 9.

Commentary made be done by any of the following methods:

  • Mail: U.S. Department of the Interior, Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Mail Stop 2134 LM, 1849 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240, Attention:  RIN 1004-AE72.
  • Personal or messenger delivery: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 20 M Street, S.E., Room 2134LM, Washington, DC 20003, Attention: Regulatory Affairs.
  • Federal eRulemaking portal: In the Searchbox, enter “RIN 1004-AE72” and click the “Search” button. Follow the instructions at the website.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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