Electric bikes are becoming more popular, so to learn more about them, a group of Bureau of Land Management officials organized a test ride on the motorized trail system at Phil’s World in July.
About 11 staff from the BLM’s Colorado Leadership Team participated in the two-hour ride, which was restricted to designated motorized routes only, said Jeff Christenson, BLM recreation planner with the Tres Rios District office, who led the tour.
“We made it a specific point to stay on the ATV trail system out there because the bike trails at Phil’s World are designated nonmotorized,” he said.
Electric bikes are considered motorized vehicles by the BLM and are not allowed on nonmotorized biking and hiking trails. The Phil’s World area is interlaced with single-track nonmotorized and separate motorized routes used by ATVs and motorcycles.
A July 31 BLM Facebook post shows the BLM officials on e-bikes at the Phils World parking lot and ATV trail, which got the attention by some Facebook readers that they were testing them for use on biking trails.
But to respect the rules, the BLM riders on the tour did not go on the biking trails, Christenson said.
“The BLM requested the tour to better understand how e-bikes operate and what the potential impacts might be,” he said.
He said there are no BLM management plans or proposals to allow e-bikes on nonmotorized BLM trails in the Tres Rios District, including at Phil’s World, Mud Springs, or the Sand Canyon-East Rock Trail systems at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
In early 2018, the BLM began pushing awareness of the rules after an unknown e-bike vendor set up a demonstration in the parking lot of Phil’s World.
The increasing use of e-bikes has become a statewide and nationwide discussion.
The BLM has the potential option of analyzing whether a specific nonmotorized route designation may be adjusted to add e-bikes as an allowable use, officials said. Any proposed change would go through an environmental assessment and include public comment.
Tres Rios District officials said they don’t get many complaints of illegal use of e-bikes on nonmotorized trails.
No tickets or warnings have been issued, said BLM law enforcement ranger Tyler Fouss. There was a complaint last year about an e-bike user on the Sand Canyon trail, but no action was taken because of the delay of the reported sighting.
“For the most part, I think people understand they are not allowed on nonmotorized trails,” Fouss said.
The U.S. Forest Service also considers e-bikes to be motorized vehicles, and users must stay on motorized routes, said recreation planner Tom Rice.
Trails in the open space areas and parks owned by the city of Cortez are also nonmotorized, which includes use of electric assist on a bicycle.
But there is plenty of territory where e-bikes are welcome. They can be used anywhere motorized travel is allowed, including Forest Service and BLM roads and local streets, county roads and highways. They are allowed on ATV routes such as the Aspen Loop Trail in the La Plata Mountains and can be ridden on single-track motorized routes such as the Calico Trail north of Dolores.
In September, the city of Durango initiated a one-year pilot program allowing e-bikes on some trails, including the Animas City Trail. Some state parks allow them on trails.
E-bikes are equipped with battery-powered motors and come in commuting, touring and mountain biking models. A Class I bike provides electrical pedal assist up to 20 mph; Class II provides electrical power on a throttle when the rider is pedaling or not up to 20 mph; and Class III provides electrical power up to 28 mph, and are not allowed for riders under 16.