A new federal policy intends to open access to electric bicycles on traditional biking trails within lands managed by the U.S. Department of Interior, according to a recent order from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
The public lands where e-bikes restrictions would be eased include Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuge, and Bureau of Reclamation.
Order No. 3376 “is intended to increase recreational opportunities for all Americans,” Bernhardt said, “especially those with physical limitations, and to encourage the enjoyment of lands and waters managed by the Department of Interior.”
E-bikes had been legally categorized as motorized by the BLM, and therefore not allowed on non-motorized routes. But the Interior secretary’s order now requires them to be made exempt from the definition of motorized vehicles, giving them more access to trails.
Department of Interior land agencies are directed to submit a summary of enacted policy changes in response to the order by the end of September to the secretary.
A summary of any laws or regulations prohibiting the adoption of the order must also be submitted. A timeline to seek public comment on regulation changes will also be set. National and local BLM regulations will need to be amended to comply with the new order, officials said. The order essentially places bicycles and e-bikes in the same category so they can share non-motorized trails.
E-bikes would not be allowed where other types of bicycles are prohibited.
New guidelines for e-bike use in the Tres Rios District are being evaluated and will be released to the public once finalized, said Stephanie Connolly, BLM Southwest Colorado District Manager on Wednesday.
“We are asking the public to be patient as we work through this and prepare the new guidelines,” she said.
Local BLM trails with the potential to gain e-bike access include those at Phil’s World east of Cortez, Mud Springs, and the Sand Canyon and Rock Creek trail networks on the BLM’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
In Durango, trails slated for possible e-bikes use would be the Horse Gulch and Sale Barn areas and any other BLM trail systems where regular bikes are allowed.
The National Park Service is also charged with implementing policy to authorize e-bikes on trails where traditional bikes are allowed.
The issue of e-bike use on trails can be divisive.
Proponents cite improved access to public lands, and opponents point out e-bikes are technically motorized and that some trails should be free of all motorized use.
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 whether the rider is pedaling or not, up to 20 mph; and Class III provides electrical pedal power assist up to 28 mph, and are not allowed for riders younger than 16.
Tiffany Mapel, of Durango, supports e-bikes being allowed on trails. She began using one lately and loves it because pedaling with the motor-assist causes less pain in her knees.
“I can now ride with my husband and daughter and keep up. I am now able to enjoy family rides,” she said.
Her Class 1 e-bike engages a motor only when she is pedaling, and she said “does not push me to ridiculous speeds.”
She added: “I can pedal my bike without so much pain, and it has opened up a whole new outlook on possible rides for me. E-bikes are not motorcycles and should not be classified as such.”
Her comments were read at the BLM’s Southwest Resource Advisory Council meeting in Dolores on Wednesday.
The Wilderness Society objects to blanket regulations allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails, and is critical of the short time-frame for land agencies to plan for and implement it, said Michael Carroll, of the group’s Durango office.
“We think e-bikes have a place on public lands, and that ideal place is with motorized access trails ,” he said. “We are open to a discussion about where else they could go, but that needs to go through a proper public process.”
“The BLM’s own regulations classify e-bikes as motorized and to change that there needs to be a public process so people have a chance to comment.”
In an interview with The Journal Tuesday, Bernhardt said his policy helps to standardize the definition of a bicycle on federal lands so it is more in line with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The commission defines a bicycle as a two- or three-wheeled vehicle solely human powered, or a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 horsepower) with a maximum speed on a paved, level surface when powered solely by the electric motor while ridden by an operator who weights 170 pounds is less than 20 mph.
“A lot of older people are built like me and could use pedal assist,” Bernhardt said.