E-bikes create dilemma: where do they belong?
Regulations on a popular new technology leave users confused

Federal agencies consider them to be motorized vehicles. The state defines them as non-motorized, leaving the question: On what trails do electric mountain bikes belong?

In Moab, the answer is a little bit complicated. Dead Horse State Park allows them. On land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service or the Park Service, e-bikes can only go on trails designed for motorized vehicles.

Jacques Hadler is the manager of Moab Cyclery, the only local business to rent out e-bikes.

“I think there’s a place for them around here,” said Hadler. “We have so many great motorized trails where they work and people want them. Especially … older folks, we rent a lot of them to people who aren’t capable of riding the way they used to and want a little help. And they’re fun … They’ve been around for a while. They’ve been very popular in Europe for at least five years but they’re just starting to get traction in the U.S.”

Hadler said that e-bike regulations can be confusing for users, however.

“They’re different in every different land management area and in different parts of the country,” Hadler said. “… In Moab it’s fairly cut and dried. You’re allowed to ride them on anything that’s called motorized. So anywhere you can ride a motorcycle or an ATV or something you can ride an e-bike but non-motorized trails are off-limits to e-bikes on Forest Service and BLM land in Moab area.”

Morgan Lommelle, the e-bikes campaign manager for the PeopleForBikes Coalition, said that the regulations are confusing because they are outdated.

“The modern-day fully manufactured electric bicycle with an integrated motor really hasn’t been on the market that long,” said Lommelle. “Sales are growing, at least doubling, year after year so the federal agencies are working on it but they’re bureaucratic and it just takes a while. They realize that it’s a growing use and that their regulations are pretty outdated. They’re working on a variety of ways to improve the experience for people.”

Hadler concurred that the worries some have about e-bikes may be unfounded. “The footprint of an e-bike is no greater than the footprint of a regular mountain bike,” Hadler said. “You don’t have a throttle … Ours are governed at 19 mph. I frequently go faster than 19 mph on my pedal bike. So you can’t just churn up the terrain. I don’t see much more of an impact with e-bikes than with anything else, personally.”

Jennifer Jones, assistant field manager for the BLM’s recreation division in Moab, said that the BLM is open to working with user groups on the issue. “The best way for visitors to maintain access and assist BLM is to recreate responsibly and know which trails are open to which use,” Jones said. “Electric bikes are allowed on routes designated for motorized vehicle use and precluded from routes that have been designated only for non-motorized vehicle use … BLM is happy to work with user groups and will consider proposals from e-bike user groups for trails that meet their needs within the framework and tools that we have in our toolbox.”

One of the few places in the Moab area where e-bikes are allowed on all trails is Dead Horse Point State Park. Megan Blackwelder, the regional manager for the southeast region of state parks, said that Dead Horse Point allows them because the state defines e-bikes as non-motorized vehicles.

“There’s been a lot of controversy with e-bikes, not necessarily knowing how they’re going to affect trails and how they’re going to affect users and if there will be a conflict between regular mountain bike users and e-bike users,” Blackwelder said. “There isn’t a lot of evidence out there saying necessarily anything negative nor really positive. The worry is just that it’s going to become a negative interaction or it would be negative for increase in accidents and an increase in trail damage. So those are the things we were worried about. That’s what makes it controversial.”

Blackwelder said that there is a range of e-bikes on the market and only those that produce less than 750 watts of power are allowed at Dead Horse Point State Park. However, enforcement could be a challenge, as e-bikes look very similar to standard, non-electric mountain bicycles.

“If we’re the only ones, having a ton of e-bikes on the trails may be fine but it may cause … we just don’t know,” Blackwelder said. “We don’t know if the effects are going to be an increase in conflict between users, an increase in accidents, or an increase in trail damage. Those are the things we’re concerned about. But basically our hands are tied for now unless there’s a reason for them not to be [allowed].”

ByBy Rose Egelhoff

The Times-Independent