It's bad enough getting heckled in paved bike lanes where you know ebikes are allowed. But what about coming face-to-face with an armed park ranger on a horse, miles from civilization? Cross this line, you do not, electric bicyclist!
Or do you? When it comes to deciphering regulations about riding ebikes on public lands, trail systems, forest service roads, etc., rules of these roads tend to get a bit complicated. Because ebikes are still relatively new and their impact on the natural environment relatively unstudied, it can tend to be a bit of a crapshoot trying to determine who can go where, when, and how fast.
According to advocacy group People for Bikes, which maintains a comprehensive database of ebike laws around the country, there are 22 states with established laws surrounding three classes of ebikes:
However, the specifics of where you can and can't ride varies from state to state. In Washington, for example, Class 1 and 2 ebikes can go everywhere traditional bikes can, unless a city has specific laws in place. Ebikes in the Evergreen State can't be ridden on trails that are designated as non-motorized and have a natural surface (dirt, gravel, etc.).
In Maricopa County, Arizona, Class 1 and 2 ebikes are allowed anywhere traditional bikes are, including on singletrack trails. And Jefferson County, Colorado, which features 54,000 acres of land with 28 parks and 236 miles of trail, adopted a policy in 2018 to allow electric bikes on its managed trails:
A handful of other states are working on official ebike regulations, but laws also differ at the federal, city, and county level. On lands managed by the National Park Service, BLM and US Forest Service, ebikes are considered to be motorized vehicles, meaning they're not permitted on trails that are reserved for pedestrians, traditional bikes or horse riders.
Federal agencies around the country -- including the National Park Service, who we reached out to for this story -- are currently developing policies or pilot programs to learn more about how ebike use affects the ecosystem.
Mammoth Bike Park, in California, which leases its land from the U.S. Forest Service, began allowing Class 1 ebikes on its trails in 2018. Mammoth was one of the first major parks on Forest Service land to permit ebikes. Not many others have followed suit.
In many cases, local jurisdictions are left to decide how they want to regulate their trails, and this lack of consistency can create confusion for everyone on the road.
If you're planning on taking your ebike out to your favorite trail, be sure to check with the local land manager to see if there are specific rules or regulations regarding ebikes. When in doubt, assume the land management system considers your ebike to be a motorized vehicle and adhere to those rules.
If you're disappointed to discover that your local trail system doesn't allow ebikes, be your own best advocate. Call your local parks and rec department, email the gatekeepers of your public lands. Regulations are constantly being reviewed and updated, and fingers crossed, more trails will open as the popularity of ebikes rises.