The popularity of E-bikes is burgeoning in the U.S., but knowing where they’re allowed can be complicated.
Dennis O’Hara bought his E-bike believing he would have full access to bike trails. When he went to the U.S. Forest Service Office to inquire about trail access around Logan, he said he was told his E-bike was prohibited on the regular bike trails he had already been riding.
“I go on the bike trails — I go on hiking trails. I didn’t know that they were prohibited,” said O’Hara. “I spent 4,500 bucks thinking that I could use E-bikes on the trails.”
O’Hara, 71, said his age along with accessibility was part of his reasoning for buying an E-bike. For O’Hara, it made cycling on trails and around town “far more” accessible. He and his wife can now ride their bikes together — prior to purchasing an E-bike, O’Hara said bike rides were much more difficult.
Confusion and contention have mounted since Aug. 29, when U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order allowing E-bikes to be regulated similarly to regular bikes — as per the order, E-bikes and regular bikes would be permitted and prohibited in the same places. While setting out to simplify the regulation of E-bikes, the order also aimed to open up recreational access to a wider swath of Americans, “especially those with physical limitations.”
Glacier, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks have expanded their access for E-bikes according to the order. The order also instructs the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Services to “expressly exempt” E-bikes from being defined as off-road or motorized vehicles.
However, National Forest and wilderness areas — lands not managed by the Department of Interior agencies, but rather the United States Department of Agriculture — are not required to adopt the secretarial order. Many of the trails in Cache Valley reside on these lands.
“We’re considering E-bikes as still a motorized piece of equipment,” said Larry Velarde, the trails, dispersed recreation, and travel management program manager for the U.S Forest Service’s Intermountain region. “And so they are still not allowed on our non-motorized trails.”
Velarde said confusion often comes from city or county trails that traverse onto abutted BLM or Forest Service lands. Though E-bike riders on non-motorized trails could be subjected to a fine, Velarde said he would hope other measures would be taken first.
“What I hope would be happening,” Velarde said, “is that we would be educating our public out there first before we start pulling the ticket book out — because, to me, that’s an easy mistake.”
According to an email from Velarde, out of the Forest Service’s 158,000 miles of roads and trails, nearly 40 percent are accessible by E-bike. E-bikes are managed as motorized vehicles and they’re allowed in the same places as motor vehicles.
Cache County Trails Planner Dayton Crites said the issues are tricky with many gray areas, but there remain some interesting options for E-bike riders.
“One of the neat things about E-bikes in our region is that all of a sudden you can climb up stuff that you couldn’t climb before,” Crites said. “No matter how fit you are.”
Crites said he’d recommend Card Canyon West, the fire road system behind Logan Peak, Richards Hollow and Steel Hollow as fun spots for E-bike riders. Though he said it’s important for cyclists to know their limits.
“These are advanced trails,” Crites said. “So you kind of have to be cautious.”
O’Hara believes the Forest Service’s decision to treat E-bikes as motor vehicles is a little misguided — his bike is quiet and clean and doesn’t thrash the environment. But the potential for getting fined won’t stop him from riding his bike where he pleases.
“I’m going to ignore it,” O’Hara said. “I’m not going to worry about it, honestly.”