The U.S. Department of the Interior has unveiled guidance to its "Increasing Recreational Opportunities Through the Use of Electric Bikes" order, allowing use of e-bikes at wildlife refuges and other public lands.
(TNS) — Can pedal-assisted e-bikes harmoniously share trails with hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers?
A more accommodating trail use policy for pedal-assisted e-bikes is being developed by the Bureau of Land Management and managers of some other federal land.
Last week, officials with the U.S. Department of the Interior announced guidance to implement Order 3376, "Increasing Recreational Opportunities Through the Use of Electric Bikes," which will allow the use of low-speed electric bicycles at national wildlife refuges and other DOI-managed public lands where traditional biking occurs.
The move will expand recreational opportunities and access to millions of Americans, according to a release from the DOI.
The National Park Service previously issued guidance to allow for e-bikes to be used on most bike paths in national parks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service is not included in the directive and currently, e-bikes are limited to trails only where motorized vehicles are permitted.
Secretary’s Order 3376, signed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on Aug. 29, directs DOI bureaus to create a clear and consistent e-bike policy for the land.they manage. The policy also supports Secretary’s Order 3366 to increase recreational opportunities on public lands, the release stated.
The majority of states have adopted e-bike policies, which primarily have followed model legislation allowing for three classes of e-bikes to have access to bicycle trails. The DOI e-bike guidance seeks to provide consistency with the state and local rules where possible, according to the release.
The three classes of e-bike are defined as:
Class 1: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
Class 2: Bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
Class 3: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph.
The Fish and Wildlife Service policy allows Class 1, 2 and 3 e-bike riding (without the use of a throttle) on National Wildlife Refuge roads, trails and designated areas where traditional bikes are allowed. The policy does not allow e-bikes in designated wilderness areas and most back-country trails, according to information from peopleforbikes.org.
The year began with 11 states using the model three-class e-bike definitions. But as of June 19, peopleforbikes.org reported that 22 states define e-bikes within the three classes,.The eleven new states include Oklahoma and Texas.
New Mexico is not on the list and is shown as "problematic" on the advocacy group's map of states with either "model legislation," "acceptable" or "problematic" legislation.
The New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division defines electric bikes as regular bicycles and they are subject to the same laws as traditional bicycles. The state does not require license or registration of electric bicycles. Helmets are required for all riders under 14 years of age when riding on roadways. Electric bicycles may be ridden on roadways, in bike lanes and on bike paths.
Secretary’s Order 3376 directs DOI bureaus to begin the longer-term process of obtaining public input on new regulations that will clarify that low-speed e-bikes should enjoy the same access as conventional bicycles, consistent with other federal and state laws.
Leroy Cockrell, a Ruidoso, N.M., resident who has been active in Lincoln National Forest issues, including a proposal to create trails for off-highway vehicles in the Hale Lake area of the forest east of Ruidoso, said while he never has ridden an e-bike, he can see why it would be useful, especially for an aging population that enjoys being outdoors, but no longer can hike great distances.
"I think anything that can help a person, especially older people like myself is worthwhile," he said Monday. "That's why a lot of these side-by-sides and all terrain vehicles are getting so popular, We can't walk way back in there like we used to.
"I kind of see it as nice way to help out. I think I would like it. It's just a little help."
He distinguished between the pedal-assisted e-bike and one with a throttle, saying the former would create little impact..
As for his friends who are mountain bikers, Cockrell said, "It depends on who you talk to. The purest mountain bikers are really into the physical part and I think they kind of resent a motorized bike of any kind on their trails."
Under the current village ordinance, no motorized vehicle of any kind is allowed on municipal trails, said Rodney Griego, director of the Parks and Recreation Department.
"So black and white, if you looked at our ordinance, motorized vehicles are not allowed on our trails," he said. "But I know that other people in the past have even driven electric golf carts on our trails."
The village council likely would back an exception for the pedal-assisted e-bike, as distinguished from one with a throttle, he said.
"I believe the village would support that," he said. "It would just need a little updating of our ordinance. We're definitely on board. That's the trend you're seeing in the United States with those bikes and we would like to stay on top of that to provide people with recreational opportunities.".
Shane Barnett, owner of Club Gas, rents and sells e-bikes at his location at the intersection of White Mountain Drive and New Mexico Highway 48, also known as Mechem Drive.
"I know e-bikes are the wave of the future," he said. "It's just a pedal-assisted bike, so it's not like a motorcycle. You still have to pedal the bike. There is not going to be any more damage done to the trails."
If damaged occurred, it probably would be from having more people on the trail, not from the e-bikes, he said.
Several different areas are open to e-bikes in the Lincoln National Forest, the same areas that allowed motorized vehicles, he said.
He would favor opening up municipal and USFS trails around the village on Moon Mountain, Cedar Greek and Grindstone, Barnett said.
"There are not many areas where BLM doesn't allow them," Barnett said. "They are more motor friendly than others. There are a lot of dirt roads on BLM land where they can be ridden, but the average tourist wants to ride the trails around town where others are mountain biking."
"I'm kind of speaking for other mountain bikers who have been talking about e-bikes, it's great that they developed it," said Dale Moebus, former bike shop owner and member of Bicycle Ruidoso. "We were talking and If we are 70 years old and need one, (an e-bike would be helpful). But being out there riding bikes and all of a sudden an e-bike comes up behind you (is disconcerting). The Forest Service doesn't allow them in the forest except on trails for motorized vehicles.
"In my personal opinion, I think they belong on the streets or on paved trails. II's a great way for people not to have to work so hard and still get out and get a little exercise. but I personally believe they do not belong on the trails other than motorized trails. I can see where they could be therapeutic. When I need head therapy, I get on my bike.
"I guess it is a way for someone to still enjoy the outside without busting a lung or busting their legs," he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service is not included in the DOI directive and currently e-bikes are limited to trails only where motorized vehicles are permitted.
"The USFS has not weighed into it," said Smokey Bear District Ranger Jodie Canfield from the Lincoln National Forest that surrounds Ruidoso. "The only thing I have is the briefing paper from 2017, which says "e-bikes do not meet either exception to the definition of a motor vehicle in the (Travel Management Review)."
The paper also says e-bikes may be ridden wherever motorized vehicles are allowed, including all national forest system roads, national forest system trails open to all vehicles, those designated for motorcycles and those with a special e-bike designation.
"That's a good segue into what we're doing over n Hale Lake, that we will make special designations where e-bikes can operate," she said.
As for any changes in regulations, Canfield said the USFS would only be looking at the lowest classifications, the pedal assist, "because with the other, you start getting up to 28 mph and that could cause problems. It almost is a mini motorcycle.".
She expects the USDA to be under some pressure to review the e-bike rules, she said.
Ruidoso Police Chief Darren Hooker said, "As far as the village is concerned, unless the ordinance changes, because they are fairly new, we would treat them like a regular bicycle. They do not require a license and the driver must obey the rules of the road."
The guidance to superintendents and field managers will enable visitors to use e-bikes with a small electric motor (less than 1 horsepower) power assist in the same manner as traditional bicycles.
The operator of an e-bike may only use the small electric motor to assist pedal propulsion. The motor may not be used to propel an e-bike without the rider also pedaling, except in locations open to public motor vehicle traffic. Similar to traditional bicycles, e-bikes are not allowed in designated wilderness areas and may not be appropriate for back-country trails, according to the guidance.
The focus of the guidance is on expanding the traditional bicycling experience to those who could benefit from the reduction of effort provided by this new e-bike technology.
Since the NPS issued the guidance, superintendents and park staff have engaged with stakeholders and visitors to better understand potential impacts to resources and visitors, and other potential issues with allowing e-bikes where traditional bikes are allowed., according to the DOI release.
E-bikes make bicycle travel easier and more efficient because they allow bicyclists to travel farther with less effort. This is especially true for those with physical limitations, the DOI noted.
"When used as an alternative to gasoline- or diesel-powered modes of transportation, e-bikes can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption, improve air quality, and support active modes of transportation for visitors," the release stated. "Similar to traditional bicycles, e-bikes can decrease traffic congestion, reduce the demand for vehicle parking spaces, and increase the number and visibility of cyclists on the road."
©2019 the Ruidoso News (Ruidoso, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.