Regional rules governing motorized electric bikes vary, and with the approval of a new federal order allowing e-bikes on national parks and other public lands, that variance has only increased.
In late August, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order classifying e-bikes as nonmotorized bikes and giving agencies 14 days to adjust their rules.
The change allows e-bikes on biking trails in the country’s roughly 400 national parks and other federally managed back country.
In addition to national parks, that order will impact Washington and Idaho Bureau of Land Management lands. Prior to the order, e-bikes were considered off-highway vehicles by the BLM.
“They will now be treated like any other bicycle to include right of way protocols,” Spokane BLM spokesman Jeff Clark said in an email.
Similarly, e-bikes are allowed on nonmotorized trails in Riverside State Park and Mount Spokane, both owned and managed by Washington State Parks.
“In Washington, electric-assist bikes, in which the motor provides assistance only when a rider is pedaling, are considered ‘bicycles,’ ” spokeswoman Lara Gricar said in an email.
Thus, e-bikes are allowed on trails where traditional bicycles are allowed.
The federal rule was “not a contributing factor” in Washington State Parks’ decision, Gricar said. The agency will be watching to see if there are any conflicts. If the agency were to ban e-bikes, it would have to go through a rule-making process, Gricar said.
E-bikes are allowed on Washington’s six long-distance trails, which are owned and managed by state parks.
Currently, e-bikes are not allowed on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife trails closed to motorized use. But WDFW does have the authority – as do other state and local agencies – to allow them.
WDFW allows the machines on the Scatter Creek Wildlife area for disabled hunters.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game doesn’t allow e-bikes on nonmotorized trails. The new federal rule will “create conflict” on land that is owned and managed by IDFG and the Department of the Interior, said Don Kemner, IDFG’s wildlife habitat program manger in an email.
“This is a topic we will be discussing very soon to clarify how the department handles the e-bike question,” he said.
Both the Idaho Panhandle and Colville National Forests consider e-bikes motorized vehicles.
“Our policy allows e-bikes on roads and trails that are designated for motorized use,” said Shoshana Cooper, spokeswoman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests in an email.
Sportsmen and women have lambasted the federal decision, worrying it will wreck the quiet and solitude many nonmotorized recreationists cherish.
“The new policy benefits primarily the makers of electric mountain bikes, whose websites encourage riders to blast throughout our backcountry trails and set new speed records,” said Darrell Wallace, chairman of the Back Country Horsemen of America in a news release. “Since land managers lack sufficient resources to limit speeds on trails, how can backcountry users expect to continue to enjoy a tranquil backcountry experience?”
Rich Landers contributed to this report.
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