Skip to Navigation

IMBA Updates eMTB Position Statement

The topic of electric mountain bike (eMTB) access to non-motorized trails is increasingly dominating the conversations of mountain bikers, land managers, trail users, the bicycle industry and others. IMBA recognizes this as a complex issue encompassing mountain biking culture, the access landscape and the passions and experiences of different trail users. All sides have valid, logical and emotional arguments to make and IMBA is listening. We have wrestled with the eMTB issue at considerable length and will continue to do so as the landscape evolves. For the past three decades, IMBA has worked tirelessly for mountain biking and access to trails and this has not changed.

IMBA's Board of Directors updated its 2015 position on eMTBs to now read:

IMBA is supportive of Class 1 eMTB access to non-motorized trails when the responsible land management agency, in consultation with local mountain bikers, deem such eMTB access is appropriate and will not cause any loss of access to non-motorized bikes. IMBA recognizes that changes in design, technology and the numbers of eMTB users is evolving, and believes these bikes can be managed in a sustainable way for both the environment and other trail users.

“First and foremost, we advocate for access for traditional, non-motorized mountain bikes. IMBA does not advocate for access for eMTBs. But, IMBA and mountain bikers need to be at the table for all conversations that discuss access for eMTBs to non-motorized trails that are open to bikes,” said Dave Wiens, IMBA Executive Director.

“Currently, the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are clear that they are managing all eMTBs as motor vehicles. But for countless state, county, municipal and other parks and open space trails, there is much uncertainty and confusion. Our position reflects the importance of having local land managers and local mountain bikers involved in decisions to allow eMTB access to non-motorized trails and underscores the importance of maintaining access for traditional, non-motorized bicycles. This topic is being driven by rapidly evolving technology and we recognize that everyone involved needs to be engaged, prepared for challenges and solution-oriented.”

IMBA believes that eMTB access to non-motorized trails that are open to bikes present both opportunity and challenge. If managed effectively, eMTBs may increase ridership and stewardship of trails, along with other benefits. No management, poor management and/or misinformation, however, have the potential to jeopardize current and future access to trails that mountain bikers, local organizations and IMBA have pursued for the past 30 years.

As the recognized, national leader in trail access and sustainable trail design, IMBA is regularly asked for guidance on how best to manage the emergence of eMTBs on local, state and federal lands by mountain bikers, local mountain biking organizations, land managers and the bicycle industry. IMBA occupies a unique position in this discussion, due to the trust it has established with these various stakeholders over the previous three decades, and recognizes there is significant work to be done in this space.

IMBA also believes that local access decisions (at the state, county and municipal level) are best made locally and is working with local mountain bike groups and land management agencies across the country to provide resources and guidance, as it has done for three decades. IMBA has also met with the leaders of federal land management agencies, most of which only allow eMTBs on motorized trails, and is keeping them apprised of and educated on this issue.

IMBA will work to provide information and best-practice resources on this topic from its position as an organization that advocates for traditional, non-motorized mountain biking. IMBA currently offers resources for land managers, including recommendations on what should be considered before access decisions are made, and will continue conversations with all parties to protect the access the mountain biking community has worked hard to gain and keep.

We appreciate your continued support of IMBA's mission to create, enhance and protect great places to ride mountain bikes.

IMBA’s current research and documentation can be found here.

Select eMTB FAQ

What is a Class 1 eMTB?

There are three classes of electric bicycle and those in Class 1 are the lowest-powered. A Class 1 electric bicycle, or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is defined as a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

Motorized vs. non-motorized

EMTBs represent an emerging technology and are neither classified as a mountain bike nor a motorcycle. As a result, eMTBs confuse long-standing regulatory structures for trail management, which have frequently divided trails as either “motorized” or “non-motorized” regarding who/what can use them.

IMBA recognizes eMTBs as motorized. Defining eMTBs as a new and distinct category of recreation will minimize impacts on access for mountain bikes and protect against an increase of motorized use on non-motorized trails.

How should a land management agency make a decision and manage this new user group?

Enforcement of trail users on public lands is largely a local control issue and IMBA respects the rights and abilities of these land agencies to make appropriate decisions with appropriate tools. IMBA recommends that land managers consider their enforcement and education/outreach abilities prior to allowing Class 1 eMTB access to trails. The decision to allow Class 1 eMTBs on natural surface trails open to mountain biking and designated for non-motorized use should be determined on a trail-by-trail basis by local, state and federal land management agencies. The decision should also be made in collaboration and partnership with local mountain bikers, trail stewards, stakeholders, advocates and other interested users.

Where can I ride an eMTB?

It is imperative that eMTBs are only ridden where permitted. Currently, eMTBs are not defined or dealt with consistently across land management agencies and their access to trails and infrastructure depends on the authority with jurisdiction over the land. The federal land management agencies allow eMTBs on motorized trails and dirt roads, only, (and not on non-motorized trails). For more information on eMTB regulations, visit this page: http://peopleforbikes.org/our-work/e-bikes/

How influential is the eMTB industry in directing IMBA’s work on the eMTB issue?

Thankfully, IMBA has partners and supporters both inside and outside of the bicycle industry that understand and support our mission and want to ensure a positive and prosperous future, one in which we mountain bikers don’t lose an inch of trail unnecessarily. Regardless of the source of support for our efforts surrounding eMTB access to trails, traditional non-motorized mountain bike access is IMBA’s priority.

+ Comment On This Post

Comments

IMBA's looking toward a

IMBA's looking toward a future in which Type 1 e-MTBs become a separate user category - neither a motor vehicle under a revised CFR/state law or human powered - identifying two criteria prior to e-MTB inclusion on trails open to mountain bikes:

1) Consultation with Local Mountain Bikers
2) Not Cause Any Loss of Access to mountain bikes (Impact on the Mountain Biking Community)

The American Hiking Society, in June 2017, established a similar policy https://americanhiking.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/AHS-Ebike-Policy.pdf identifying five detailed criteria to be carefully considered prior to e-MTBs’ inclusion on trails that are shared with hikers:

1) Trail Sustainability
2) Enforcement of Standards
3) Increased Agency Funding
4) Impacts on the Hiking Experience
5) Impact on the Hiking Community

I find it ironic that a user category who bitterly opposed mountain bike access back in the day has evolved in their thinking and mountain bikers have replaced them as the opposition in social media comments on IMBA's updated position.

E-bike access

I applaud IMBA's decision to update their position on Class 1 e-bikes. The old argument that they are motorcycles doesn't hold up. With the availability of nearly silent, smooth assistance, more people can enjoy this great activity that we all love. I know that I cause more trail-stress on my regular bike with bursts of acceleration to clear certain obstacles. My e-bike is just steady and smooth. And let's be real...you can choose to be a jerk or ride friendly on any type of bike. We should jump at the opportunity to embrace the Class 1 e bikes. The fear of a slippery slope is unfounded. We don't want dirt bikes racing over our mountain bike trails, but the idea of people with physical limitations or advancing age getting out on the trails is a wonderful thing. Some of you may not realize it yet, but we aren't going to be in our twenties forever.

Sad to hear this. This is not

Sad to hear this. This is not a good path forward.

eMTBs

I'm not yet sure where I stand on the issue of eMTB use of mountain bike trails, but to me this blog post raised more questions than it answered. By IMBA's own definition, an eMTB "is defined as a bike equipped with a motor." The trails we're talking about are referred to as "non-motorized trails." Shouldn't being a non-motorized trail mean that things with motors aren't allowed? If we allow things with motors, like eMTBs, doesn't that automatically turn the trail into a "motorized trail"? And if so, does that start us down a slippery slope?

In your FAQ section, you ask yourselves how influential the eMTB industry is in directing IMBA's work, but then you dodge the question. Does IMBA get support (money) from the eMTB industry or not? The yes or no answer to that question might tell us more about how IMBA is responding to this "complex issue" than anything else.

Why not?

I cannot afford to buy an eMTB at least not in the near future. What I have not seen is an argument against eMTBs. What is the objection besides it being motorized? I have only test ridden one eMTB and I found the experience to be quite entertaining. I see them benefiting older riders and riders who are less capable of providing their own power especially on steep or long inclines. The bike I tested had almost no perceptible torque to speak of so I don't see it tearing up the trail. And the 20 mph top assisted speed is achievable with non-assisted pedaling. I could possibly see an eMTB in my future to extend my years in the saddle. For now, they are too expensive and too heavy; I'll stick with my 20 yr old hardtail. The bottom line is that I'm in favor of them unless I see hard evidence that they are tearing up the trail or are a danger to non eMTB riders.

Huh.. "cannot see argument against"

It is against the law and potentially a fire hazard:
Mountain bikers have worked hard to have a relationship with other trail users to make sure that we do not abuse the privilege of using the trails. eMTB users are rude, and do not care about any other people on the trails.

The truth is the eBikers likely have lobbying money behind them and will get the laws changed. Just like the hunters have done. I do not see why we at IMBA should give up all the ground we have made over the years to a bunch of spoiled lazy people who could care less about the the community.

Title 36: Parks, Forests, and Public Property
PART 212—TRAVEL MANAGEMENT
Subpart B—Designation of Roads, Trails, and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use
...
212.1 Definitions
Motor vehicle. Any vehicle which is self-propelled, other than:
(1) A vehicle operated on rails; and
(2) Any wheelchair or mobility device, including one that is battery-powered, that is designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person for locomotion, and that is suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area.
...
§212.51 Designation of roads, trails, and areas.

(a) General. Motor vehicle use on National Forest System roads, on National Forest System trails, and in areas on National Forest System lands shall be designated by vehicle class and, if appropriate, by time of year by the responsible official on administrative units or Ranger Districts of the National Forest System, provided that the following vehicles and uses are exempted from these designations:
(1) Aircraft;
(2) Watercraft;
(3) Over-snow vehicles (see §212.81);
(4) Limited administrative use by the Forest Service;
(5) Use of any fire, military, emergency, or law enforcement vehicle for emergency purposes;
(6) Authorized use of any combat or combat support vehicle for national defense purposes;
(7) Law enforcement response to violations of law, including pursuit; and
(8) Motor vehicle use that is specifically authorized under a written authorization issued under Federal law or regulations.
(b) Motor vehicle use for dispersed camping or big game retrieval. In designating routes, the responsible official may include in the designation the limited use of motor vehicles within a specified distance of certain forest roads or trails where motor vehicle use is allowed, and if appropriate within specified time periods, solely for the purposes of dispersed camping or retrieval of a downed big game animal by an individual who has legally taken that animal.

Thank You

I have been an avid mountain biker for over 30 years. I remember back in the early 90s being shamed by my fellow mountain bikers for riding a full suspension mountain bike and how suspension was just like a motorcycle and that it was going to ruin the sport. Seems that most mountain bikers are past that now.

An IMBA funded study concluded eMTBs have no statistically different impact on trails then regular mountain bikes do. In use, they are similar to and compatible with regular mountain bikes. eMTBs are fantastic. If you are a mountain biker that is opposed to eMTBs and feels they should be banned from mountain bike trails, I suggest you take a deep look inside yourself and ask what your prejudice is based upon. eMTBs are good for our sport, good for our environment and good for our communities. I don't drive my mountain bike to trailheads, I ride my eMTB to the trailhead. Who holds the moral high ground? The guy that drives his diesel pickup truck to the trailhead and then pedals unassisted or the guy that rides from his front door to the trailhead and beyond assisted? Who is holy than thou here?

No one is going to force you to ride an eMTB and no eMTB is going to negatively impact your riding experience; unless your ego is so fragile it can't stand to be passed by an old guy on an eMTB.

Although I wouldn't consider IMBA fully behind eMTBs yet, I applaud this decision and will be renewing my IMBA membership.

Thanks IMBA.

Polarization

It seems that this is another chapter in the hikers vs. dirt bikes war. The weapons that the hikers use against the dirt bikes are noise and erosion. Speed differential would be the next if dirt bikes were quiet and driven without wheel spin. Following that would be: "I worked hard all day to view this lovely wilderness scenery and these a**h***s just effortlessly arrive on their oil dripping, fume belching steeds." I actually think that the real issues are courtesy and responsibility of people using the outdoors. I think the importance of educating all people on their responsibilities is wholly important and the solution. I think that it is not a problem to have hikers and mountain bikers sharing difficult technical trails if they are courteous and responsible. I don't think that an E-bike presents a greater hazard, nuisance or impact on sustainability than a mountain bike or even a hiker (I will leave the horses out of this for now). I think that ebikes open opportunities that were previously too difficult for mountain bikes because of steep technical trail sections. These trails are typically ridden down hill only. I really don't see how an ebike is different from a mountain bike except that it can help one ascend steep grades that in most cases are avoided by hitching a ride on a truck or car. I think that IMBA should flex its muscles on this one and expand the sport.

eMTB Position

Class 1 eMTB riders today face the same access obstacles that human powered MTBs faced since introduction with one addition. MTBers. Glad IMBA's taking the high road.

1985 Deja Vu

Almost totally agree; I worked in an Austin MTB-specific shop in 1985, and there were other "elite" bike shops that in town that wouldn't even carry MTBs. If you didn't strive to have a full Campy road bike, you weren't really a cyclist. But it was those same weenies that finally caught on to me dropping down a creek bed to beat them to the bar they had to navigate many city blocks. The eBike haters are deja vu.

USFS Bicycle definition as written would include Class I eMTBs

Although there are USFS opinion and guidance letters, they do not reference a definition of e-bike that is codified. The 2002 36 CFR 212.1 - DEFINITIONS section refers to motorized vehicles, yet does not change the definition of a bicycle.

I know that many Forest Service locations, like Phil's Trails, don't allow e-bikes. However, the Forest Service defines a bicycle as " a pedal-driven, human-powered device with two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other.’’ (Fed. Reg. Vol 73, No 201, p 61606, Interim Final, October 16, 2008) Class One pedal-assist e-bikes meet this definition. I don't find any codified updates that amend this regulation.

This is a copy of the 2016

This is a copy of the 2016 USFS memo that designates e-bikes as motor vehicles:

http://peopleforbikes.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/20160324ElectricBik...

The letter does leave open the possibility for designating non-motorized trails for e-bikes on a local basis, but only after an environmental analysis and public input has been gathered.

USFS national policy

Phil's trails (I live in Bend and serve on COTA board of directors) policy is not just local policy, it is national USFS policy. EBikes have motors and thus are managed as motorized users and are not allowed on trails managed for non motorized use. That is also BLM national policy. We just happened to have worked with Deschutes NF on the sticker program posting the rules on local trails here in Bend, but again it is a national policy.

Policy vs Law

And that's my point. Somehow the USFS policy being used violates the codified law, and thus is illegal. Please show me the law that reverses or modifies the definition of a bicycle.

No thank you!

My very large chapter left IMBA more than a year ago. I did not renew my membership.

Apparently my crystal ball was working correctly.

Just another “advocacy” organization.....like People for eBikes....who caved to the eBike industry. Sad.

Bye!

Perhaps, but...

I'm not sure how not advocating for eMTBs, recommending they be classified separate from mountain bikes, and continuing to focus on traditional, non-motorized mountain biking is caving to the industry. But, we welcome all feedback from all views, so thanks for commenting. 

Advocating for eMTB

It is against the law - at least in national forests. Why is IMBA advocating for them to break the law? It is there to protect the environment and the community.

TITLE 36—Parks, Forests, and Public Property
CHAPTER II—FOREST SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
PART 212—TRAVEL MANAGEMENT
.
.
.
Motor vehicle. Any vehicle which is self-propelled, other than:
(1) A vehicle operated on rails; and
(2) Any wheelchair or mobility device, including one that is battery-powered, that is designed solely for use by a mobility-impaired person for locomotion, and that is suitable for use in an indoor pedestrian area.

Definition of motorized vehicle

“Any vehicle that is self propelled.” Clearly, this definition excludes class1 e-bikes which are certainly not self propelled; they are propelled by human power turning the cranks, without which input the bike is immoble (unless it is coasting downhill.). The motor on class 1 e-bikes merely assists the means of propellsion which is human.

X