Q: What is IMBA's eMTB position?
Access to natural surface trails for traditional non-motorized mountain bikes is critical to the future of our sport. As technologies evolve, we understand the need to examine access for Class 1 eMTBs and the unique characteristics they possess compared to traditional mountain bikes. We support trail access for Class 1 eMTBs and support shared use on trails as long as access is not lost or impeded for traditional mountain bikes. IMBA recommends Class 1 eMTBs be managed independently from traditional mountain bikes and we encourage land managers to develop separate regulations. IMBA will continue to engage all stakeholders on this issue in an effort to reach outcomes that best suit all users.
Q: Why does IMBA update its eMTB policy?
A: Since 1988, IMBA has worked to advocate for new trails and protect access to natural surface trails for traditional, non-motorized mountain bikes. However, as cycling technologies evolve, it is important for IMBA to continue to examine and/or clarify access policies for new uses, such as Class 1 eMTBs.
Q: How does IMBA suggest eMTBs be managed?
A: IMBA recommends eMTBs be managed as independent trail use categories established between traditional non-motorized mountain bikes and motorized dirt bikes. We encourage land managers to develop individualized regulations for how and where Class 1 eMTBs should have access and incorporate public involvement in determining trail access designations. IMBA anticipates that many mountain bike trails will be considered appropriate for shared use with Class 1 eMTBs
Q: Why can’t we just say eMTBs are not allowed on non-motorized trails?
A: eMTBs are not defined nor dealt with consistently across land management agencies. Currently, federal land management define eMTBs as motorized vehicles. However once you get beyond the jurisdiction of federal lands it gets more complex. Many local, county and state lands are beginning to adopt policies that allow Class 1 eMTBs on non-motorized trails within their jurisdiction.
Q. What is different about the state and federal policies around e-bikes and e-MTBs, and why does it matter?
A: At the state level, electric bikes in general have been increasingly defined as regular bikes in order to avoid having them defined as motor vehicles and regulated as such (registration, licencing, etc.). This has allowed states to recognize them as bikes and logically allow them on bike paths and bike lanes, where other bikes are allowed. Importantly, while often speculated as a slippery slope, this state-level definition and allowance on bike paths did not change those paths to motorized pathways and open them up to motorcycles, for example. It also did not identify e-bikes as non-motorized bikes. It simply classified them as a category of bike which provided a process to then determine access by class. It then let municipal jurisdictions make local determinations for appropriate access.
At the federal level, currently, all e-bikes (eMTBs included) are categorically classified as motor vehicles and theoretically regulated as such. However, from our research and communications most everyone would agree that while they do have an electric motor, they are characteristically more closely related to a bike than a motorcycle—particularly Class 1, which is a low speed, pedal-assisted bike. If the federal government were to adopt regulations similar to what the states have done, this could allow federal agencies to better manage eMTBs on public lands by determining through NEPA which trails would be opened to which classes of eMTBs. Again, currently, the federal level can only manage them as motorized vehicles.
This technical nuance all matters because most eMTB advocates and proponents seek trail experiences more similarly associated with traditional bike trails. Finding and recommending a way for federal agencies to navigate this process thoughtfully, legally and respectfully so that threats to traditional access are avoided but goals of eMTB riders can be realized where appropriate is in the best interest of IMBA’s mission and the long-term sustainability of public land trail access.
Q: Will increased access for eMTBs threaten access for traditional mountain bikes?
A: In general, eMTBs will be a way for many people to enjoy trail-based recreation. The primary potential threat to access is based on the eMTB having a motor. Advocating for traditional non-motorized mountain bike access is IMBA’s core work and we will continue to protect trails mountain bikers love to ride. IMBA recommends eMTBs be managed as a separate use category by class 1, 2 and 3; similar to how numerous states have defined them. This recommendation does not make them synonymous with traditional bikes, rather it simply expands the spectrum for what a bike is—some have electric assist motors, some don’t.
We believe managing eMTBs as a separate use category will maintain the integrity of the non-motorized classification where traditional mountain bike access has resided, and will prevent access threats for traditional mountain bikes while allowing for eMTB access where appropriate.
Q: Should federal land management agencies simply declare eMTBs allowed on non-motorized trails?
A: IMBA does not recommend land management agencies automatically allow eMTBs on traditional trails without proper research and a public process. On federal lands, that process must comply with NEPA and the travel management planning regulations. Federal land management agencies currently must follow their own guidance documents such as the United States Forest Service’s “Guidance on Electric Bikes and Trail Management,” and the Bureau of Land Management’s “Electric Powered Bicycles on Public Lands.”
Q: Will IMBA assist land managers and local advocates as they address access issues for eMTBs?
A: Yes, As a key stakeholder and leading resource, IMBA encourages land managers to actively address the emerging technology of eMTBs and we will continue to assist both decision makers and our local advocates in navigating this process to reach agreeable, bike-friendly solutions.
Q: Do eMTBs do more damage to trails?
A: IMBA conducted a study in 2015 that concluded Class 1 eMTBs are not likely to have any more impact than traditional mountain bikes or other trail users. Although this question is one of the most common reasons cited as to why Class 1 eMTBs should not have trail access, it is generally seen as a misconception. Increased trail uses and population growth in general will serve as a challenge to resources that we all must contend with, but IMBA believes we must not place the burden on any one user group without supporting scientific analysis. IMBA’s books (Managing Mountain Biking, Trail Solutions and Bike Parks) and other resources can help assist trail builders and management agencies in developing sustainable trail systems that protect natural resources.
Q: IMBA has always been a mountain biking advocacy organization. Does IMBA now also advocate for Class 1 eMTBs?
A: IMBA’s mission is to create, enhance and protect great places to ride mountain bikes. Nothing has changed there. We believe eMTBs will be a great way for people to enjoy trail-based recreation and we look forward to working with agencies, land managers and all stakeholders to achieve the best possible solutions. This will naturally play out through our advocacy and trail building work across the country. Our ideal situation is that together we all navigate this emerging technology so bike access is enhanced and protected broadly, and new opportunities to ride bikes (whether non-motorized or electric) are better than ever.
Q: How might adding eMTBs to traditional trails threaten non-motorized trail grants and trails funded by non-motorized grants?
A: Many sources of federal, state and local funding for trails relied upon by mountain bike advocates and volunteer stewardship organizations specify that funds be spent on non-motorized projects. It is unclear at this time how past funding for non-motorized projects and future funding would be affected if eMTBs were allowed on such trails. This is an issue that demands more policy consideration, research and discussion. Resources that come from federal LWCF and RTP programs are often restricted and divided between motorized and non-motorized categories. IMBA will continue to vigorously defend funding sources relied upon by our local advocates, such as RTP and LWCF.