The current eMTB landscape
Overview of eMTB Classes
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.
Electric (battery-powered) bicycle technology has advanced to the point that there are currently three classes of eMTBs. An electric bicycle is defined as a “bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts.”
CLASS 1: A “class 1 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is 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.
CLASS 2: A “class 2 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
CLASS 3: A “class 3 electric bicycle,” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is 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 28 miles per hour, and equipped with a speedometer.
How eMTBs are Currently Managed
Currently, eMTBs are not defined or dealt with consistently across land management agencies. Be it local, state or federal land, it is always best to check with the land management agency current eMTB access.
Bureau of Land Management: Contact your local BLM office for more information. E-bikes are allowed on trails limited to bicycles and non-motorized travel only if a BLM Manager has issued a written decision authorizing e-bike use in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.
National Park Service: Before visiting an NPS unit, visitors are encouraged to check the park website to find out what areas of the park are accessible, what activities are available, and which facilities are open. Upon arrival, visitors can obtain additional information at the Visitor Center or a Ranger Station.
Resources for eMTB Riders
Where to Ride
Resources for Land Managers
PeopleForBikes offers multiple resources and tools related to both on-road and natural-surface eMTB issues.
Land manager survey results: Trail Use and Management of Electric Mountain Bikes
In order to better guide research into the range of potential social and environmental impacts and benefits related to the use of eMTBs on natural surface trails, IMBA targeted federal, state and local land managers to survey their experiences and concerns regarding eMTB use on natural surface and/or singletrack trails (not paths or bikeways).
Class 1 eMTB Trail Impact Study
In 2015, IMBA conducted a scientifically controlled field study designed to measure relative levels of soil displacement and erosion resulting from traditional mountain bicycles, class 1 eMTBs (see definition above) and traditional off-road motorcycles (i.e. dirt bikes). The observations were compiled in controlled environmental conditions, with each type of bike making multiple passes on separated sections of the same trail within a single test site.
Rider survey results: Experiences and Perceptions of Mountain Bikers regarding eMTB’s
In 2015, IMBA conducted a user survey in order to better understand the concerns of mountain bicyclists and other trail users regarding eMTB use on natural surface trails. A short set of questions assessed the range of concerns from mountain bicyclists and other trail users regarding eMTB use on natural surface and non-motorized trails.
Summary of State and Federal Regulations
Within the context of public lands and land use, there is no uniform law that dictates what uses may or may not be allowed on any given property. This document examines the regulatory status of eMTBs on state and federal public lands in the United States and the potential to influence future access designation. In order to understand the complexity of land use regulations in the U.S., it is important to have a preliminary understanding of the allocation of regulatory and legislative powers of individual states (and the local entities therein) and the federal government.
State by State eMTB Policy Inventory (from PeopleForBikes)
This chart presents a state-by-state breakdown of eMTB policies, allowances and links to more information.
U.S. Forest Service Guidance on "Electric Bikes and Trail Management"
As of 2016, the USFS classifies eMTBs as motorized vehicles. They are only allowed on roads and trails open to motor vehicles and/or motorcycles, with possible local exceptions if they are based on existing rules and go through the appropriate public and environmental processes for altering access to trails.
Bureau of Land Management guidance on "Electric Powered Bicycles on Public Lands"
As of 2015, prior to the August 2019 executive order from the Department of the Interior, the BLM classified eMTBs as motorized vehicles. This document specifically states that the BLM managed eMTB access in the same way that the USFS does.