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Early Data Released on Impacts of eMTB Use on Trails

For Immediate Release 9/24/2015
Contact: mark [dot] eller [at] imba [dot] com (Mark Eller)
IMBA Communications Director
303-545-9011 ext. 115

Last week, during the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas, IMBA presented initial data from an ongoing study of the impacts caused by electric mountain bikes (eMTBs). IMBA’s current board-considered position paper on motorized/nonmotorized recreation states that eMTBs should be considered to be a form of motorized recreation and managed separately from traditional mountain bikes.

See below for two attachments: a summary of the eMTB impacts findings (similar to the information presented in this release), and a guide to trail etiquette for eMTB consumers.

The initial data from IMBA’s study, conducted in partnership with the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association(BPSA) and PeopleForBikes (PFB), and with counsel from a field of recreation management experts, suggests that some of the physical impacts of low-powered, pedal-assist (Type 1) eMTBs may be similar to traditional mountain bikes. However, more study and further consideration by IMBA’s staff and board is needed before IMBA would consider changing its current recommendations.

“Improving our understanding of the physical impacts of eMTBs to trails is a necessary first step in deciding what kinds of management strategies to suggest,” said Mark Eller, IMBA’s communications director. “However, physical impacts are just one factor—there are also important considerations related to interactions between trail users and other factors. IMBA’s partners in the land management world, the bicycle industry and, most importantly, our chapters and affiliated groups, want IMBA to continue gathering data about the physical and social impacts of eMTBs.”

Current eMTB Management Practices

  • Federal land management agencies currently classify eMTBs as a motorized use. As such, eMTBs currently have access to dirt roads, double track trails, and other trails that are managed for a combination of motorized and non-motorized use.
  • Manufacturers of electric bicycles suggest the following classifications: Type 1: pedal assist with a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph; Type 2: throttle assist with a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph; Type 3: pedal assist with a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.
  • Based on IMBA’s field study, conducted in the fall of 2015, the physical impacts of Type 1 eMTBs and traditional mountain bikes appear to be similar, relative to the impacts of typical gasoline-powered motorcycles, in regards to soil displacement and other effects on trail surfaces.
  • Additional research is needed to further assess the range of environmental and social impacts for successful eMTB use on public lands.

IMBA’s eMTB Field Study

In the summer of 2015, in partnership with the BPSA and PFB, and with counsel from a field of recreation management experts, IMBA conducted a scientifically controlled field study designed to measure relative levels of soil displacement and erosion resulting from traditional mountain bikes, eMTBs 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.

The goals of the study included:

  • Provide an objective analysis of the physical impacts of Type 1 eMTBs relative to traditional mountain bikes and traditional dirt bikes by measuring soil displacement after hundreds of passes on a controlled course.
  • Gather information regarding possible social impacts associated with Type 1 eMTBs and gather input from land managers via interviews and an online survey.
  • Provide land managers with data and analysis to assist them in making informed decisions regarding appropriate access.

Field Study Hypotheses and Initial Results

IMBA developed these hypotheses for this small initial field study, conducted at one site, with one set of environmental conditions:

  • Physical impacts to trails from eMTBs will likely fall somewhere between those caused by mountain bikes and motorcycles.
  • We expect that eMTBs may lead to more soil displacement under certain conditions, such as through turns, including bermed turns; on ascents and descents; and where there are abrupt changes in trail conditions.

Initial observations suggest good support for the field study hypotheses. We saw some differences between the impacts of eMTBs and mountain bikes, particularly at turns and grade changes. However, for the most part, the soil impacts observed in this study were not greatly different from those of mountain bikes, and were much less than those associated with motorcycle use.

The results of the land manager survey and social impacts analysis are still being compiled; full study results will be released in early 2016.

AttachmentSize
eMTB Study Fact Sheet .pdf1.04 MB
eMTB Etiquette.pdf746.88 KB
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