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Land Managers and Bicycle Industry Call on IMBA to Study Impacts of Electric Mountain Bikes

For Immediate Release 4/7/2015
Contact Mark Eller
IMBA Communications Director
303-545-9011 ext. 115

Consumer interest in electric-powered mountain bikes (eMTBs) continues to rise in North America. In response to this trend, IMBA and the Bicycle Products Suppliers Association (BPSA) have agreed to conduct a study of the impacts, both environmental and social, that eMTBs can have on natural-surface trails and trail users. IMBA will facilitate the study with the assistance of qualified researchers, with the intention of producing objective data that can be used to provide recommendations for trail management and spur additional research.

"Little to no scientific information is currently available for evaluating the social, environmental and trail impacts related to electric mountain bike use,” said Garrett Villanueva, Assistant Forest Engineer, U.S. Forest Service. “Many questions have emerged, including how pedal-assist electric mountain bikes will evolve, how use of those machines should be regulated and the possibility of user conflicts. IMBA’s proposal to evaluate use and impacts could be a step in the right direction to better understand this new technology."

“From the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to state and local agencies, we have repeatedly heard from land managers that they are uncertain about the best strategies for classifying and overseeing this new form of recreation,” said Mike Van Abel, IMBA’s executive director. “It is easy to understand their confusion—eMTBs visually resemble traditional mountain bikes, and the power output is typically significantly less than with other forms of motorized recreation.”

Jill Van Winkle, an IMBA Trail Solutions Project Manager who holds a Master's degree in Environmental Science and Management, will manage the study, working in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management and other federal land management agency partners. Regarding environmental impacts, this study seeks to better understand how Class 1 and Class 2 eMTBs compare with those of traditional mountain bikes and gasoline-powered dirt bikes in terms of trail erosion. The bicycle industry and the Bureau of Land Management have stepped up with new funding to conduct the research; IMBA member dollars will not be directed toward this project.

"One study will not create a scientific consensus," said Van Winkle. "But it can go a long way in helping us understand the range of impacts and guide the development of best management practices for trails." Van Winkle also notes that the study effort will include a review of existing regulations at the federal, state and local levels, and will document current management strategies.

Larry Pizzi, the chairman of the BPSA’s committee on electric bicycles, said that IMBA is the right partner for this study. “We have heard from multiple sources, including federal land mangers, that IMBA is the only organization with the credibility to produce this data. We are committed to learning from this study and helping guide the development of eMTBs in a way that respects traditional mountain biking and ensures no loss of existing or future access.”