Ebike Access to Expand on Federal Lands

Trump order opens path for electrics to ride same trails as traditional bikes.

man on ebike on top of mountain
Three classes of ebikes are poised to gain new trail access.Shutterstock

Ebikes with assisted speeds up to 28 mph could soon be allowed in national parks and other lands managed by the Department of the Interior on trails and roads where regular bicycles are already permitted, under a Trump administration order signed Thursday by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The order classifies electric bikes as nonmotorized bicycles, and states that the action is intended "to increase recreational opportunities for all Americans, especially those with physical limitations, and to encourage the enjoyment of lands and waters managed by the Department of the Interior."

The Trump order grants access to the following classes of ebikes as defined by legislation that has been supported by the U.S. bicycle industry:

  • "Class 1 electric bicycle" shall mean an electric 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 electric bicycle" shall mean an electric 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 electric bicycle" shall mean an electric 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.

The order does not grant ebikes access to designated wilderness areas, where traditional bicycles also are not allowed.

Agencies have 30 days from the order’s signing to bring their policies into compliance or present a summary of “any laws or regulations that prohibit the full adoption of the policy described by this Order.”

In a statement Friday, National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said: “As more Americans are using e-bikes to enjoy the great outdoors, national parks should be responsive to visitors’ interest in using this new technology wherever it is safe and appropriate to do so. They make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability, or convenience, especially at high altitudes or in hilly or strenuous terrain.”

While the order may be welcome news to ebike enthusiasts, ebike manufacturers, and advocates for the disabled or seniors, many outdoor and trail conservation groups have come out strongly against allowing electric bikes of any kind on federal lands except where motorized vehicles are already allowed.

In a July 26 letter to officials at the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management, more than 50 outdoor organizations stated that they opposed “any effort that would allow any class of vehicle with a motor—including all classes of e-bikes, which by definition have a motor—to be allowed on non-motorized trails."

The groups—which included the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Montana Wilderness Association, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association—further stated: “Millions of public land users across the country enjoy both motorized and non-motorized recreational experiences. Opening non-motorized trails to motorized bikes would effectively eliminate the non-motorized, primitive recreational opportunities. We strongly oppose any effort to change existing trail management rules or policies and encourage all federal land management agencies to reject any effort to open non-motorized trails to e-bikes or other motorized vehicles.”

Bicycle industry coalition PeopleForBikes stated Friday that the DOI order is in line with the advocacy group’s mission to get more people riding bicycles more often, and that it will help bring more park visitors closer to nature rather than experiencing it through the window of a car.

“This Secretarial Order reflects the three-class e-bike system that has been widely adopted by state governments, and is understood and supported by the bicycle industry and e-bike owners,” PFB stated. “It also provides a broad framework for agencies to follow when adopting new rules for e-bikes, bringing their regulation closer to that of traditional bicycles. PeopleForBikes looks forward to a thorough stakeholder engagement effort that will help each agency create logical, consistent and easy-to-understand policies for electric bicycles.”