IMBA Compares Federal eMTB Rules

Agencies have put forth different guidance on ebike trail access.

IMBA supports trail access for Class 1 eMTBs as long as it does not affect access for non-electric mountain bikes.Jeff Allen

The US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management collectively manage more than 440 million acres of federal lands with thousands upon thousands of miles of roads and trails. Over the past few years the Forest Service and BLM have undertaken revisions of their policies regarding eMTB access and management of this rapidly growing recreational pursuit.

Both agencies have now completed their updates (in early April we reported briefly on the Forest Service revisions; the BLM finished its review in October 2020). Advocacy group the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) this week released an analysis of the two agencies’ eMTB guidance, highlighting their similarities and differences and looking at how access might change going forward.

Key points in IMBA’s analysis include:

  • It’s important to note that the agencies’ rulings do not automatically open nonmotorized trails to eMTBs, despite public perception to the contrary. In fact, neither decision immediately affects current eMTB access.
  • Both agencies define eMTBs as motorized vehicles in their regulations.
  • The Forest Service and BLM both recognize eMTBs as being separate from traditional bicycles, and that management decisions can be independently applied, even if access is shared.
  • Both agencies require a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assessment with public comments to determine which nonmotorized trails will allow eMTBs before access is granted.
  • The BLM can make conditional exclusions to exempt electric mountain bikes from motorized status, while the Forest Service has not created exclusion criteria. Therefore, eMTB access will require changing any nonmotorized trail to motorized status.
  • Budgetary and staffing shortages among federal agencies mean it could take years to see any official eMTB trail designations made. Strong advocacy and public support will be required to effect change.

For its part, IMBA supports access for Class 1 eMTBs and shared use of trails so long as it does not adversely affect access for traditional (non-electric) mountain bikes. However, IMBA urges that those Class 1 eMTBs be managed independently from traditional bikes.

Click here to read the full policy analysis by IMBA policy manager Aaron Clark.