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Photo: Pixabay.com

E-bikes have been banned by default from natural-surface, singletrack mountain bike trails in Washington State by a new bill that just passed the state legislature. The bill grants e-bike access to paved bike paths and lanes, and depending on the class, sidewalks.

Like most of the recent e-bike bills that have been passed at the state level, including the recent bill in Colorado, the Washington State bill breaks e-bikes into three classes based on the speeds they can achieve and whether or not they have a throttle. Regardless of the class of e-bike, “generally, a person may not operate an electric-assisted bicycle on a trail that is designated as non-motorized and that has a natural surface, unless otherwise authorized by the state agency or local authority having jurisdiction over the trail,” according to bill SB 6434.

The Washington State bill differs dramatically in this respect from the Colorado bill, which allows e-bikes to travel on mountain bike trails by default. The Washington State bill bans e-bikes by default. However, in both instances, the local land management agency still has the right to either ban or allow e-bikes on a case-by-case basis.

Photo courtesy Bosch

The exact language in the bill is a result of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (EMBA) working closely with “non-motorized recreation groups to assist the Legislature in refining the bill’s language,” according to a press release on the EMBA website. “Evergreen collaborated with other outdoor recreation groups to include language defining natural surface trails, and treating them differently than paved bike paths. The end result is that e-bikes are not allowed on natural surface trails, unless signed or stated open by the managing jurisdiction.

“We are satisfied with the outcome of this initial legislation, as it addresses a critical need for urban bike commuters, and gives land managers specific authority to implement e-bike policies,” the release continues. “It also recognizes that there is a crucial difference between road and trail use and it enables Evergreen to work on future legislation specific to trails, if deemed necessary.”

Why the effort on EMBA’s part? In addition to citing e-bike concerns posed by some of EMBA’s partners and possible funding issues, EMBA fears the “potential loss of trail access if land managers choose to close trails to all ‘bikes’ because e-bikes are now defined as bicycles.”

E-bikes are currently managed as motorized vehicles by the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service federal land management agencies, which in places like Colorado precludes the vast majority of nonmotorized trails from being used by e-bikes. While many trails in Washington are located on land managed by these agencies, it’s notable that none of the three highest-rated mountain bike trails in Washington according to Singletracks members–Galbraith Mountain, Tiger Mountain, and Duthie Hill–are located on federal land.

Consequently, this ruling by the state legislature could be poised to severely limit electric mountain bike adoption and usage in the state.

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# Comments

    • Steve D

      I missed the mention of e-bikes in the Bill of Rights, but your comment was an incredible contribution to the scope of the article.

  • jbcktm

    e-bikes are motorcycles – period! I have traveled many stretches of trail used by off road motorcycles that also don’t show any significant wear – so this isn’t much of a gauge. All it takes is increased use, some bad weather, etc. and then the powers to be will start closing down the trails for everyone.

    Any type of power delivery (electric or gasoline) that exceeds a human (~1/4HP sustained) is going to accelerate trail wear. You either only allow human powered vehicles or you don’t – that’s how trails should be defined in my humble opinion.

    • Sea Loam

      Every state should follow example. This E- motorbike “sport” is disgraceful. When you can climb a very steep grade at higher than humanly possible speed, its going to be a disaster for any descending rider. But , unless we stop buying from the companies producing these E-Motor MTN Bikes then we help promote.

  • Bill Pitts

    This is discrimination based solely on age and/or on physical ability. Jack Slade, although opposed to e-bikes on single track, cites two valid reasons FOR allowing e-bikes.

    Greg, I have a question for your readers. When you reach that point in your life, either through age or through any physical/medical limitations, where you aren’t able to spin the pedals unassisted, will you deny yourself the joys of riding your favorite trails if it means using an e-bike?

    • rmap01

      Bill Pitts: This topic has been hotly debated on other threads. But since you asked for opinions I’ll provide my 2¢ as previously posted. In short, I am generally in agreement with Jack Slade. With that said, I believe what makes MTB such a great sport is the challenge. It requires a level of skill and fitness that’s dependent on the level of difficulty of the trails you ride. I started MTB’ing 5 years ago. Although I was in excellent “running” shape at the time the sport kicked my a$$. In the early days i was forced to walk steep semi-tech climbs, ate quite a bit of dirt and broke a few bones along the way. But that only made me more determined to improve my skills and overall fitness. My riding has grown by leaps and bounds but only because I had to – and continue to – put the effort in. To me, the way eMTB is being marketed to the masses is an affront to the sport. I’m over 50 and I realize at some point in the future my strength and skills will decline preventing me from riding certain trails that challenge me now. But doesn’t that really apply to most things in life? But that’s my motivation to keep pushing myself physically and mentally and I’m concerned that American culture is ever gravitating to taking the easy out. While I personally have no issue for those with heart issues that truly need the extra “assist” I can’t help but be concerned that its use will broaden far beyond those in need and has the “potential”, if abused, to jeopardize access to all MTB’ers. Maybe if I were diagnosed with a similar condition I have a different opinion… but I don’t think I would.

    • John Fisch

      In a word, yes.

      As it is, I have reached a point where I can’t ride trails I used to, or at least don’t because it’s too darn difficult.

      I have never even considered getting an e-bike to help me up those 3,000 vertical ft climbs I used to do with ease, but can no longer do.

      Either I find a way to overcome my recently imposed limitations, or I don’t do it at all. It’s that simple. If the bike does all or even some of the work getting me to the top, it’s not the same. If I have to cheat to win, I just won’t play in the first place.

  • kenjamin

    I don’t understand the eMTB hatred. Every time I see one pass me on the trail during a grueling climb, I think “That looks like way more fun than what I’m doing”. I don’t see them riding any more uncontrolled or disturbing the trail surface more than a regular bike. They’re just having fun in both directions. Sounds great to me. The only reason I don’t have one is that I’m too scared I won’t want to ride my regular bike anymore. Plus, I think I could get the same workout going twice as far and seeing more of the mountains. Now, if you want to talk about banning horses on bike trails … let’s talk! (Not really, I believe in freedom.)

  • Steve D

    As it is with many things in life, it’s not what it is but what it may (will) become. I’m 63 and as sympathetic as anyone about the desires of those whose age or infirmities might prohibit them from enjoying riding trails. However, I suspect that number of people in that demographic will quickly be overwhelmed by the likes of the Bosch rider in the picture that accompanies the article in every way (young, balls to the walls) except really being serious about mountain biking. I can only imagine the whooping it up I could have done when I was 14 years old on a motorized bike with half a dozen pals on the type of trail systems there are today. I started riding and racing mountain bikes when I was 55 and can ‘ditto’ the experiences and remarks of rmap01. It’s not apparent to me that mopeds ever really caught on but I can see where motorized trail riding and racing would easily become a great attraction to teens and young adults who are otherwise entirely capable of riding a real mountain bike. Apparently Bosch is already sponsoring riders (see jersey and photo credit). Where will the motorized racers practice (at full tilt)? At that point I suspect that a whole bunch of people (including the aged, infirm, and people who have to pedal) will just give up after being buzzed a couple of times by the no-effort, full-speed ahead gangs.

    • Throb

      My preference would be to treat E-bikes on trails like disabled parking. If you can qualify for the tag (age, injury, medical condition, etc), you can ride a class 1 anywhere. If not, your limited to motorized trails and private land. The problem is that there is not enough market in riders who really need assist. If we have full access, we will end up like Europe where 30% of mtb sales are e-bikes. That’s a 43% jump in users (and sales for the companies). I worry about that impact and about what kinds of trails those new users will demand to be created.

  • Moto Seb

    E-bikes have by definition a motor. I think they are a fantastic solution for human transportation, and have the potential to have a great impact in congested urban centers.

    My worries apply to both natural and paved surfaces:
    1) What is the guarantee to limit total output to human levels? None. Look at all power sports, and increases in power have been the norm over decades of development. Horsepower sells.
    2) When mixing powered motorized vehicles, with non motorized trail/bike path users, it boils down to speed differentials. The speed differential is why bicycles/farm equipment/pedestrians are not allowed on highways. It gets dangerous to have slow vehicles in a realm of fast ones, and vice versa.

    So my position, is to not allow powered bicycles on trails or bike paths designed for pedestrian/bicycle use, simply due to the increase potential in more users having the ability to go much faster/easier than before, creating large speed differentials. If there were guarantees that the power outputs would never exceed average human output, than I would be open to the conversation of pedal assist bicycles used along side normal bicycles, but history of business models and product development show this would not work.

    Now if e-bikes are to be used on shared roads with cars, or off road on dirt bike trails, then perfect, add the needed power and range, to decrease the speed differential.

  • Steve D

    Throb – I agree with your comments. E-bikers surely need trails built to suit faster, motorized traffic. The disabled parking analogy is a good one.

  • 2wheelfun

    As all of you young peddling purest pass me on the trail I will also be peddling on my class-1 assist bike. Lets just give each other a thumbs up as you pass and know there is hope for you also when the time comes that you will no longer be able to peddle as you once were able too and there is hope to continue doing what you love on a assist bike. It dose bother me that I also see young healthy people riding e-bikes and they are usually the ones getting the exposure as in the headline picture of this article and raising questions “WHY ARE YOU YOUNG HEALTHY RIDING A E-BIKE”? How about some older or disabled pictures linking this article the way it should be. Lets show some love.

  • rik99

    1. The Washington State ban on e-bikes is most likely a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if it does not allow exceptions to those who could not access the trails without the assistance that an e-bike provides.
    2. Assistance on e-bikes is limited to 20 mph for class 1 e-bikes, a speed routinely exceeded by unassisted bikes with in shape riders.
    3. I’ve test ridden e-bikes (Haibike and Bulls) on trails. Climbs are still hard, speed on level and downhill are still limited by prudence (crashing still hurts!).

  • TeamBiker

    Shame, shame, shame to Mike Alston (bill sponsor) and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. How could you approve of this legislation?? The legislation would have been great, excluding one part…
    “Generally, a person may not operate an electric-assisted bicycle on a trail that is designated as
    nonmotorized and that has a natural surface, unless otherwise authorized by the state agency
    or local authority having jurisdiction over the trail.”
    As I understand it… and PLEASE correct me if i’m wrong, but this basically translates into… no ebikes on unpaved, non-motorized trails.
    Us bikers are supposed be united… an “alliance”, if you will. Legislation with a clause of this nature is divisive and harmful to the mtb community as a whole.
    Ebikers aren’t some crazy new breed of rider that we should fear. They are the same as us… they ARE us. Many of us own several bikes of different utility and use them accordingly. We have just embraced technology as it happened on us. Just like the microwave or the e-book, some cooks and readers of books were proudly slow to accept and adopt, while others saw immediate utility. Like so many others, I don’t suddenly become irresponsible when i ride an ebike, or somehow gain responsibility when i solely ride under my own power.
    Non-motorized trails in the in the back country were conceived for conservation, namely pollution or risk of fire -not for etching out an exclusion for battery assisted bicycles.
    If it is about speed, post an overall speed limit… or different speeds at different times.. That’s how a shared public road works… doesn’t matter if you’re driving a bike, e-bike, scooter, Prius, Tesla, or Mack truck – you have to obey the speed limit. The roads are for the young & healthy, our elder population, and our disabled. I’m sorry, but there are some jerks out there on the trails that are unsafe and selfish… they can be way too fast, tailgate, pass too close, etc. They may be behaving in such a way on a bike with 5″ wide tires with huge nobbies that shred the trails. Though now, we’ll have a smaller force and smaller voice to admonish the real troublemakers out there on the trails.
    Wow. To put so much time and effort into this legislation… it got us all excited, and hopeful and then this?? Selfish. Shameful. Divisive. C’mon, where’s the unifying love, mountain bikers? Or, are motor-less riders somehow more ethical or “pure”?? It is important to realize… sharing the trails with E-bikers would not have taken away that [baseless imo] belief.

  • wbike54az

    I wonder how many of the e-bike haters have even ridden one? Not sure where all the hate comes from online because I have never had anyone say anything negative about the bike in person(except my wife who calls it my cheater bike). Everyone who has seen it and ridden it has always had a smile on their face. I am 63 and have a Specialized Camber 29 which is my go to bike for me and I also have a Specialized Levo. For those who haven’t ridden an ebike they are limited to going 20 miles per hour. I too am concerned about access for all bikers but I think access should be determined at the local level. By the way they are not going to take the mountain biking sport by storm because they are fairly expensive, weigh over 50 lbs and their target market is for those who are over 50.

  • harryman

    The recent legislation in Colorado, also does not allow emtbs on non motorized singeltrack by default. Every piece of legislation written by People for Bikes, after the initial one in CA, including Washington States does. It allows land managers to opt in, but not have to opt out. Each piece of legislation makes it more clear than the previous, but they all only allow access on bike lanes and bike paths.

    “NOTE FOR ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDERS: This map represents how e-bikes are interpreted in each state’s vehicle code, and where e-bikes are allowed to go on the road, bike lanes, bike paths, or other paved or hard-surface bicycle infrastructure. The vehicle code does not apply to electric mountain bike access on motorized and non-motorized trails typically used for hiking, biking, and other singletrack or doubletrack trail experiences. eMTB access on singletrack is different than access to paved and soft surface bike lanes and bike paths; eMTBs are not allowed everywhere traditional mountain bikes are; and on federal, state, county and local trails, eMTB access varies significantly. Always consult with your local land manager for access questions.”

    https://peopleforbikes.org/our-work/e-bikes/

    Here’s Colorado’s: http://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2017A/bills/2017a_1151_signed.pdf

  • harryman

    The two places where they are allowed at the moment are places where the land managers actively decided to allow them, State parks last fall and Jeffco just recently. The default is still not allowed unless specifically allowed. Just like Washington and the other states.

  • Sea Loam

    Its not that I hate E- Motorized bikes , its that I love real mountain biking. I promise once you E-bikers take over the trails and you will , its inevitable. The dangers you present will shut down the trails to everyone except hikers. I talked to some local legislators and that is the only option they have because once E-bikes are allowed the flood gates are opened on what constitutes a “Motor Bike”. So iam not saying this Battery Biking isn’t fun. Probably is a blast to not have to peddle up hill. However, I feel that disabled people should be the only ones to lawfully be able to ride them on mtb trails.

  • Fastdon

    E-bikes
    Kinda makes me think its a welfare tool for under achievers that want to say that they MTB.

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