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Tahoe Rim Trail. photo: Greg Heil.

Earlier this year we reported that the Tahoe National Forest had authorized the use of Class 1 eMTBs on non-motorized trails in certain areas. It wasn’t an official policy change, nor was it a blanket opening.

At the time, when we interviewed a representative from the USFS about the change, he was extremely careful with his word choice around the authorization of eMTBs in the national forest.

“There really was no decision, and I’m saying decision with a capital D,” said Public Affairs Officer Joe Flannery. “We didn’t trigger NEPA and NEPA didn’t need to be triggered.”

NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, mandates that land management agencies conduct environmental impact statements and assessments before implementing a decision to ensure that the surrounding environment won’t be negatively impacted by a new policy.

Flannery also elaborated that after the classification system for eMTBs was more easily understood by the Tahoe National Forest, they could confidently manage class 1 eMTBs on non-motorized trails.

“It’s not really a function of sustainability, it’s in the self-propelled nature. I’m not calling it non-motorized equipment. I’m just saying that with the class 1, pedal-assisted criteria, we can manage it on non-motorized trails.”

As is the case when it comes to any decision about e-bikes, people were mad. In many cases, mountain bikers themselves form the greatest resistance to the eMTB movement, but this time there is a group even more opposed to eMTB access on non-motorized trails: equestrians.

“Backcountry trail and forest groups in California joined together to challenge the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to allow motorized bikes to operate on non-motorized trails in the Tahoe National Forest,” says the Western Environmental Law Center in a statement released last month.

Those trail and forest groups are comprised of three equestrian advocacy groups, the Gold Country Trails Council, the Back Country Horsemen of California, and the Back Country Horsemen of America.

“The Forest Service cannot simply disregard its own rules when it comes to allowing electric bikes on non-motorized trails on the Tahoe National Forest,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “With this lawsuit, we seek to compel the agency to follow those rules.”

The group is taking contention with the Forest Service’s decision on two fronts. First, they argue the agency did not conduct an environmental assessment or follow NEPA procedures when they allowed eMTBs on non-motorized trails. Then, there’s also the whole issue of allowing motors on non-motorized trails.

“Allowing motorized bicycles on non-motorized trails meant for hikers, backpackers, and equestrians poses risks and conflicts for the many visitors who enjoy that type of quiet recreation,” said Helen Harvey, president of the Gold Country Trails Council in Nevada County. 

While some could easily debate with Harvey about the fact that eMTBs are not loud, or are even distinguishable from non-motorized bikes by the majority of trail users, the groups want nothing to do with them. Some are also offended that there wasn’t any public scoping for the decision either.

“We are disappointed that the rules for using trails in this wonderful natural area were changed behind closed doors without public participation,” added Randy Hackbarth. “This is particularly disappointing for our members who are proud of the stewardship and care they bring to the non-motorized trails on public lands.”

This resistance comes at a time when eMTBs have been on a streak of access victories, including the most recent announcement from the Secretary of Interior that the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management need to implement a new plan to allow all classes of eMTBs on any trail that non-motorized bicycles are allowed.

The hope of the plaintiffs is that the court will find that the Forest Service violated their travel management plan by allowing e-bikes on non-motorized trails, and violated NEPA. They also would like e-bikes to be prohibited again from non-motorized trails and remove the e-bike trail recommendations from the Tahoe National Forest website.

As of now, there is no indication that these issues will be settled anytime soon.

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# Comments

  • rajflyboy

    Just people with a lot of money trying to limit access to others while they continue to use the trail systems themselves. I don’t see this case going anywhere.

    Who will represent the mountain bikers in this case?

  • paleh0rse

    Actual “mountain bikers” are likely on the side of the equestrians in this case.

    Are you instead referring to those who ride motorbikes? If so, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of “people with a lot of money” to come to their defense, as well.

  • Ed Hall

    Motorized vehicles should be prohibited but proponents of e-bikes will continue to blur the lines and insist that they are not really motorized vehicles. The industry we so long supported will of course smell a new crop of users and throw money on the side of the not-motorbike motorbikes to the detriment of the trails, safety and trad riders. Trail Harleys next?

  • rmap01

    Regardless of your position of pro/con of eBikes, it’s this quote that concerns me.

    “Allowing motorized bicycles on non-motorized trails meant for hikers, backpackers, and equestrians poses risks and conflicts for the many visitors who enjoy that type of quiet recreation”.

    Note how NON-motorized MTBs are NOT mentioned as one of the groups the trail is “meant for”. As Ed Hall indicates, this speaks to the potential of blurring the lines between MTBs and motorized MTBs and thus the possibility of motorized MTBs to impact regular MTB access.

  • James Rolls

    I think that the damage to trails concern was largely nullified by IMBA’s study. Where I live, almost all damage to my local trail system is done by MB riders, including the creation of “unofficial” trails and even a pump track. There are no equestrians, no motocross bikes, no snow machines, no ATVs. It’s all on the MB riders. It wasn’t like this in the 80s, when every bike was rigid. The modernization of MBs allow riders to go faster (descents) and ride terrain that was once impossible. This is to the detriment of every other trail user, including MB riders who are less aggressive. The eMTB issue is a canard. As riders, we need to police ourselves.

    I do some trail maintenance, and in all fairness, there are other MB riders who pitch in. It doesn’t make sense to tar and feather every rider by assuming that all eMTBs (an their riders) are bad, or that MB riders are all evil. It makes sense to show some responsibility when it comes to riding behavior and trail use, no matter who your are or why you’re there.

  • 2wheelfun

    I am a older rider, lets say maybe old enough to be your grandfather. I ride a class 1 ebike and I love it, it allows me to ride again on single track and ride with other riders much younger then I that also love riding single track. 15 years ago they wanted to replace my knees and I want to stay with the original equipment the good Lord gave me. I have peddled over 100k over my lifetime and continue too with the help a a assist now and then. much of the time I ride with no assist and have ridden metric centuries on a single charge. People that complain about class 1 bikes don’t have the first clue about them. #1 on my bike it is stealth quiet and have put bells on it so it can be heard, #2 I don’t travel any faster then most other riders out there and I use a app on my phone and just looked at my last MTB ride and average speed was 5.52 mph and that is in line with most of my rides for 20 mile rides, #3 I find I leave less of a footprint mark on the trail then most other bikes out there because the assist is computer controlled and just gives just enough assist to my input on the crank. There is no free ride with a class 1 ebike. I actually get a better workout in then most.

  • Dane Clay

    Uh, horse is one horse power! Equestrian do significant damage to trails overall and in my experience have no regard for what they ride over.

  • SKeen

    E-bikes are okay wherever motors are allowed. Since they have motors they don’t belong on non-motorized trails.

  • rajflyboy

    Most e bikes are pedal assist. Not motorized.

    And if you let one group stop e bikes then what is stopping them from going after any bicycle on the trail systems?

  • rajflyboy

    And why do horse people NOT clean up horse poop left on the trail?

  • FrankS29

    The best part of all this, it’s the equestrians throwing this tantrum. You know, the people that ride massive non-native animals into the wilderness. Massive animals that significantly damage trails, drop huge amounts of waste on trail and generally force almost everyone off trail.

    I encourage a genuine study, what does more trail damage, disrupts the environment and introduces more non-native waste to trails, emtb’s or equestrians?

    I say, do they study and kick the loser off the trails. Sound like a good idea equestrian riders?

    I seriously don’t think they realize how hypocritical and idiotic they sound bashing bikes while riding a frigging horse through those same trails!

  • Ted Van Duin

    I have multiple dirt bikes, ride multi use trails in the mountains. I have mountain bikes, i have friends that have horses and I ike to hike. Electic mountain bikes are no different from dirt bikes on a trail. They are silent rockets that allow the user to gain greater speed and are a hazard to others including other mountain bikers. Motorized is motorized, engine, electric or rubber band. Keep them off Non Motorized trails.

  • Bob Carlson

    As an “Actual Mount Biker” who just turned 70 I’ll let you in on a secret. You too will someday be 70 and you will realize that an ebike will extend your riding years. When you outlaw pedal assist you are telling a lot of older riders that they are not wanted on the trails anymore. They just have to stay home.

  • mrfallover

    FrankS29….I like the cut of your jib.

    That would be an interesting study. I have seen a lot of damage done from horses with people on top of them. Well said.

  • deltakilo

    If mt.bikers are on the side of the equestrians lawsuit this will surly bite them in the ass someday. I been riding mt.bikes since 1983, I’ve also have been working construction since then as well. With years of stress on my body my knees are shot, ebikes have opened up the world of mt.biking once again its been the best thing since sliced bread for me. I don’t wish anything bad to these people, but if they get their wish, and close down the trails to ebikes and someday they too have some psychical handicap OH WELL!

  • 2wheelfun

    I had to laugh at the comment calling a class 1 ebike a silent rocket considering that there is no free ride and can only give a assist up to 20 MPH.
    When I MTB I get passed all the time by non ebike riders trying to be Strava Koh record holders on public lands that think they are on a closed course. They are the ones that give mountain bikers a black eye. Yes we have all seen them as we had better get out of there way or get run over.
    Over the weekend I did a 27.5 mile ride on my non assist bike and had a better speed average of almost double of riding my ebike but my knees screamed at me for doing that and had to take pain medication to quiet my knees. I think I will continue going slower on my ebike with happy knees, see you on the single track trail. ENJOY

  • Pisgah

    Talking about hypocrisy, BCHA’s motto is “Keeping Trails Open for Everyone.”

  • Alvin Mullen

    “Allowing motorized bicycles on non-motorized trails meant for hikers, backpackers, and equestrians poses risks and conflicts for the many visitors who enjoy that type of quiet recreation,”

    Like has been said, they do not consider non e-bikes as part of the groups these trails are for. If they get e-bikes banned they will try to ban all bikes.
    And people keep saying e-bikes should not be on non motorized trails, but why are they non-motorized trails. The reason is because the hikers and horse riders tried to ban all mechanized access, but failed to prove that bikes damaged the trails more than the horses. So they agreed with banning motorized vehicles for the time.

    Now that e-bikes, motor assisted vehicles actually do less damage than horses they want to have them banned without any actual studies, and are just yelling about the lack of studies as a deflection. I say lets do the studies, prove that horses do more damage than e-bikes and then if e-bikes must be banned so do horses.

    As far as real mountain bikers being against e-bikes, you need to speak for yourself, and not try to put words in other peoples mouths.
    I am a real mountain biker, I built my first trail bike before the term mountain bike even existed. (I built a Klunker from an old Schwinn back in 1970 before most to the people here were even born. We were hated back then just like e-bikes are hated now, and I stand with the e-bikers even though I still do not ride one.

    I find no justifiable reason to ban class 1 e-bikes from anywhere any other bike is allowed.

  • Downhill Mike

    E bikes dont damage the trails more then regular bikes. Now horses do insane amount of damage. I will take pictures when spring comes. Horse riders go on still soft trails and especially on the climbs horses rip up the trails just as bad as dirt bikes. They also never pick up the poop after their horse. Horses are definitely danger to the trails.

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