72-mile Tahoe National Forest Pines to Mines Trail Will be Open to e-Bikes

A new trail segment will link the towns of Truckee and Nevada City and is set to allow e-bike access along the entire route.
Mountain bikers traversing a singletrack trail in Tahoe National Forest
Photo: Jeff Barker.

The relationship between e-bikes and the Tahoe National Forest (TNF) can best be described as “on again, off again.” Singletracks first reported on the allowance of eMTBs on non-motorized TNF trails in the summer of 2019. E-bike access was granted on 32 trails in five different trail networks.

While the TNF officially gave the “okay” for this new group of trail users to access trails, they made it very clear that they were not changing any policies. 

However, this allowance was short-lived. Only a few months later, several equestrian groups filed lawsuits against the TNF, claiming allowing e-bikes disregarded the agency’s own policies. 

By April 2020, the pressure from these equestrian groups was likely successful, and e-bikes were again banned from non-motorized trails. One year later, the TNF announced that 35 miles of existing non-motorized trails had been opened for e-bike use. This time, they checked all the appropriate boxes.

In a 2021 email, Truckee District Ranger Jonathan Cook-Fisher told Singletracks, “The two objections we received were withdrawn and this decision went through the formal environmental analysis process and is considered final.”

As we watched the eMTB drama unfold in the TNF, we’ve also seen an uptick in the acceptance of e-bike usage. More stories continue to come out about places like Jackson, Wyoming, that are opening access to class-1 eMTBs on certain trails. 

You can add the TNF, once again, to the list of USFS districts that are opening access to e-bikes. The new Pines to Mines trail, which has been proposed and approved, will allow class-1 eMTBs on the non-motorized, multi-use trails.

Pines to Mines trail map, Tahoe National Forest

Pines to Mines

Pines to Mines will stretch 72 miles east to west in California, from Nevada City to Truckee. The plan is to incorporate around 50 miles of current trail and build around 22 miles to connect the Pioneer Trail in the west to the Donner Lake Rim Trail in the east. 

And all 72 miles will be class-1 e-bike friendly.

“[About ten years ago], a former Nevada County supervisor named Richard Anderson convened trail groups on both sides of Nevada County,” Allison Pedley, the Executive Director of the Truckee Trails Foundation, told us. Pedley has been with the organization for 11 of its 21 years.

Pedley explained that Anderson hoped to see a greater connection between Truckee and Nevada City communities. “Even though we’re in the same county and very similar—small towns, recreation focus—we just aren’t connected in any sort of way,” Pedley said. “So [Anderson] wondered what it would take to get this long-distance trail that connects us in our enjoyment of outdoor recreation.”

The idea of a long-distance trail appealed to Pedley on both a personal and professional level. As a mountain biker, she enjoys longer rides. From a Truckee Trails Foundation standpoint, the longest trail they’d built was only seven miles long. Partnering with other organizations to connect these two outdoor communities through a long-distance mountain biking trail seemed like an exciting challenge.

As Pedley explained, it was challenging, especially in the planning phase. First, there was the reality of connecting existing trails—seven in total, three on the Truckee side and four coming from Nevada City. Then, there was the struggle of staying on USFS land.

“We have the checkerboard [land] where the Forest Service has every other parcel,” Pedley explained. “So we had to weave through and stay on Forest Service land.” 

Truckee Trails Foundation and the other trail advocacy groups also dealt with the struggles of the standard environmental assessments and the area’s remoteness. As they jumped through these hoops and began to lay the foundation for the Pines to Mines trails, the initial proposal did not include e-bikes.

“When we initially started this process, we did not include e-bikes only because the trails on both ends didn’t allow e-bikes,” Pedley said. The concern was that the USFS would not allow them, and obviously, there had been previous tension around eMTB usage in the Tahoe area. Plus, as Pedley explained, adding e-bikes to the proposal meant a higher level of analysis. 

However, as they continued to move forward with the Pines to Mines planning, Forest Supervisor Eli Ilano asked them why they didn’t include the option of e-bikes in the proposal. According to Pedley, Ilano felt that e-bikes were already an existing user group on the trails and should officially be included in the proposal. 

After everything was said and done, the proposal entered the public commenting period with three options. Option one was for no change. The trail designation wouldn’t change, and no new trails would be built. Option two was to build the Pines to Mines trail, and for all 72 miles, both existing and new trails, to be redesignated as allowing “wheeled motorized vehicle use,” but identify the specific trails as “Trails Open to Class-1 E-Bikes Only.” The third option was to build the Pines to Mines trail but leave it designated as non-motorized.

Ultimately, the USFS found building the Pines to Mines trail and allowing class-1 eMTBs access posed no significant land impact. Work can begin on the project, and existing trails have been redesignated to allow class-1 e-bikes. And Pedley explained that this isn’t a “trial period.”

“They have the green light, but if you look at the decision, it talks about monitoring and enforcement, and if they get a significant amount of conflict, they will probably consider switching it,” Pedley said. “But I don’t anticipate that.”

Tahoe National Forest

Sophia Hamann, TNF’s Deputy Public Affairs Officer, confirmed that class-1 eMTBs will be allowed on the Pines to Mines trails. It isn’t a test or analysis period but a redesignation of the trail access. 

With a history of e-bike access on trails in the Tahoe area, we wondered if this newest user group addition concerns the public. 

“With any multiple-use trail, there is going to be a concern for conflict,” Hamann told us. “[Some things] we can do to mitigate that is to straighten out the trail to provide for better line of sight, and adhere to width and height standards for multiple uses like equestrian and mountain bikes.” Along with building and maintaining trails in such a way that it accommodates many user groups, Hamann also emphasized etiquette education through signage.

Many public comments addressed trail conflicts and were concerned that more would arise with the addition of e-bikes. Speed continues to be a significant concern, not only in terms of safety but also how e-bikes will affect the land and vegetation. We asked how these major concerns are addressed in the analysis done in the Pines to Mines proposal and how that analysis differs because it includes e-bikes.

“Mountain bikes and pedestrians were all previously allowed on the trails,” Hamann said. “With e-bikes being classified as an additional use, we did have to analyze the effects that e-bikes would have on multiple-use trails and how they would affect other users.”

Hamann then directed us to the e-bike analysis in the public documents. The e-bike findings were interesting, with some common themes popping up more and more. First was the perception of speed, and the analysis mentions the similarities between regular mountain bikes and e-bikes regarding speed. 

The analysis also pointed out that much of the conflict around speed and safety has more to do with a lack of knowledge of eMTBs than actual conflict. In some instances, other trail users were sharing the trail with eMTBs without knowing it.

Soil and vegetation damage from e-bikes also seem to be fairly nominal and in no way drastically greater than that from a regular mountain bike. The ability to go off-trail is a noted concern; however, the analysis mentions that many e-bike users tend to be older, less experienced riders who are less likely to go off-trail.

The e-bike analysis also acknowledges that these studies are relatively new. While they try to rely on data and experiences from previous analyses, the data can be few and far between, especially when it comes to how eMTBs will specifically affect Tahoe trails.

As e-bikes become more popular, more are being ridden on non-motorized trails. Some have expressed that the USFS should enforce e-bike laws by ticketing individuals rather than trying to accommodate this user group. While Hamann assured us that they do have officers on the trails enforcing regulations, the USFS also has to balance that with its mission.

“Our National Forest plan is to consider emerging technologies and the changing ways that people recreate on Forest Service lands,” Hamann explained. “We want to provide more recreation opportunities, allowing users who may not be able to ride traditional mountain bikes. It has the potential to include all ages and will attract more diverse users to public land in a way that is both ecologically and socially responsible.”

Hamann and Pedley confirmed that funds will be needed to complete the Pines to Mines trail. Trail work and preparation will start this summer once the area is out from under several feet of snow. 
Stay current and consider helping with the Pines to Mines project here.