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e-Bike Legality

The year 2020 was a turning point for the regulation of e-bikes and in particular how they are classified and where they are allowed to be used. The purpose of this directive is to expand the recreational opportunities and amend current regulations of the e-bike because of its growing popularity. Of course the big debacle is if e-bikes should be permitted on roads and trails where only non-motorized use is allowed. The purpose of this is to alleviate the confusion and inconsistencies with the current situation that each state has for its public lands.

The BLM opened a 60 day comment period in which it received 24,000 public comments in late 2020 which helped steer the direction of this new order. The BLM reported that many comments were supportive of the proposed rule, with some expressing support for increased opportunities for people to ride e-bikes on public lands and for e-bikes to be treated similarly to traditional, non-motorized bikes by land managers. Under existing regulations, e-bikes are managed as ORVs and can be allowed, based on site-specific considerations, on roads and trails that are located in areas designated as “Open” or “Limited” to ORV use in applicable land use plans. E-bikes are not currently allowed in areas that land use plans have closed to ORV use, some of which contain roads and trails available to traditional, non-motorized bicycles. Because this rule provides authorized officers with discretion to issue a decision that excludes Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes from the definition of ORVs, the final rule could facilitate e-bike use on roads and trails in areas that are closed to ORV use and help the BLM achieve its goal of providing greater access to public lands, particularly to people with limitations. This new ruling will provide authorized officers with greater flexibility to manage e-bikes in the future and an additional way to achieve greater consistency with adjacent land managers and other State and Federal agencies.

What is considered an e-bike? The BLM final rule states that an e-bike is a bicycle with a small electric motor of not more than 750 watts (one horsepower) which assists in the operation of the bicycle and reduces the physical exertion demands on the rider. E-bikes may have two or three wheels and must have fully operable pedals. Some e-bikes only provide motorized assistance when the rider is pedaling; others can operate without pedaling. Some e-bikes cease to provide motorized assistance to the rider when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour (mph). Others cease to provide motorized assistance when the bicycle reaches 28 mph E-bikes may appear virtually indistinguishable from traditional bicycles.
A Class 1 e-bike is a bike equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph. A Class 2 e-bike is equipped with a throttle-actuator motor that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph. A class 3 e-bike is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph. You will be seeing all federal and state agencies adopting this classification for e-bike usage from here on out. These rules will exclude e-bikes that provide assisted speeds greater than 28 mph or have a wattage greater than 750.


 Currently the use of e-bikes is allowed in the urban setting and they are classified the same as a traditional bike. No license is required. E-bikes are allowed on just about any motorized or ORV trail across the West and not allowed in areas that are closed for motorized use on federal land. However, as stated above, each district in each state can make amendments to this rule if authorized officers choose to do so. Perhaps if a group of folks petition to get a certain non motorized trail open for e-bikes, they will have to go through the office at the local level to get the exception made. It’s not easy as there is a process of paperwork and “studies” including going through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in which they will do an environmental impact assessment and other analysis before the route is opened.

Another common question is “are e-bikes allowed to be used for cross country travel on BLM lands? The answer is “yes” unless otherwise stated specifically by the managing officer, but only in areas open to motorized use in the first place.

This type of management will be coordinated across all agencies including Tribal, Federal, State, County and local governments to provide continuity in this type of recreation law.

The largest takeaway from this is there is no hard and fast rule on closing areas to e-bikes. With enough public support any trail that is allowed for normal mountain bikes could be opened up for e-bike use. With that being said, no matter what state you travel to with plans on using an e-bike, it is advised that you contact the managing office of the land or forest you plan to recreate on.


MONTANA

Montana classifies an e-bike as an electrically assisted bicycle, so long as the bike has a maximum speed of 20 mph. The same rules apply to these bikes as human-powered bikes. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks currently doesn’t have a policy. Contact the department for use on State lands in your area.


IDAHO
Idaho classifies e-bikes as “electric bicycles” and have the same rules of the road as human-powered bicycles. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. E-bikes are allowed on bike paths unless otherwise stated by local governments. Check with local land managers for rules on singletrack mountain bike trails. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. The Idaho Department of Parks and Rec allows Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on State Park trails, the Ashton-Tetonia multi-use trail, and the Coeur d’Alene Parkway. Class 3 e-bikes are prohibited for use on these two trails. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


WYOMING
Wyoming classifies e-bikes as “electric bicycles” and have the same rules of the road as human-powered bicycles. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Wyoming State Parks allows Class 1 e-bikes on non motorized trails that allow bicycles. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


COLORADO
Colorado classifies e-bikes as “electric bicycles” and have the same rules of the road as human-powered bicycles. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Helmets are required for riders of Class 3 e-bikes under the age of 21. Kids under the age of 16 may not ride a class 3 e-bike. E-bikes are allowed in all 42 Colorado State Parks where bicycles are permitted. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


ARIZONA
E-bikes in Arizona are regulated like bicycles and have the same rules of the road as human-powered bikes. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Helmets are not required and there is no minimum age for e-bike use. E-bikes are allowed on sidewalks and bike paths. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Arizona State Parks only allows e-bikes on state park roadways and designated motorized trails. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


NEW MEXICO
E-bikes are defined as “mopeds”. As mopeds, e-bikes are not subject to all the same rules of the road as bicycles. As mopeds, they are also subject to licensing and insurance requirements that apply to motor vehicles. The minimum user age is 15. E-bikes are not allowed on sidewalks. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. New Mexico State Parks considers e-bikes motorized vehicles and doesn’t not allow their use on non-motorized trails.


NEVADA
Nevada regulates e-bikes like bicycles and have the same rules of the road as human-powered bikes. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Helmets are not required and there is no minimum age for e-bike use. E-bikes are allowed in all areas that normal bicycles are. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Nevada State Parks does not currently have an e-bike policy. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


UTAH
E-bikes are regulated like bicycles. The same rules of the road apply for both e-bikes and bicycles. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Utah currently designated three classes of e-bikes and distinguishes lower speed electric bicycles that reach motor speeds of up to 20 mph from higher “speed pedelecs” which have motors that provide assistance up to 28 miles per hour. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Utah State Parks allows electric bikes on non-motorized trails open for bikes. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


OREGON
E-bikes are classified as “electric assisted bicycles” and are regulated like bicycles as long as the motor has a maximum power output of 1000w, has pedals that propel the bike with human power and doesn’t exceed 20mph. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. E-bikes are allowed on bike paths but not on sidewalks. The minimum age to ride an e-bike is 16 years. There is no helmet requirement. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. Oregon Parks and Rec does not allow e-bikes on mountain bike trails. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on trails that are eight feet or wider, including natural surface trails. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


WASHINGTON
Washington regulates e-bikes like bicycles. The same rules of the road apply to both e-bikes and regular bikes. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed on bike paths and improved trails while class 3 e-bikes are not. Kids under 16 years of age may not ride a class 3 e-bike unless they are riding as a passenger. The use of e-bikes on singletrack mountain bike trails is determined by the local agency. Check with them before you ride. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. The Washington Rec office does not have a current e-bike plan but it is expected that they will be regulated like a motorized vehicle. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.


CALIFORNIA
E-bikes are regulated like bicycles in the state of Chaos. I mean California. The same rules of the road apply to e-bikes as they do to bicycles. E-bikes are not subject to any licensing or registration. Helmets are required for class 3 e-bike riders. Helmets are required for kids 17 and under for class 1 and 2 e-bikes. Kids under the age of 16 may not ride a class 3 e-bike. There are access restrictions for Class 3 e-bike riders. Generally, any natural surface trail that is open to motorized vehicles is also open to e-bikes. California State Parks is currently developing a e-bike policy on a park by park basis. E-bikes are considered motorized vehicles on federal land.

About Dan Pickar

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7 comments

  1. I use an e-bike on roads that are gated to be able to get to my hunting area before sunrise. I know that I am violating the law here in Oregon, but because of my age it would other wise be very difficult. I am not looking for a crutch, but would it be ok for anyone 80 and above be allowed to use such a life saver?

    • I’m with you on that Art. Through this new legislation you can get the rules changed. Petition the department that anyone who is 80 and above or handicapped to be able to ride behind gates. I think its a great idea!

  2. Man, this did not clear the confusion up one bit as far as I am concerned. BLM was allowing on all roads and trails open to regular bikes. Now it is or isn’t? It can vary by State or BLM Office?

    Way to go Fed. “I’m from the Government, and I am her to help.”

    • Yeah this is the new federal standard, but each district can make their own rules regarding e-bike travel behind locked gates. Some of the high profile BLM areas (for shed hunting) here in Wyoming are patrolled pretty hard for e-bikes being used behind locked gates.

  3. Dan, will this new federal standard also be applied to USFS managed lands? Or is USFS looking at their own management criteria? Most the ORV trails here in western Wyoming are
    on USFS lands.

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