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IMBA Updates e-MTB Position

Should Class 1 e-MTBs be allowed on singletrack?

The topic of electric mountain bike (e-MTB) access to non-motorized trails is increasingly dominating the conversations of mountain bikers, land managers, trail users, the bicycle industry and others. IMBA recognizes this as a complex issue encompassing mountain biking culture, the access landscape and the passions and experiences of different trail users. All sides have valid, logical and emotional arguments to make, and IMBA is listening. IMBA has wrestled with the e-MTB issue at considerable length and will continue to do so as the landscape evolves. For the past three decades, IMBA has worked tirelessly for mountain biking and access to trails and this has not changed.

IMBA’s Board of Directors updated its 2015 position on e-MTBs to now read:

IMBA is supportive of Class 1 e-MTB access to non-motorized trails when the responsible land management agency, in consultation with local mountain bikers, deem such e-MTB access is appropriate and will not cause any loss of access to non-motorized bikes. IMBA recognizes that changes in design, technology and the numbers of e-MTB users is evolving, and believes these bikes can be managed in a sustainable way for both the environment and other trail users.

"First and foremost, we advocate for access for traditional, non-motorized mountain bikes. IMBA does not advocate for access for e-MTBs. But, IMBA and mountain bikers need to be at the table for all conversations that discuss access for e-MTBs to non-motorized trails that are open to bikes," said Dave Wiens, IMBA Executive Director.

"Currently, the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are clear that they are managing all e-MTBs as motor vehicles. But for countless state, county, municipal and other parks and open space trails, there is much uncertainty and confusion. Our position reflects the importance of having local land managers and local mountain bikers involved in decisions to allow e-MTB access to non-motorized trails and underscores the importance of maintaining access for traditional, non-motorized bicycles. This topic is being driven by rapidly evolving technology and we recognize that everyone involved needs to be engaged, prepared for challenges and solution-oriented."

IMBA believes that e-MTB access to non-motorized trails that are open to bikes present both opportunity and challenge. If managed effectively, e-MTBs may increase ridership and stewardship of trails, along with other benefits. No management, poor management and/or misinformation, however, have the potential to jeopardize current and future access to trails that mountain bikers, local organizations and IMBA have pursued for the past 30 years.

As the recognized, national leader in trail access and sustainable trail design, IMBA is regularly asked for guidance on how best to manage the emergence of e-MTBs on local, state and federal lands by mountain bikers, local mountain biking organizations, land managers and the bicycle industry. IMBA occupies a unique position in this discussion, due to the trust it has established with these various stakeholders over the previous three decades, and recognizes there is significant work to be done in this space.

IMBA also believes that local access decisions (at the state, county and municipal level) are best made locally and is working with local mountain bike groups and land management agencies across the country to provide resources and guidance, as it has done for three decades. IMBA has also met with the leaders of federal land management agencies, most of which only allow e-MTBs on motorized trails, and is keeping them apprised of and educated on this issue.

IMBA will work to provide information and best-practice resources on this topic from its position as an organization that advocates for traditional, non-motorized mountain biking. IMBA currently offers resources for land managers, including recommendations on what should be considered before access decisions are made, and will continue conversations with all parties to protect the access the mountain biking community has worked hard to gain and keep.

We appreciate your continued support of IMBA’s mission to create, enhance and protect great places to ride mountain bikes.

IMBA's current research and documentation can be found here.

What is a Class 1 e-MTB?

There are three classes of electric bicycle and those in Class 1 are the lowest-powered. A Class 1 electric bicycle, or "low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle," is defined as a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

Motorized vs. non-motorized

E-MTBs represent an emerging technology and are neither classified as a mountain bike nor a motorcycle. As a result, e-MTBs confuse long-standing regulatory structures for trail management, which have frequently divided trails as either "motorized" or "non-motorized" regarding who/what can use them.

IMBA recognizes e-MTBs as motorized. Defining e-MTBs as a new and distinct category of recreation will minimize impacts on access for mountain bikes and protect against an increase of motorized use on non-motorized trails.

How should a land management agency make a decision and manage this new user group?

Enforcement of trail users on public lands is largely a local control issue and IMBA respects the rights and abilities of these land agencies to make appropriate decisions with appropriate tools. IMBA recommends that land managers consider their enforcement and education/outreach abilities prior to allowing Class 1 e-MTB access to trails. The decision to allow Class 1 e-MTBs on natural surface trails open to mountain biking and designated for non-motorized use should be determined on a trail-by-trail basis by local, state and federal land management agencies. The decision should also be made in collaboration and partnership with local mountain bikers, trail stewards, stakeholders, advocates and other interested users.

Where can I ride an e-MTB?

It is imperative that e-MTBs are only ridden where permitted. Currently, e-MTBs are not defined or dealt with consistently across land management agencies and their access to trails and infrastructure depends on the authority with jurisdiction over the land. The federal land management agencies allow e-MTBs on motorized trails and dirt roads only, (and not on non-motorized trails). For more information on e-MTB regulations, visit this page.

How influential is the e-MTB industry in directing IMBA's work on the e-MTB issue?

Thankfully, IMBA has partners and supporters both inside and outside of the bicycle industry that understand and support our mission and want to ensure a positive and prosperous future, one in which we mountain bikers don't lose an inch of trail unnecessarily. Regardless of the source of support for our efforts surrounding e-MTB access to trails, traditional non-motorized mountain bike access is IMBA's priority.