Where can you legally ride an e-MTB?

Mtbr interviewed PeopleForBikes to find out

E-bikes can be fun, but should only be ridden in designated areas.

E-bikes can be fun, but should only be ridden on designated trails.

In the United States, the recent explosion of the e-MTB market has raised valid concerns about trail access. The central argument is that cyclists were granted access to trails on the basis that bicycles are non-motorized vehicles. With the advent of capable e-MTBs, many trail advocates are worried that we’re trying to have our cake and eat it too.

Because this issue is so new, many recreational areas have not yet drafted policies regarding e-bikes. To learn more about this legal gray area, Mtbr reached out to PeopleForBikes. This cycling advocacy organization, previously known as Bikes Belong, is a coalition of manufacturers, retailers, and individuals who work to promote cycling programs and legislation at the state and federal level. They also do a lot of charity work. All our questions were answered by Morgan Lommele, the PeopleForBikes E-Bikes Campaigns Manager.

There is no central database to determine what areas are legal, but the maps on PeopleForBikes should give you a rough idea.

There is no central database to determine what areas are legal, but the maps on PeopleForBikes will give you a rough idea.

Mtbr: How do you figure out where you can or cannot ride? Is there a central database or map?
PeopleForBikes: The closest thing we have to central database is this map, although it’s outdated. The map on our website is updated. We also have a document that outlines e-bike policies in different states including how they are classified and whether they can be used on paths. This document was last updated at the end of 2015. Since that time, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and North Carolina have passed new laws regulating e-bikes. E-bikes will generally be regulated like bicycles in these states.

In the United States, e-bikes are still highly contentious. In other parts of the world, they have built dedicated e-ride centers. Learn more here.

In the United States, e-bikes are still highly contentious. In other parts of the world, they have built dedicated e-ride centers. Learn more here.

As far as cities go, several western states have been moving to expand e-bike use in their local communities. Boulder, Colorado, was the first state to really embrace them. They first allowed in e-bikes on a pilot basis, and that program became permanent in 2015. Park City, Utah, also adopted a pilot program last year that authorized their use on local paths. The Park City project also undertook a study of e-bikes. Very recently, Vail, Colorado approved a pilot program that should begin soon.

Durango, Colorado, had initially determined that e-bikes were prohibited from local paths because they were motorized, but is now reconsidering that decision. I am optimistic they will consider allowing them on at least a pilot basis, but we will have to see how it plays out.

Mtbr: If you’re unsure of whether you can ride somewhere, what would the best practice be?
PeopleForBikes: If you’re unsure where you can ride, it’s best to contact your state or local transportation department. Sometimes they do not know, but it’s best to ask first.

eMTBs have been banned on a number of MTB trail networks, but can still be ridden on motorized routes. If you’re worried, just stick to OHV.

E-MTBs have been banned from a number of trail networks, but can still be ridden on motorized routes. If you’re worried, just stick to OHV routes such as this one in Moab, Utah.

Mtbr: What are things e-MTB users could potentially do (and should avoid) that might set back trail access for all mountain bikers?
PeopleForBikes: As for e-MTBs, this document is our etiquette document for e-MTB riders to know before going out for a ride.

When in doubt, follow the golden rule - do unto others as you would have do unto yourself.

When in doubt, follow these rules.

Mtbr: In terms of educating consumers, how are brands helping? What kind of additional education do you think they should provide?
PeopleForBikes: Brands have contributed to the PeopleForBikes/Bicycle Product Suppliers Association’s efforts to streamline e-bike policy on roads and bike paths, and promote education about e-MTBs. Individual brands are designing their own educational resources, and we ask that they use our resources as models.

For more info, visit www.peopleforbikes.org.

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  • That Guy says:

    You fail to mention whether these e-bike regulations allow the bikes on paved paths or on trails, or unpaved paths.

    As a resident of Fort Collins, Colorado, I can tell you that, after talking to local state and county rangers, e-bikes are considered motorized vehicles and are prohibited on all natural surface trails in Colorado state parks as well as all natural surface trails in county parks and city natural areas.

    I would have to assume, by your article, that the e-bike ‘pilot programs’ you mention in cities like Boulder are allowing e-bikes on paved paths for someone like a bicycle commuter, not a mountain biker.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought that good journalism consisted of checking with multiple sources and getting a broader idea of which sources agree and disagree on certain topics, not asking one person and presenting that as fact, even if it is with a disclaimer.

    Although not mentioned in this article, the misleading claim that there are ‘millions of e-bikes worldwide’ this website is constantly referencing really refers to commuter style on-road e-bikes used mainly in Asia and Europe, not mountain bikes.

    While I’m down with commuter e-bikes potentially reducing traffic congestion and reliance on fossil fuels, I’m not down with motorized vehicles on mountain bike trails. I really wish you would stop trying to make this e-mountain bike thing ‘a thing’ because it’s not, nor should it be.

    Do your research and, if necessary, find some different advertising sponsors. Stop trying to make e-mtbs something they’re not.

  • rlee says:

    E-bikes are like mopeds. If you have never ridden a moped then you should try one.

  • Bart says:

    No one has banned ebikes. They were never eligible to be ridden on trails that prohibit motorized vehicles. You can ride them in 99% of other places like streets, OHV trails and forest roads. I love how the E-bike proponents feel so persecuted.

  • TrailMasonCliff says:

    All Kansas City Metro trails on both the Missouri and Kansas side of the line are NO E-BIKE. All trails are NON-motorized ONLY!!!!!. E-Bike has a MOTOR.

    Your map is misleading at best.

  • Durk Manual says:

    E-bikes have motorized assist. That places them only able to ride on motorized trails.What exactly is the question or controversy about this? Are they trying to get on non-motorized trails now?

  • Trailpatrol says:

    Speaking as a retired park ranger, e-bikes are considered “motorized vehicles” under state statute and the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and are therefore illegal to operate on trails, including paved and improved gravel state trails in MN and WI, and on mountain bike trails and in Semi-Primitive Non-Motorized Management Areas (where MTBs are otherwise permitted) in National Forests.

  • Adam Glick says:

    Here’s a guide to where e-bikes are allowed on singletrack in New England: http://nemba.org/news/where-can-electric-mountain-bikes-be-ridden-new-england

    In summary, all the NE state land managers classify e-bikes as motorized vehicles and they are only allowed on trails designated for motorized use. Major private trail systems (like Kingdom Trails in VT) also do not allow e-bikes. Since many of the MTB riding destinations in NE are public trails, this raises the question of the bike industry pushing a product out that they know cannot be legally used on most trails. Further, People for Bikes must know this, too. Bike shops…well they should know by now and they should also be educating prospective buyers of e-MTBs about the legality of their use on most of the singletrack inventory and where they can actually be ridden legally in each state.

  • alias says:

    I appreciate that MTBR has tried to broach this sensitive subject, but a few poorly researched paragraphs are clearly insufficient for such a hot topic. May I respectfully suggest that you either invest the time to put out a thouroughly researched article , or if this is too dificult, please stay with inconsequential reviews.


  • Riley says:

    I tried one of these bikes in the bike shop parking lot and it was a hoot. But, we recently had an incident where e-biker was riding wrong way uphill the downhill flow line crashed into someone coming down sending the non-e-biker to the hospital. The e-bike’s uphill speed and missing the oneway signage due inexperience(e-bikes seem to appeal to this crowd), cluelessness (hmm…never had the fitness to be here before) or speed of travel( poor guy never saw it coming) are particularly problematic. I suspect that the e-biker may not of even known that they were not allowed in this area

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