E-bikes may help you pedal a trail into a beautiful future

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They’re getting more and more popular with the public. And yes, e-bikes may open up more bicycling opportunities to all kinds of people. Let’s look at e-bikes – define them and look at where they can be ridden.

E-bikes – or electric bicycles – include a motor, which helps to propel the bike. But that motor is pedal-assisted. It sounds good to me in my current condition. Read on for more details and benefits. Take a look at regulations on state and national levels to see just what can be ridden where.


The Minnesota DNR’s policy on electric-assist/pedal-assist bicycles is found here, https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/other_trail_uses.html. Some of that policy follows here:

Electric-assist or pedal-assist bicycles are allowed on state trails, or wherever normal bicycles are allowed, if they meet the following definition in Minnesota Statutes 169.011, Subdivision 27.

• 2 or 3 wheels

• A saddle and fully operable pedals for human propulsion

• An electric motor that is: 1,000 watts or less, incapable of propelling faster than 20 miles per hour, incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power alone is used to propel the vehicle at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour, and disengages or ceases to function when the vehicle’s brakes are applied.


Here are portions of the U.S. Dept. of Interior press release from Oct. 22:

The Department of the Interior (DOI) announced its guidance to implement Secretary’s Order 3376, Increasing Recreational Opportunities Through the Use of Electric Bikes, which will allow the use of low-speed electric bicycles (e-bikes) at national wildlife refuges and other DOI-managed public lands where traditional biking occurs, expanding recreational opportunities and access to millions of Americans.

The National Park Service (NPS) has previously issued guidance to allow for e-bikes to be used on most bike paths in the national parks.

A majority of states have adopted e-bike policies, which primarily have followed model legislation allowing for three classes of e-bikes to have access to bicycle trails.

The DOI e-bike guidance seeks to provide consistency with the state and local rules where possible.

“Millions of Americans want to bike on our public lands and pedal-assist bikes can facilitate the effort of those whose age, fitness level, or disability limits their interest. E-bikes can help make our parks, refuges, and public lands accessible to them, providing opportunities to explore areas of the great outdoors that were previously unreachable,” said DOI Secretary David Bernhardt. “Where possible and appropriate, we want to accommodate bicycling and the enjoyment of our public lands.”

Secretary’s Order 3376 directs DOI bureaus to begin the longer-term process of obtaining public input on new regulations that will clarify that low-speed e-bikes should enjoy the same access as conventional bicycles, consistent with other federal and state laws.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Land Management joined the NPS, which already provided e-bike policy guidance to park superintendents on Aug. 30.

The guidance to superintendents and field managers will enable visitors to use these bicycles with a small electric motor (less than 1 horsepower) power-assist in the same manner as traditional bicycles.

The operator of an e-bike may only use the small electric motor to assist pedal propulsion.

The motor may not be used to propel an e-bike without the rider also pedaling, except in locations open to public motor vehicle traffic.

Similar to traditional bicycles, e-bikes are not allowed in designated wilderness areas and may not be appropriate for back-country trails.

The focus of the guidance is on expanding the traditional bicycling experience to those who could benefit from the reduction of effort provided by this new e-bike technology.

Park superintendents and local refuge and land managers will limit, restrict, or impose conditions on bicycle use and e-bike use where necessary to manage possible conflicts and ensure visitor safety and resource protection.

Since the NPS issued their guidance, superintendents and park staff have engaged with stakeholders and visitors to better understand potential impacts to resources and visitors, and other potential issues with allowing e-bikes where traditional bikes are allowed.

Several park units including Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore, Dinosaur National Monument and Mount Rainier National Park have already adopted new policies clarifying e-bike use.

Other bureaus will also work closely with the public and partners to ensure all concerns and support are taken into account as we work to accommodate visitors with e-bikes and propose new regulations.

E-bikes make bicycle travel easier and more efficient because they allow bicyclists to travel farther with less effort. This is especially true for those with physical limitations.

When used as an alternative to gasoline- or diesel-powered modes of transportation, e-bikes can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption, improve air quality, and support active modes of transportation for visitors.

Similar to traditional bicycles, e-bikes can decrease traffic congestion, reduce the demand for vehicle parking spaces, and increase the number and visibility of cyclists on the road.

U.S. public lands offer exceptional biking experiences and great potential for e-bikes. E-bikes are another tool to enable superintendents and public land managers to embrace people’s recreation desires and support healthy, active lifestyles.

Think it over

Now you’ve got some background on e-bikes. Maybe you’ll want to make 2020 the year you get one and put some miles on it.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this Journey vs. Destination column weekly for over 15 years.


This is a great informative article. Thank you for spreading the "good" word about e-bikes. Lisa, do you own an e-bike?