Guest Column

In a recent guest column about riding electric bikes (e-bikes) in the forests west of Bend, there were some inaccuracies that the Central Oregon Trail Alliance's Board of Directors would like to correct and clarify.

COTA’s mission is to develop, protect and enhance the Central Oregon mountain bike experience through trail stewardship, advocacy, collaboration and education. Since our founding in 1992, we have designed, built and have stewardship/maintenance agreements on hundreds of miles of single-track trails. While intended to be used primarily by mountain bikers, many others enjoy the work COTA has performed over the past 25+ years, including hikers, trail runners and equestrians.

COTA works with many land managing agencies, such the US Forest Service (Deschutes, Ochoco and Willamette National Forests), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bend Parks and Recreation, Redmond Parks and Recreation, City of Madras, City of Prineville, Crook County and a few others. In each of these relationships, trail management policies (including usage restrictions) are dictated by the specific land managers.

For instance, COTA has, in fact, built trails open to e-mountain bikes at the East Hills Trail System in Madras, because the City of Madras allowed it.

Regarding the Phil’s network and trails west of Bend, the land manager is USFS/Deschutes National Forest. The USFS’s national policy states that electric bikes are to be considered motorized vehicles, and therefore manages them differently than human-powered mountain bikes. Thus, e-bikes are not allowed on USFS trails managed for non-motorized use. 

A different example can be seen in the Oakridge area, where some of the single-track trails allow e-bikes. Here these trails are managed by the Willamette National Forest as motorized trails and are open to motorcycles.

COTA’s role has always been as a supportive organization, holding volunteer agreements with the various land managers, including the local Forest Service office. We follow the rules and regulations put forth by the USFS.

The Deschutes National Forest Trail Manager asked COTA for assistance in funding and implementing a ‘No E-Bikes’ signage program. We provided funding and volunteer labor to install the signs, which were approved by DNF. This is consistent with our mission, since education and collaboration are part of what we do.

Although the USFS is not currently reviewing its e-bikes policy, the BLM is actively in a review process. Comments or concerns regarding e-bike use on BLM lands can be submitted through June 9 (search ‘e-bike regulations’ at blm.gov).

E-bike management on trails is very complex and we applaud the BLM for a full review and public comment period before making a final decision. This decision will also affect other trail users: hikers, trail runners, equestrians, and human-powered mountain bikers. While there are compelling arguments for inclusion of e-bikes on trails open to mountain bikes, there are also many arguments against inclusion and keeping non-motorized trails just that, non-motorized.

While the current policies prohibit e-bikes on non-motorized trails they do not prevent use and enjoyment of public lands. There are literally thousands of miles of unpaved roads and trails approved for motorized recreation, which includes e-bikes.

COTA promotes good trail etiquette and responsible recreation for all users. For e-bikers, a big part of riding responsibly includes knowing where to legally ride and respecting those policies. Ignoring closures and policies does not help the impression others have of e-bikers as a user group.

Bruce Schroeder is the chair of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance.

(8) comments

Sheamus O'Toole

Motorized e-bikes are, in general, a great substitute for fossil-fuel-powered motorized vehicles, and they should be welcome wherever other motorized vehicles are allowed (including the tens of thousands of miles of trails on federal land that already allow motorized travel and recreation). They could also be a great way for people suffering from chronic illness or injury, or senior citizens (65+) to enjoy mountain biking, but only if this can be effectively regulated, which seems doubtful.

They're currently being pushed hard by the bike industry--including the lobbying arm of the bike industry "People for Bikes"--because of the larger margins the industry makes on selling a motorized eMTB (average cost: ~$4,000) vs a wholly human-powered mountain bike (average cost: ~$1,000); It has nothing to do with their claimed mission of making "bicycle travel easier and more efficient for a wide variety of people." Beyond that, the industry cares little about the access or environmental issues motorized e-bikes may cause on non-motorized trails.

eMTBs are motorized, and as such shouldn't be allowed on non-motorized trails (unless they can be specifically permitted to chronically ill or injured persons, or senior citizens [65+] as mentioned above, and that trail use for permitted riders only can be enforced).

Calling them mountain bikes, and riding one when you suffer from no underlying health issues and could simply improve your fitness and health via discipline, diet and exercise--as people have done for millennia, and as mountain bikers have done for decades—fundamentally changes and robs a sport that has been proudly, naturally human powered--in natural scenic locations--of its soul; there is nothing stopping these same able-bodied people from using non-motorized trails as the laws are currently written.

More importantly, allowing motorized eMTBs on non-motorized trail systems sets a dangerous precedent that may eventually lead to any type of motorized vehicle being allowed on trails formerly designated "non-motorized" only, effectively eliminating the "non-motorized" designation and leading to environmental degradation far worse than anything possible from wholly-human-powered or equine recreation alone.

There already exist tens of thousands of miles of trails open to motorized recreation in our National Forest System. For this reason, motorized eMTBs should not be permitted on non-motorized trails.

However, acknowledging that Forest Service land is public and open for all to enjoy, a great alternative to allowing motorized eMTBs on non-motorized trails would be for eMTB advocates to advocate for and build environmentally-conscious eMTB-specific trails, which would be a win for everyone.

Otterman

Nice information. The only difficulty with eMTBs on motorized trails is I have almost been run over by motorcycles while on my Mt. bike. I strongly believe there should be some accommodation for those 60+ in using pedal-assisted eMTBs (no throttle, high-wattage bikes), and on existing trails such as the Phil's system. As for the pricing, that is a moot point relative to the benefits 60+ and physically limited folks who might qualify for usage on existing single-track trails. The benefit of being outside in the forest on a single-track trail right here in our backyard outweighs the economic cost to do so in most cases. Additionally, over time prices will go down, not up. Those 60+ should be allowed to use existing single-track trails providing the right non-throttle, top speed limiting, pedal-assisted eMTBs. Who else agrees with this proposal?

pdqwest

Exactly. It is my understanding from talking to the bike shops that the USFS asked COTA for their opinion on this matter. COTA told them that these are motorcycles and that they should be banned. Anyone who has ever been on a pedal assist e bike knows that these are not motorcycles. It is basically a mountain bike with a small motor to help. Also, the USFS does not recognize e bikes as an ADA compliant device for some reason so that needs to change first. It is also worth noting that many other states allow e bikes on their trails. Just not here.

For those people who state that if you need a motor you should not be on the trail in the first place then I say go back to riding a horse and hunting with a bow and arrow if you want to be a purist.

City MTB

Actually no. The land manager determines if e-MTBs are allowed, not the state government. An organ of the state government, like its Park or Natural Resources department could decide for itself to allow e-MTBs, but that is only on the properties they manage. A different land manager, like city or county, could decide not to allow them. This is common mistake that e-MTB riders often make, confusing DOT and product safety with land management and usage language.

MFBend

What was glaringly missing from this editorial is WHY e-bikes are not allowed on certain trails. That’s what the discussion should be about.

City MTB

You mean the motor? Because that is mentioned in this editorial in mentioning that BLM allows e-MTBs on motorized trails.

Otterman

BLM is open for public comment now - you can see the open invitation here: https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/e-bikes The public needs to provide feedback if possible.

Otterman

You are right! On the USFS webpage on e-bikes, I note with great interest that nationwide 40% of the trails on USFS forests and grasslands allow e-bikes. It seems to me COTA has had an undue influence on the Deschutes Forest Trails Manager. We need more public input on the matter. Also e-bikes are not really considered motorized vehicles by the public - they are simply bikes with added pedaling assistance (unless they have a throttle which is not being advocated). Time for the public to approach Deschutes National Forest staff on this matter. COTA will be writing a letter not supporting BLM's move to consider e-bikes just so everyone is clear on their intent.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.