Electric Mountain Bikes and Trail Access

Presenters: Facilitated by IMBA Communications Director Mark Eller; panelists included IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel; NICA Executive Director and Recreation Planning Consultant, Austin McInery; Randy Neufeld, SRAM; Larry Pizzi, Currie Technologies; Samuel Benedict, Specialized Bicycles.

Overview: Electric-assist bicycles are a fast-growing category, particularly in Europe and Asia, and with growing interest in North America. The panel discussion focused on the management strategies and best practices that are needed if e-bikes are to share natural surface trails with other user groups.

Conclusions: There is potential for IMBA to partner with electric mountain bike (eMTB) manufacturers, suppliers and retailers to help guide this emerging category. An essential principle for this work is that no loss of existing mountain bike access will be acceptable. We believe that it is critical to proactively develop strategies to address eMTB use as a component of IMBA’s ongoing work on public lands in order to avoid potential setbacks for mountain bikes and trail closures.

More info

As eMTB use becomes more widespread, public land agencies large and small may struggle with how to manage this new user group. Having learned the lessons from the rapid growth of mountain biking in the 1980s, IMBA understands that lack of data on use and impacts are a significant factor contributing to poor decisions by management authorities. For this reason, there may be a need to conduct field studies to determine the primary impacts of eMTB use and how it compares to human-powered mountain bicycles and motorcycles.

The novelty of eMTBs means that there have been no studies of their environmental impacts while there have been numerous studies looking at the impacts of both mountain bicycles and off-road motorcycles. One could speculate that the impacts would fall somewhere between the two modes, but this is a rather wide span, particularly regarding power differences and soil displacement.

The lack of information may contribute to poor trail management decisions that may either unnecessarily ban eMTBs from trails or allow them where their impacts will be disproportionate to their use. An understanding of how eMTBs affect the environment and trail management is needed so that land managers, and the communities that support them, can make informed decisions.

To date, no known valid research into the environmental and social impacts of eMTBs has been performed. Research generally into the impacts of motorized and non-motorized users does exist and can provide a basis for developing research protocols. IMBA and the manufacturers of eMTBs will consider ways to encourage this type of data collection and research.