New Forest Service Guidance for E-Bike Use

Here’s the link to the press release.



The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is announcing that internal guidance on how future e-bike use is managed on national forests and grasslands has been finalized. The updated guidance clarifies existing policy and provides guidelines to local Forest Service employees that may be considering expanding e-bike access at site-specific locations.

The Forest Service currently allows e-bikes on all Forest Service roads that are already open to motorized vehicles, as well on 60,000 miles of motorized trails, which represent 38% of all trails the agency manages. Today’s finalized guidance allows e-bikes to continue to operate on currently-authorized roads and trails, and lays out a process to evaluate future requests for expanded access. The updated guidance also outlines the required environmental analysis and public input required before making future decisions to expand local e-bike access.

“National forests and grasslands are a place for all people to recreate, relax and refresh,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The additional guidance will help our district rangers and forest supervisors better serve their communities with a policy that allows managers to make locally based decisions to address e-bike use. This growing recreational activity is another opportunity to responsibly share the experience of the outdoors with other recreationists.”

The Forest Service manages nearly 160,000 miles of trails in 42 states and Puerto Rico for a variety of activities. E-biking is one of many legitimate recreational activities, such as horseback riding, snowmobiling, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, hiking and backpacking, that the agency manages under its multiple use mission. The clarified guidance will support local Forest Service decision-makers as they consider opportunities to expand access for this emerging user group.

Other land management agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, allow for e-bike use on 18,000 miles and 16,000 miles of trails, respectively.

It also says: Read the e-bike policy here.

The links are in the middle of that page under “directives.” Hopefully someone can parse through and summarize.

11 thoughts on “New Forest Service Guidance for E-Bike Use”

  1. This is good. As simple as the regulatory additions are, there is finally a path forward for evaluating this emerging technology. My wife rides one and I just inherited her old one. As for this summer, we’ll just be riding some of the easier motorcycle trails.

    I aggravated an old injury this winter and will likely be carefully ebiking for the next 3 months or so. I’m grateful for the technology.

  2. I read through the revised travel management manual and I don’t see how this decision does anything other than maintain the status quo. eBikes can continue to be ridden on motorized trails (duh, everything is allowed on motorized trails, it would be bizarre if they weren’t), and in order to to allow eBikes on a currently non-motorized trail it will have to be reclassified as motorized through travel planning.

    So basically nothing changes, except now the Forest Service has the option of designating motorized trails only open to eBikes. Given the stiff opposition they’re likely to face giving a current non-motorized trail any kind of motorized designation, this authority will almost never be used. If it is, it will take at least 5 years of travel planning processes plus another 5-10 years of litigation and do-over travel planning processes before such designations ever take effect. So eBikes will continue to be banned from almost all trails they are banned from currently and only allowed on existing motorized routes, of which there are fewer and fewer ever year. Good luck with that eBikers!

    • Patrick, it says in the press release
      ” lays out a process to evaluate future requests for expanded access. The updated guidance also outlines the required environmental analysis and public input required before making future decisions to expand local e-bike access.” Can you summarize what this looks like?

      • As best I can tell, the process is simply the standard travel management process, with a few specific criteria to consider for eBikes such as whether regular bikes are allowed and whether eBikes would have substantially the same impact. The only other change I could find was that they can now designate motorized trails open only to particular classes of eBikes. That’s why I’m thinking there’s really nothing revolutionary here. They just tweaked the motorized
        travel management process to incorporate eBikes.

    • Sad to say, I must agree with your assessment, Patrick. Knowing the people of the mountain bike community, there will likely be a lot of zealous opposition to conversion of non-motorized trails to motorized. I’d like to see a fair process, or an order that requires land managers to evaluate all the non-wilderness trails within a reasonable time limit. Lacking incentive, managers will continue to do nothing in most cases, because the rewards are the same.

  3. The Ranger districts in Montana prefer to work with bicycle clubs, not individuals. Most bicycle clubs don’t approve of ebikes, so I predict requests for trail conversions from clubs will be somewhat rare. Individuals tend to be ignored by Ranger districts. Meanwhile people will be riding on non-motorized trails. Where I’m at, people have been doing it for years now. Most of the ebike riders I’ve seen are 60+.

    • It seems to me that this is a bit of a law enforcement conundrum. If you make rules that are hard or impossible to enforce (like dogs that respond to voice commands, or no e-bikes) many people will ignore the rules. So is it worth it that the more law-abiding folks do follow them, just reducing the overall problem? But is that fair to the rule-followers?

      In the case of e-bikes I wonder if there is a possible ADA element. We have questionable documentation of emotional support animals, and questionable medical marijuana prescriptions, could e-bikes be allowed with prescriptions from doctors that folks are not capable of using regular bikes? Not to make extra work for anyone, just extrapolating from what I’ve observed.

  4. I have not studied the new regs closely but at first glance agree with Patrick’s assessment that not much has changed. I work on a district where MTB is very popular and has already taken over a couple of motorized single track areas because there are so many that the dirt bikes don’t go because it’s too crowded.

    While attempting to not kick the hornets nest, I do ask folks for their thoughts on e-bikes from time time and have noticed a visceral reaction to their mere mention and most people don’t want them on trails. But most of my local hikers don’t want any bikes on trails, so that could be skewing my informal poll results.

    I’m sure many are already poaching the non-motorized trails and will be honest that I don’t really care. We’ve got a lot of pro riders here who still go way faster than anyone on an e-bike. This just doesn’t move the needle for me on things I’m going to try to crack down on, but I certainly expect a few more cranky emails as they increase in popularity.

    • AR, thanks for contributing your views. My fear is fast non-e bikes encountering dogs on leashes. It kind of amazes me that we have as few problems as we do with those folks.As a hiker I don’t divide bikers into e and non, I divide them into “polite and safe”and “not.”

      • Sharon, full agreement there, which is why it’s strange to me that some folks think e-bikes are going to be the end of hikers and dogs while we already have non-e’s going way faster than 20 mph.

        I too am somewhat surprised these are mostly verbal altercations and not physical impacts. Bike/hike altercations are probably #3 on the list of my most common complaints received (#1 is when paint shows up on trees adjacent to private homes, #2 is either for/against fire restrictions).


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