SDMB is pleased to host the 2022 8-ish days of Christmas ride series! This will be a series of mountain bike rides around the Tucson area to celebrate the holidays. Come one come all for the festivities and relax.
We are currently in the planning phase for this series of events and welcome community input!
Here is what we have so far,
Dec 23 - Sweetwater Preserve
9am @ Sweetwater Trailhead
Facebook event info/RSVP here
Plan on 10 miles of intermediate rocky XC trails.
Ride description: Help us kick off the 8-ish days of Christmas ride series at Sweetwater! Meet at the Sweetwater-preserve trail head at 9am riding by 915am. We will go West and take every right turn making a large loop. This is prime beginner and intermediate trail riding lasting approximately 10 miles.
Dec 24th - Our MTB Rides Family Loop Ride
9am at The Loop entrance located at Craycroft and River Rd
Facebook event info/RSVP here
Plan on an easy 15 miles on pavement
Description: Meet at 9 am, plan on wheels rolling by 915am. We'll head West on The Loop to the Children's Memorial Park just past River Rd and Oracle Rd. This is a chill family ride open to all riders, families encouraged!
Dec 26 - Old Pueblo Eastside, Vail Vortex ride from Garrigan's Gulch
10am @ E Garrigan's Gulch and S Camino Loma Alta
Plan on 15 miles on easy XC trails
Dec 27 - Fantasy Island North Loops with Our MTB Rides
7pm @ Fantasy Island North trailhead
Plan on 10-15 miles of fun undulating XC single track
Description: Meet at the picnic table at 7pm and plan to start riding at 7:15. We will ride the North loops, Cactus, Burro Pit and Bo's loops. There will be a refreshment stop at the park off of the Xmas tree loop.(bring a beverage of choice to enjoy with us).
After the ride we all (or most of us) meet at Mulligans just down the street for some post ride refreshments and bike stories.
Dec 28 - 50 Year Trail ride with Old Pueblo MTB
2pm @ Golder Ranch Trailhead
Facebook event info/RVSP here
Plan on 10+ miles of intermediate single track with many fun lines suitable for all experience levels. Estimated ride time is ~2 hours.
Ride description: A "Midday Mayhem" ride ::: A Basic Intermediate level trail with lots to explore. Midday Mayhem rides can be shortened, or portions of the trails can be skipped often times to create a more Beginner friendly experience. MM rides often times have locations that are chosen for their flexibility & variety to provide riders of various technical skill levels & fitness level to make their own ideal route. Rides are generally big enough to allow for groups to split on routes and meet back up to finish together.
Dec 29 - Tortilita Preserve hosted by Brian/Catalina Brewing Company
10am at the Tortilita Preserve Trailhead
Facebook event info/RSVP found here
Plan on a 9.5 mile loop of easy cross country single track suitable for all experience levels.
Ride description: a fun easy loop of classic desert singletrack fun for all skill levels. Post ride refreshments to be had at the one and only Catalina Brewing Company!
Dec 30 - Honeybee & Badlands trails with Old Pueblo MTB
10am @ Honeybee Trail Head
Ride description: A "Midday Mayhem" ride ::: A Basic Intermediate level trail with lots to explore. Midday Mayhem rides can be shortened, or portions of the trails can be skipped often times to create a more Beginner friendly experience. Midday Mayhem rides often times have locations that are chosen for their flexibility & variety to provide riders of various technical skill levels & fitness level to make their own ideal route. Rides are generally big enough to allow for groups to split on routes and meet back up to finish together.
SPECIAL INFO: Route selection is the now in-famous Travis special "Sweet-Ass Seahorse" that includes a stop at the summit of 420 Hill and a counter-clockwise loop around "The Badlands".
FIP (Feet In Pedals) @ as close to 10:00 AM, so Meet at 9:45 am at Edwin Rd. & Honeybee Intersection on the dirt road.
Dec 31 - AZT shuttle with SAMBA
9am @ Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead
Meetup event info/RSVP here
Plan on 26 miles of beautiful XC trail along the Arizona Trail.
From Oak Tree Canyon the ride will be about 26 miles with several hills and valleys. Roughly 2000’ of climbing through hilly terrain. The trail is a blue/intermediate level ride for endurance. Probably a few hike-a-bike sections for most riders.
From the Lakes Rd to the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead is about 13.5 miles, mostly downhill. This section could be rated green/blue for some rocky downhill areas and hills.
We will plan to load shuttle vehicles at the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead at 9am. Please RSVP on the Meetup site so we make sure to have enough shuttle vehicles.
Jan 1 - MTB Addicts & Our MTB Rides Hangover Ride
1130am at the McKenzie Ranch Race Course parking lot
Plan on 10-20miles of buttery smooth XC trails
Description: Ride off that New Years Eve hangover with MTB Addicts and Our MTB Rides at the McKenzie Ranch race course! More details to come...
Jan 2 - Millagrosa Trail with Brian
10am at Avenida de Suzenu
Facebook event info/RSVP to be announced
La Millagrosa the champagne of trails, need I say more?
Ride description: double black diamond chunky goodness, one hike a bike and three climbs cooked coupled with the gnarliest downhill Tucson has to offer courtesy Tucson MTBs Godfather himself. Meet at Avenida de Suzenu at 10am for shuttles or meet at Molino Basin at 1045am to start the hike a bike with the group. Come prepared with downhill level protection, lots of water, and a snack. Adult beverages are recommended for the mid point.
More bike rides!
Jan 8 - SDMB Poker Ride
Facebook event info here
Description: the SDMB Poker Ride is coming back January 2023! Test your luck at poker and bike riding simultaneously with a chance to win some cool stuff!
Registration starts 9am at the SDMB table, look for the SDMB easy up and banners. Want to host a poker spot? Contact our guy Kent Loganbill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arizona State Parks & Trails recently released its new 5-Year plan that outlines the agency's priorities for both motorized and non-motorized recreation on state park lands. Included is information about applying for grants as well as a host of information from surveys of trail users. It is a lengthy document but might be worthwhile for you to scan for your own areas of interest. View the plane here.
The Coronado National Forest recently released its 15-year trail plan for the Catalina Ranger District. Public comments are being solicited until December 2nd, and there is a public meeting scheduled for November 17th from 5-7:00 PM at the Jewish Community Center on River Road. You can also review the entire plan here
Trail system in this plan will grow by 10% or about 55-80 miles of proposed new trails. Many will be beginner or intermediate trails.
Removal of 25 miles of existing trails that are low use, unsustainable, or unauthorized.
Nothing in the plan is cast in stone and could be modified and changed depending on results of a full NEPA review of each project or group of projects is submitted. Projects are conceptual only—specific locations and trail alignments may change (p. 4).
Goal 1—Create a system of trails that will meet current and future users. (p. 27)
Goal 2—Improve trail conditions and quality. (p. 28)
Goal 3—Mitigate the proliferation of unauthorized trails.
Goal 4—Effectively manage trails to reduce user conflicts.
Goal 5—Advance non-recreation program goals (fire breaks, wildlife, move trails away from nearby roads.
From here, the plan goes into specifics, and pp. 30-41 are Proposed Trail modifications. There is a summary of them on pp. 42-43.
Trail Development and Connectivity projects are described on pp. 44-56. There are 40 projects described in the plan. There is an increase in number of miles of trails for MTB’ers of 56%--approximately 55-86 miles through adoption of existing trails and building such as the directional Bug Jr. trail and the Fireline Trail.
Feedback can be submitted by email to email@example.com.
We are sad to have to announce that this year's McKenzie Frenzy Race has been postponed to an as-yet-to-be determined date in spring 2023. We know that many people were interested in participating again in this race, but logistics and other issues have prevented us from hosting the event during the first weekend in December. Stay tuned for future announcements.
Bike Ambassadors help keep Pima County trails safe
Mary Reynolds, Pima County communications, recently created a short video about our new program on local trails. A cadre of bike ambassadors is working with Pima County to promote proper safety and etiquette on trails throughout southern Arizona.
The program, organized by nonprofit Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists, is made up entirely of volunteers.
Sponsors of the Mt. Lemmon Gravel Grinder have
"It is hard to express in words what this event has meant to me over the years. It all started back in 2016 with a handful of folks who had the idea of putting on an event for the communities of Tucson and Oracle to enjoy and call their own. Each year the event grew and the MLGG experienced 3 different venues starting at Arizona Zipline Adventures and ultimately calling the 3C Ranch home. After taking 2020 off due to a devastating wildfire on Mount Lemmon and the COVID-19 Pandemic, it returned better than ever and saw the largest number of participants, 500+, the event had ever experienced. But putting on these events is not easy. There are always obstacles to overcome and it takes a tremendous amount of energy. Ultimately, it takes a toll on the family."
The state level: Ebikes in Utah
If Scottsdale’s adjoining parks epitomize local conflicts over trail use, Utah — the cradle of American mountain biking — has emerged as a fascinating study at the state level.
This year, Sen. Weiler sponsored legislation he thought would simplify the rules, at least on nonfederal lands. One proposed change would have reduced allowable power for e-bikes while allowing them almost everywhere regular mountain bikes can go.
As Weiler tells it, manufacturers and retailers went bonkers over the reduction in battery power. So did hunters, who use eMTBs with trailers to transport their gear and game in the backcountry, and rely on 750 watts to pull those heavy loads.
Weiler said he started trying to tweak the bill, but every change stirred up new opposition. Amputees objected to a ban on e-bikes with throttles. County officials were outraged that the law would take away local control and warned that eMTBs in conservation areas would spur civil suits.
And all of that was heaped atop opposition from environmentalists, Weiler said, plus regular mountain bikers — “the purists who say if you don’t work out five hours a day you shouldn’t be out there.”
Jenn Oxborrow, executive director at Bike Utah, a nonprofit advocacy group for cycling, described other aspects of the backlash in almost comical terms.
Plans to create a permit system so anyone could be exempt from e-bike bans — even those not legally disabled — riled up the disability community by encroaching on their legal protections.
Meanwhile, search-and-rescue workers warned that electric bikes would put feeble people deep into the wilds where batteries would die or riders would suffer medical emergencies. Even Native Americans were upset, envisioning motorized bikes rolling over sacred sites.
“I kicked a hornet’s nest,” Weiler acknowledged. “Everyone hated the bill. It was cursed.”
Weiler punted the legislation to Rep. Jeff Stenquist, who came up with new guidelines and convened a public hearing, which churned up more resistance.
Eventually, lawmakers adopted legislation that Oxborrow politely describes as a “suggestion,” urging land managers to consider e-bikes when developing trails.
Weiler offers a more candid appraisal: “We ended up passing a nothing burger bill,” he said.
‘You're made to feel like an outlaw'
A few years ago, after a couple heart attacks, Steve Spiro of Orange County, California, bought his first electric mountain bike. He gets a workout using pedal power until it’s too tough, then lets the battery help out.
“It’s important that I stay active,” said Spiro, a 64-year-old real estate agent, “but not to a point of over-exertion.”
However, as Spiro began taking his mountain bike to public trails, he kept getting turned away by signs and rules banning the electric motor. It was infuriating, he said: “You’ve paid your taxes, and then you’re made to feel like an outlaw or criminal – for riding your bike!”
Spiro discovered there is no consistency in regulations and concluded that policy differences are often arbitrary.
“These land managers are willy-nilly just making determinations,” he groused. For example, Spiro said, although the Americans Disabilities Act requires accommodations for the disabled, there is no standard for applying that to electric bikes.
“They will intimidate you and tell you to leave,” Spiro said of park rangers. “I’ve been threatened (with citations). I’ve had them yell at me, ‘Get out of here!’”
Spiro said he came to realize that trail policies are based largely on politics, with the loudest voices winning. In many cases, he added, that’s horsemen, hikers, environmentalists and regular mountain bikers.
Spiro decided to fight back, creating the Electric Mountain Bike Association to rally geriatric rides. A third of the U.S. population is age 50 or older, he reasoned, and banning e-bikes amounts to elderly discrimination.
“My riding buddy Stanley Ramsey is a retired police officer and he is 82 years old,” says Spiro’s online petition. “E-bikes are a new technology that allows older citizens like myself and Stanley to ride a bike again by providing low-power pedal assist. The potential health benefits are enormous…The Future is eMTB.”
About 5,000 have signed so far. Meanwhile, Spiro offers them “mobility disability” labels that can be attached to e-bikes. The stickers have no legal weight, and he doesn’t check whether applicants qualify as disabled under the law.
The goal is to help riders avoid citations. “It’s nothing official,” Spiro acknowledged, chuckling. “They are more, um, educational.”
Why do people hate eMTBs?
Internal combustion engines are banned from single-track trails in the outback, in part, because the engine noise messes with wildlife and destroys solitude.
The e-bike’s power train is virtually silent. So, from an environmental standpoint, there are only a few differences from a regular mountain bike.
The first is that eMTBs can put far more people into wild places and take them much deeper. To date, there are almost no studies on how that affects habitat.
The second difference is the potential for a heavier, faster machine to cause trail damage. Once again, there is little research to go by. The International Mountain Bike Association performed a test years ago, concluding that trail impact from e-bikes is not significantly greater than from non-motorized bikes.
But critics point out that the study involved just one trail and was conducted by an organization that promotes cycling.
Randy Rasmussen, director of public lands and recreation for Back Country Horsemen of America, said single-track trails are not designed for motorized use, and the notion that e-bikes won’t damage them is a “myth.”
Rasmussen added that, on uphill climbs, e-bikes are likely to spook horses from behind, endangering the animal and rider.
“Horsemen and women are very alarmed by the advent of motorized bicycles,” he added. “They’re just clearly a safety concern.”
Equestrians also resisted regular mountain bikes years ago, Rasmussen acknowledged, before the two groups arrived at a “happy peace,” even collaborating on trail maintenance and development. However, he stressed, any bike with a motor represents “a different qualitative argument,” which could open the door to motorcycles on backcountry paths.
“We are worried about the slippery slope here,” said Rasmussen. “There’s a blurring of lines already.”
That fear is not as far-fetched as it might seem. When the BLM sought input on a policy for off-highway vehicles, the Capital Trail Vehicle Association submitted numerous suggestions. Among them:
“Electric motorcycles and electric mountain bikes are here and will completely take the sound issue off the table. This planning action must adequately accommodate the future use of electric motorcycles and mountain bikes on all existing single-track trails as a reasonably foreseeable development.
And then came the lawsuits
If local and state officials ignited controversies over eMTBs, federal authorities in the Trump administration poured fuel on those flames.
In 2019, without public hearings or discussion, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that electric bikes would no longer be treated as motorized vehicles and could use all trails open to regular bicycles on his department. That includes 419 national parks and recreation areas, plus millions of acres overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
A day later, acting National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith echoed that decision in an edict to all park superintendents.
A Colorado Sun report described the directive as “one of the most controversial rules in years for the Bureau of Land Management.”
The public backlash prompted some 24,000 emails and letters to the Park Service from groups and individuals.
The American Hiking Society reaction was aghast, declaring an official position that “any vehicle that uses either an internal combustion engine or an electric motor for propulsion is a motor vehicle.”
Within months, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed suit, identifying 28 National Park Service venues that already were allowing electric bikes on trails set aside for nonmotorized travel. Among them: Everglades, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain national parks.
Peter Jenkins, an attorney with the employee organization, said the Park Service’s policy decision in 2019 was spurred by recommendations from an E-Bike Partner & Agency Group. The civil complaint alleges the meetings were conducted in secret and the “illegal committee” was loaded with cycling industry representatives, including PeopleForBikes.
Wilderness Watch and other conservation organizations joined.
In 2021, as the case proceeded, national park superintendents were instructed to reconsider their decisions. Jenkins said only a handful withdrew e-bike access.
Meantime, the Park Service launched a review and was flooded with more than 17,000 public comments. The policy was replaced with a new regulation empowering superintendents to allow eMTBs, but not requiring them to do so. (The rule includes a stipulation that, where e-bikes are allowed, riders may not rely solely on motor power for “an extended period of time.”)
The National Park Service did not provide comment when contacted. In court filings, agency lawyers contend the lawsuit is moot because the policy was revoked and superintendents are now required to perform environmental reviews before opening trails to e-bikes.
The U.S. Forest Service, meanwhile, adopted a flip-side policy, but with similar results. In 2019, the Forest Service treated electric mountain bikes as motorized vehicles but allowed individual ranger districts to authorize Class 1 eMTBs on multi-use trails.
Tahoe Ranger District did just that. Without environmental analysis or public hearings, 130 miles of non-motorized trails near Lake Tahoe were suddenly opened to Class 1 e-bikes in 2019. That included the 25-mile Pioneer Trail, a popular ride for equestrians. The Horseman’s Association filed suit in U.S. District Court, joined by an unlikely coalition of trail users and environmental groups.
Within months, the Forest Service backed down. The suit was settled. Trails were closed to e-bikers until environmental assessments were done and the public had an opportunity to weigh in.
Today, according to the Forest Service, just 35 miles of single-track paths in Tahoe National Forest are open to e-bikers, along with nearly 400 miles of OHV and single-track motorcycle routes. The Pioneer Trail is not included, but administrators are reviewing changes that could allow e-bikes on some segments.
Rasmussen and others noted that, even where electronic mountain bikes are prohibited, they seem to ride with impunity. For instance, under federal law electric bikes are prohibited from nearly all National Scenic Trails, including the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. But Rasmussen said he encounters them regularly on the Pacific Crest Trail near his home in central Oregon.
Which brings up the sticky issue of enforcement, with scant evidence that cyclists who violate e-bike laws face any repercussions.
Agencies post signs with bans, class restrictions and speed limits, but it’s not like there are cops lurking in the outback.
Keller, with the International Mountain Biking Association, said he was recently using a trail in Washington, D.C., when he came upon an eMTB rider. In nearly 20 years of riding there, he’d never seen a ranger. He thought about confronting the cyclist, then decided just to pedal on.
Every land manager contacted for this story stressed a focus is on education, rather than prosecution.
The BLM oversees about 12,000 miles of trails nationwide, about half of those open to e-bikes. In an email, bureau press secretary Brian Hines said bureau officers have documented just five electric bicycle violations in recent year. Four resulted in warnings; only the rider near Moab was ticketed.
Jamie Hinrichs, a spokeswoman for Tahoe National Forest, said rangers and law officers there have issued zero tickets to e-bikers.
He and just about everyone else in the controversy agreed that many rangers can’t even tell the difference between and electric bike and a regular one. They’d be hard-pressed to say who's violating which rules. And most trail overseers lack staffing to patrol backcountry trails, let alone appear in court over citations.
“I can sum it up in one word,” said Rasmussen. “Unenforceable.”
Back in the McDowell Mountain Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale bike salesman Roy Bury estimates that half the cyclists are on eMTBs.
What consequences do they face? Hamilton, the land manager, said volunteer stewards might advise a rider that e-bikes are barred, but that’s about it. If the person claims to be disabled, Hamilton added, staffers might respond, “Hey, have a good time.” And if they’re not disabled but insist on riding anyway? “None of us are law enforcement. We’re just educators.”
Fussell, with PeopleForBikes, said the dilemma is not unique to mountain biking. Public land managers deal with visitors hiking into restricted areas, failing to pick up dog poop, building illegal campfires. A place shouldn’t be shut down just because there are a few scofflaws, she added. The solution is to teach trail etiquette and ethics.
As more Americans turn to the outdoors and eMTBs grow in popularity, Fussell allowed, there’s a possibility “we’ll love our trails to death.” Maybe the most popular venues will limit users and require permits – a practice already underway in some national parks. But cycling advocates contend the better solution is to build more trails and make sound decisions about who gets to use them.
In her previous job, Fussell was executive director with Stowe Trails Partnership, a nonprofit that constructed 40miles of bike trails in Vermont.
At first, the partnership was “staunchly anti-eMBT,” she said, banning eMTBs entirely. But, as members grew familiar with the technology and got to know riders, hostility dissipated. Today, nearly half of the partnership trails are open to e-bikes.
Pedaling into the sunset
Which brings us back to Rand Hubbell’s ride on the Pemberton Trail.
In Arizona, the state Legislature adopted a bill declaring that Class 1 and 2 bicycles are considered non-motorized, with access to all trails where regular bikes are allowed.
A Maricopa County spokeswoman said McDowell Mountain Regional Park is "just following the law."
Yet, at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Hamilton used exactly the same language, saying managers are "just following the law" in prohibiting eMBTs.
How is that possible?
The statute in question turns out to be virtually meaningless. One sentence after establishing that e-bikes may ride on multi-use trails, it says local agencies are free to ignore that rule — banning battery-powered bikes from pathways.
Hubbell said it could be that the nation’s eMTB policies are varied by design. Voters created the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as an open-space conservation area, while the McDowell Mountain Regional Park was developed as a recreation site.
Different purposes, divergent rules.
In fact, there seems to be a consensus among trail users, conservationists and land managers that any blanket policy for electric bikes would prove a dismal failure. From Arizona deserts to Rocky Mountains highs, the logic goes, rules should be based on trail conditions, environmental factors, traffic volume and local politics.
Some day, Hubbell predicted, e-MTBs will be accepted wherever their analog counterparts are allowed, like snowboards on ski slopes. In the meantime, however, he carries a disability letter from his doctor when he cruises through the Sonoran Preserve on his e-bike, just in case one of the stewards challenges him.
Hubbell climbed back in the saddle and began pedaling. “I ride now more than I ever had before,” he said. “I’m 73 and don’t see any reason to stop in the next 10 years. Hopefully, longer than that.”
An electric bike rode into the backcountry. Now there's a nationwide turf war
Updated 9:19 am EDT May. 31, 2022
FOUNTAIN HILLS, Arizona – A gray-haired dude jumped on his mountain bike and began pedaling into the Sonoran desert along a rocky, single-track path.
The trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park wound past towering saguaros, around paloverde trees in blooming splendor and through sand-filled arroyos. There was no sound except the grind of tires on gravel, the gush of a May breeze and the occasional call of sentinel quail.
Mile after mile, the ride seemed easy. Even as he climbed steep hills, 73-year-old Rand Hubbell barely broke a sweat. In fact, thanks to the bike’s inconspicuous electric motor, his ascent was relatively effortless: Hubbell could remain seated while a 750-watt battery let him use as much or little leg power as he chose.
Electric mountain bikes, known as eMTBs, are more than just welcomed in this 21,000-acre playground; they’re encouraged. The county park’s 40 miles of trails include specialized tracks for competition, plus rest stops with air pumps and spare inner tubes. More than half of the visitors are cyclists. A plaque at one canopy urges, "Of all the paths you take in life, make sure some of them are dirt."
Next door, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve shares a border with the regional park. It, too is laced with miles of hiking trails.
Yet that park has a giant sign at its entrances featuring a picture of an e-bike with a slash through it: “Electric Bikes Prohibited.” It is run by neighboring Scottsdale, where a municipal ordinance bans battery-powered bicycles on all 225 miles of trails. Adjacent properties. Opposite policies.
Adding to the confusion, numerous trails from the county park lead over the mountain crest and into the preserve's no-eMTB zone.
The two grounds might as well be a symbol for the turf war that has emerged with the infusion of electric mountain bikes into America's backcountry.
Over the past five years, smaller and stronger batteries have powered a booming market for electric bikes, or ebikes, of all kinds. And, especially since COVID-19 lockdowns, America’s backcountry trails have seen a proliferation of the dirt-ready variety.
While there is only partial data on the phenomenon, experts agree that cycling has skyrocketed, with electric mountain bikes the most popular model. Bicycle shops nationwide ran out of inventory during the past two years, with prospective buyers on months-long wait lists. The trend is so powerful that Scottsdale bike salesman Jeff Frost jokes about eMTBs as cycling’s “gateway drug.”
According to PeopleForBikes, an advocacy organization for manufacturers, suppliers and cyclists, electric mountain bike sales increased by 1,000% from 2015 to 2019. LEVA, another analyst, reported more e-bikes were sold in the United States last year than electric cars. Mordor Intelligence predicts the worldwide market for battery-powered mountain bikes, valued at $5 billion in 2020, will double by 2026.
The onslaught of motor-assisted cyclists has generated a surge of traffic not only on streets, but on trails revered for serenity – trails where, often, motorized vehicles have been considered off-limits.
Thus began the turf wars.
When U.S. Forest Service managers tried to open trails near Lake Tahoe to e-bikes three years ago, the agency wound up in court – sued by the National Horsemen’s Association.
When the Department of the Interior announced that eMTBs would be treated as nonmotorized vehicles and allowed on trails in National Parks, government employees filed another lawsuit.
In Utah, America’s Mecca for mountain biking, state lawmakers tried to devise a statute this year that would clarify rules on e-bikes and single-track trails. The proposal got battered from all sides, said state Sen. Todd Weiler, who introduced the measure. Laughing, he described what followed as a "show," but with an unprintable adjective.
“My lesson?" Weiler said. "Don’t run an electric bike bill ever again.”
On Mackinac Island in Michigan, e-bikes are banned unless a rider has what's known as a "mobility disability" — a medical condition — or an inability to walk more than 200 feet without stopping.
Back in Scottsdale, when city staffers suggested last year that the Sonoran Preserve might open some trails to e-bikers, conservationists stormed social media and bombarded City Hall with emails — most of them rabidly opposed to any motorized traffic in the parklands.
The proposal was promptly tabled, and no one has dared bring it up since. “It’s a very passionate discussion,” observed Scott Hamilton, manager of the preserve.
During a rest stop, Hubbell mentioned that in 1998 he helped write the city ordinance banning motorized vehicles from the preserve. Later, he served on a commission overseeing its trails. And from 2003-15 he was supervisor of the adjoining county park.
Hubbell said he became an avid mountain biker after retirement. But age and health issues took a toll until the morning rides just sapped his strength: “My wife’s list of to-dos didn’t get done.”
That’s when Hubbell started noticing e-bikes as they passed him on hill climbs, sometimes with older riders. “I thought, ‘That’s pretty cool.’” he recalls. “I’m working hard and these guys are going right by me. And they’re smiling.”
Manufacturers, vendors, riders and other advocates insist that, while eMTBs have motors, they are really just bicycles. They contend electric bike ownership is dominated by older people who travel slower, with less danger and trail damage. And the battery allows disabled or weak riders to enjoy the great outdoors while getting moderate exercise.
Those who oppose e-bike access to single-track trails include not just environmentalists and hikers, but equestrians and others who argue that eMTBs are faster, heavier, more dangerous and more destructive than regular mountain bikes. The motor also transports cyclists deeper into the outback, with increased impact on nature.
“It’s alarming people because it goes against why some of these places were set aside and protected,” noted the late John Freemuth, a Boise State University land policy expert. “There’s obviously a place for e-bikes… But there are places, perhaps, where they shouldn’t be allowed because other people go to national parks for experiences that don’t include whipping around on bikes at 20 mph.”
Some of the fiercest eMTB critics are regular mountain bikers — young purists who view the battery boost as “cheating.”
A 2020 article in Gear Patrol pointed out that mountain biking had once been the “drunk uncle” of outdoor activities, with riders disdained as “trail punks” by hikers, conservationists and horsemen.
After decades of diplomacy and trail-building, regular mountain bikes gradually gained acceptance. “But here we are again,” the article noted, only now e-bikers are the pariahs."
In Washington state, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance lobbied for a bill prohibiting eMTBs from all “natural surface trails.” The reason, as explained in Singletracks magazine, was a fear that if e-bikes are permitted then land managers might close trails to all bicycles.
Amid the sound and fury, government officials have concocted a chaos of rules and policies from Alaskan to Florida, with neighboring Arizona properties as classic examples.
The regulations and enforcement are so confusing, so inconsistent, that even vendors warn customers not to purchase electric mountain bikes until they’ve checked with city, county, state and federal land agencies to learn whether they’ll have places to ride.
What is an eMTB?
In one sense, the dilemma is like any conflict that arises with disruptive technology: A new product or invention encroaches, prompting backlash.
Years ago, snowboarders fought for access to ski slopes. Today, drone operators struggle with flight regulations aimed at protecting privacy and public safety.
But eMTBs are particularly fraught because the technology places them in a gray area. Are they motorized vehicles, or bicycles?
The dispute has churned up a mini-culture war, which is nothing new. Bicycles were invented in 1817 but did not gain popularity until the 1890’s invention of pneumatic tires allowed for a less bouncy ride.
As women began cycling during the Victorian era, wearing modified bloomers, bikes became a symbol of liberation. Anti-feminists of the day promulgated claims that the two-wheel contraptions made females walk funny, endangered reproductive ability and even caused a condition known as “bicycle face.”
The first electric bikes also were patented in the 1890s. But, for a variety of reasons, they did not catch on until more than a century later.
Today, e-bikes are ubiquitous in Europe and Asia both as commuter vehicles and outdoor toys. The United States is playing catch-up, especially with knobby-tired mountain bikes.
The modern version features a motor that either assists a rider in pedaling or can provide all the power. Most jurisdictions set a 750-watt limit to the battery and recognize three levels of eMTB:
Class 1: The motor kicks in only when the bike is being pedaled, and a governor caps battery-enhanced speed at 20 mph.
Class 2: A rider can rely fully on the motor, without pedaling. The top speed under battery power is also 20 mph.
Class 3: The motor delivers energy only when the cyclist is pedaling, and only up to a speed of 28 mph. (With wide support from industry groups and cycling advocates, Class 3 bikes are generally banned from natural, one-track trails.)
The e-bike is a techno nerd’s dream, with multiple different motor types and software systems. But all draw power from a rechargeable battery which turns a shaft, creating torque that propels a wheel.
Because those mechanics are so small, with batteries concealed in the frame, many e-MTBs are nearly impossible to visually distinguish from regular bikes.
At the road racing world championships in 2016, cyclist Femke Van den Driessche was suspended for six years after magnetic imaging detected a battery-powered motor on her bike. Today, the Union Cycliste Internationale and some mountain biking race organizers routinely check for what’s known as “motor doping.”
But there’s another x-factor with eMTBs: The governor, which is supposed to limit a bicycle’s speed, can be hacked and overcome with apps that are available at local cycling shops and online. That means the maximum speed may be phony.
"The after-market hacks for eMTBs these days are unbelievable. It’s a booming business,” said Frost, who works in an Arizona bike shop. “There’s nothing illegal about it — until you see one go by at 35 mph.”
Anyone who has ridden a non-motorized mountain bike on steep trails knows the sport is demanding, limited to riders in physical shape. Electric motors can dramatically reduce that stress, letting riders decide how hard they want to work during climbs — a godsend to those who have health conditions or limited ambition.
Of course, that advantage comes with a price: eMTBs start at around $1,000 for a hefty model with relatively cheap materials and parts, soaring to upwards of $15,000 for a premium ride.
Legislatures and agencies around the country have struggled to define and regulate eMTBs. Most states have designated Class 1 and 2 bikes as nonmotorized, but often with confusing exceptions.
Even cycling organizations seem conflicted, caught between members who bristle at e-bikes and those who love them. The International Mountain Biking Association’s policy position is noncommittal, supporting Class 1 electric bikes in the backcountry unless that means traditional bikes will be banned.
“We want to see eMTB access granted,” said Todd Keller, the association’s director of governmental affairs, “but it has to be in a responsible way.”
PeopleForBikes, which represents manufacturers and suppliers, touts a model policy that presumes eMBTs may use trails open to regular bikes – except where prohibited or restricted in the interest of safety.
Some recent chatter on social media about SDMB's neutrality on the e-bike issue has generated a LOT of passion and feedback. We thought it appropriate to weigh in here on the blog to offer up some points of clarification and information.
"The data shows a polarized divide between survey respondents who support and oppose ebikes on the AZT, with less than 10% of survey participants remaining undecided on the topic. Both camps tended not to sympathize with arguments coming from the other side, with 64% of those in support of e-bikes not seeing any issues with them being allowed on the trail and 87% of those opposed to e-bikes not seeing any benefit to them being allowed."
Land management agencies and local riding areas where E-Bike are or are not allowed to ride:
Local Riding Areas
E-Bike Use Allowed?
U.S. Forest Service
Santa Catalina Mtns (Mt. Lemmon), Redington Pass, Santa Rita Mountains
National Park Service
Saguaro Natl Park: Cactus Forest Trail, Hope Camp Trail
Tucson Mountain Park, Sweetwater Preserve, Enchanted Hills, McKenzie Ranch, Big Wash Trail, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Painted Hills, Tortolita Mountain Park
*Arizona National Scenic Trail (statewide)
Town of Marana
Dove Mountain Trails, Tortolita Preserve
City of Tucson
100-Acre Wood Bike Park
AZ State Parks
Catalina State Park, Oracle State Park
AZ State Land Dept.
Fantasy Island, Honeybee Canyon, 50-Year, Willow Springs / 24 HOP Course
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