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  • 6 May 2023 7:39 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    Spring has sprung, so we are looking to grow our SDMB committees. We hope some of you are willing to help our committees accomplish more great things in the months and years ahead. In the past, we had some very active people on our committees, but COVID impacted committee participation.

    We are looking to get back to having well-staffed committees again, and hope that many of you would be interested in helping out. The SDMB Board has done a great job of filling gaps and keeping things moving, but we are at the point where we need your help. IT TAKES A VILLAGE! We are looking for self-starters, folks that can look at a committee description and say: “This is how I want to support SDMB!” and act on that ambition.

    Here are the opportunities for you to get involved that won’t require a lot of time.

    Advocacy Committee

                This committee advocates for mountain biking and discusses strategies and implements ways to promote the development of new mountain biking trails with Pima County, Tucson and Marana. Major initiatives include the “Be Cool” trail safety and etiquette initiative; the SDMB Bike Ambassador program; and offering bike skills clinics through our MTB Bike Academy. Some members also participate in the Network for Arizona Trails which advocates for trails statewide and supports an effort to establish an Office of Outdoor Recreation at the state level (like 22 other states have). We submitted comments for the Coronado National Forest Trails Plans related to MTB trails on Mt. Lemmon. There are opportunities as well to participate in the Network for Arizona Trails annual summit. To ask questions or volunteer, contact the Advocacy Chair: Kent Loganbill at:

    Trails Love Corp

                This committee spearheads our efforts to build and maintain MTB trails in the greater Tucson area. Some examples are the new trails SDMB helped build at Enchanted Hills, the Explorer and Portal Trails at Kennedy Park and the reopening of trails at Mt. Graham. Committee members can be trained to be crew leaders and help with trails initiatives like “Brushtober Fest,” new trail construction under the guidance of Pima County Parks & Recreation, and other local land managers. To get involved in this committee or ask questions, contact Michael Mucker at:

    Outreach, Diversity & Inclusion

                This committee is working to diversify our membership as well as ways to make mountain biking more attractive to a broad range of groups—young people, handicapped and physically-challenged, minorities, and special needs, among others. We want to diversify our board, but we also want to find ways to engage with urban youth (through the 100-Acre Wood Bike Park, for example), hand cycle users, underserved audiences, and other groups. We also want to be sensitive to designing and building trails that are attractive to beginners, intermediate and advanced riders, and those riding adaptive hand cycles. To find out more or volunteer, contact chair Ruth Cañamar at:

    Development & Fundraising

    Our committee is forward looking and seeks to help define SDMB’s sustainable future. We do this through partnership development, process improvement and the creation of new initiatives such as trail projects. If you’re interested in development, you may spend time helping to engage our sponsors and land manager partners. You may help us revamp our sponsorship program which is in the works. We take on special projects like merchandise procurement to make sure SDMB is getting the best value and we are working on supporting our membership team in revamping that program. Fundraising is a natural extension of Development as we need funding to support our general operating costs, for our projects (like skills clinics and bike ambassadors), for trail work day incentives (lunches/refreshments/prizes) and for new trail projects like consultation, design, and construction costs. This will involve grant writing, private donor solicitation, fundraising campaigns. To find out more about Development and Fundraising at SDMB, contact the committee chair, Nathaniel Gordon at:

    Time Commitment:

    For all committees, the commitment would average around 2 to 3 hours a month and probably 2 to 3 weekends a year. If you want to do more, that is up to you. The more people on the committee, the less work it will be for everyone. No experience needed.


    The pay? Knowing that you are making Tucson a better place to ride! Priceless.

    Tucson has a huge opportunity to make this area one of the top cycling destinations in the country, and you can be the reason.

    We hope that many of you will join one of our committees and help us maximize our impact in the greater Tucson area.

  • 25 Apr 2023 1:24 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    Check out the latest video from Brice Shirbach about SDMB and TORCA as two exemplary trail organizations working on behalf of mountain bikers and all trail users in the greater Tucson area. Kudos to Dave Slagle for representing us so well.

    Click here to see the video

  • 22 Nov 2022 6:03 PM | Max Crowning (Administrator)

    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 

    Facebook event info/RSVP here

    Plan on 15 miles on easy XC trails

    Ride description: 

    Dec 27 - Fantasy Island North Loops with Our MTB Rides

    7pm @ Fantasy Island North trailhead

    Facebook event info/RSVP here

    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.

    FIP (Feet In Pedals) @ 2:00 PM, so Meet about 1:45 PM. (approx ride time 2 hours)

    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

    Facebook event info/RSVP here

    Planned for 14+ miles, but there's LOTS of possibilities to improvise and adjust the distance and difficulty realtime on the trail based on how one is feeling.  (approx ride time 2-3 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. 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

    Facebook event info/RSVP here

    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

    9am at 

    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

  • 15 Nov 2022 10:51 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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.

  • 12 Nov 2022 6:50 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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


    • 22 trail development projects
    • 18 access or trailhead projects
    • Little emphasis on motorized recreation since these are just under 6% of the trails, most of which are in Redington Pass area.
    • Only about 50 miles of current trails are really bikeable (about 20% of existing trails on the CNF).  The trail system has a lopsided range of difficulty which the Forest Service is attempting to correct.
    • There are currently about 240 miles of non-motorized unauthorized trails with 40 miles of those getting regular use.
    • 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)

    • Seek access—resolve one issue each 3 years
    • Improve parking
    • Protect the AZT
    • Provide full range of difficulty w/focus on beginner and intermediate trails
    • Increase trail system mileage by 25 miles or 10% including both adoption of unauthorized trails and new construction.

    • Goal 2—Improve trail conditions and quality.  (p. 28)

    • Increase external support in volunteer hours and 3rd party contributions.

    • Goal 3—Mitigate the proliferation of unauthorized trails.

      Goal 4—Effectively manage trails to reduce user conflicts.

    • Emphasize trail etiquette
    • Create directional MTB trails
    • Improve sight lines and tread surface
    • Scheduling—look at add/even days for usage between MTB’ers and hikers

    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

  • 8 Nov 2022 6:58 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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.

  • 20 Oct 2022 1:28 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)
    Wildlife encounters are common while mountain biking Tucson trails. Please do not approach, harass, or kill wildlife. Likewise, do not chase or harass cattle or horses you may come across on some trails on leased land. Here are some specific tips.
    • Snakes & Reptiles: DO NOT kill snakes, even rattlesnakes. This is their territory and most will move off given the chance. Being bitten is rare unless you get too close. Gila monsters are often seen along some of our trails. As with snakes, let them alone and they will go away on their own. Horned lizards are also common. Leave them along and do not pick them up as their defense system is often to spray blood at you from small vessels near their eyes.
    • Tortoises: Desert tortoises are often seen, especially after a rain. Do NOT pick them up to move them off the trail. They will often expel all their urine out of fear and this leaves them without any water reserves so they will die. Again, like with snakes, let them move off the trail on their own or go around them.
    • Predators: Coyotes, badgers, and others should be left alone. Do not harass them and let them alone. Give them room to escape. Mountain lion sightings can be common out on the trails.  Do not run or bike away. Try to look large—hold up your bike. Wave arms, spread out a jacket if you are wearing one. Throw rocks or sticks. If attacked, fight back.
    • Birds: Raptors and scavengers are common on our trails. Owls can be seen on some trails (Enchanted Hills Tecolote Trail is named for the owls nesting in the cliffs). Again, leave them in peace. Take photos from a distance.
    • Deer, cattle, horses, and other grazers. Again, let them alone. Do not harass or chase them. Do not ride up on stock dams and say at least ¼ mile away from water sources. Leave gates as you find them unless you find an open gate that is posted with a sign that says to keep the gate closed. Then close it.

  • 10 Sep 2022 5:58 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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.


  • 8 Jun 2022 9:32 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    Sponsors of the Mt. Lemmon Gravel Grinder have

    announced that this event is being discontinued after 5years. We are sad to see the end of this event since it was a great way for cyclists of all types to be involved and was a major fundraiser for SDMB. Here's is what John McCarrell and the MLGG Crew announced:

    "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."

  • 2 Jun 2022 10:03 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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.

    Potemkin enforcement

    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.”

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