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  • 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.”

  • 2 Jun 2022 9:54 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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.”

    'Trail punks' 

    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.

  • 1 Jun 2022 10:08 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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.

    • SDMB has no policy or stance on e-bikes. E-bike restrictions or permissions reside with land managers. See our webpage for where e-bikes are allowed and where they are not permitted.
    • In the past, SDMB has consciously decided not to take sides on this issue and risk polarizing our membership.  We have never surveyed our members to see how they feel about e-bikes, but even if we could survey 100% of our members, we are not confident the results would provide any definitive guidance on a stance for us.
    • SDMB has instead decided to focus on our core mission of building trails, maintaining and protecting trails, and trail access for mountain bikers. Our focus is advocacy, outreach education, trail development and marketing of mountain biking.
    • Some have argued that by not taking a stance, we are "anti-ebike." Rather, SDMB board members themselves are split on this issue, as are our members. A recent study by the Arizona Trail Association showed how divisive this issue has become with several user groups. For example, the results showed that across all major user groups, participants on average had an unfavorable opinion of policies that would allow e-bikes on non-motorized trails.
      "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."
    • If you have time and the interest to get involved beyond posting on social media, we encourage you to get involved with SDMB's Advocacy Committee to learn more about our efforts and how to bring about changes in policies related to recreational use in the Tucson area. Feel free to contact Kent Loganbill, SDMB Advocacy Chair. 
    • For those who want to go direct to the source and change the Pima county policy, one way to advocate is to go (and keep going) to Board of Supervisors (BOS) and Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meetings. The BOS is the ultimate decision-maker here. And the Parks Commission makes recommendations about changes to park rules. Better yet, if you know a County Supervisor let them know you’d like to serve on the Commission and advocate from within.
    • As an advocacy organization, SDMB also actively participates in the Network for Arizona Trails which includes Federal land managers, local county and municipality land managers, user groups, and advocates. E-bikes has been a consistent topic of discussion and debate. You are encouraged to get involved with NAzT and contribute to the work of this group to address e-bike use throughout Arizona. See more here.
    • The US Forest Service has classified Class 1 e-bikes as "motorized." This land manager apparently has decided to exclude e-bikes from non-motorized trails because they believe they fall into the same category as motorcyles and other motorized travel. This USFS guidance is similar to what the National Park Service (NPS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided, in that local districts have the ultimate say to allow e-bikes on non-motorized trails or not. E-bikes are currently allowed on some trails and on all state land trails in Arizona. Users are responsible for being aware of where e-bikes are allowed as well as prohibited.

    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


    Pima County

    Tucson Mountain Park, Sweetwater Preserve, Enchanted Hills, McKenzie Ranch, Big Wash Trail, Colossal Cave Mountain Park, Painted Hills, Tortolita Mountain Park


    *Multiple Agencies

    *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


    • The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) applauded the USFS for finalizing the ruling and incorporating some of IMBA’s recommendations, but isn’t pleased with how the decision will reclassify non-motorized trails to motorized trails when e-bikes are allowed. IMBA is also divided on the issue of e-bikes and where they should be allowed, but is differing to land managers to make the determinations based on various inputs and suggestions from MTB groups, like IMBA. See more here.
    • Finally, SDMB is open to any ideas that grow ridership in a safe and sanctioned manner which utlimately supports bringing greater resources to trails and outdoor recreation.
    For more details on the e-bike issue, refer to our December 11, 2021 blog on the subject that can be found on the SDMB webpage.
  • 21 May 2022 3:05 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    Arizona State Parks & Trails recently approved a small grant to SDMB to support our Bike Ambassador program. The funds will be used to provide jerseys to Bike Ambassadors which identify them clearly out on the trails, and for First-Aid Kits and Be Cool trail etiquette materials. Congrats to Nathaniel Gordon for submitting a successful grant to support the SDMB Bike Ambassador program. Look for them on the trails.

  • 12 May 2022 3:14 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)
    •             Over the last couple of years, our recreation trails have seen a surge of use and popularity, including by people who had little previous experience recreating in the outdoors. In some cases, there have been instances of lost hikers, people who have run out of water, and close encounters with wildlife, and in some cases conflicts between trail users.

                  In response, the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists launched a Bike Ambassador program in March as one way to address all of these issues. Our goal is to be of assistance to all kind of trail users, not just bikers, but also to promote good trail etiquette among the growing ranks of mountain bikers.

      Bike ambassadors are selected for their diplomatic skills in dealing with people; they are not trail enforcers or patrols. Rather, they are trained to help all trail users—hikers, trail runners, dog walkers, equestrians, hand-cycle users and bikers—who may in need helpful directions, extra water, assistance in fixing a flat tire, basic first aid, or other kinds of minor assistance. Sometimes, people just want to know “how far is it?”

                  We currently have 18 bike ambassadors who are out on nearly every trail in the Tucson valley where bikes are allowed (among other kinds of uses). Look for them: they are wearing blue and gold (think Ukraine colors) jerseys with “bike ambassador” prominently printed on the front along with the SDMB logo. They are not setting any riding records but are out there to engage with trail users and improve the outdoor recreation experience for all.

                  Each bike ambassador is charged with helping to make the trails safer for everyone since trails are common ground. Ambassadors have bells on their bikes to alert others to their presence, and they have been trained on how to behave around horseback riders. Besides serving as goodwill ambassadors, after each ride, the they complete a report which details which trails they rode one, how many users they saw and type of trail users, number of cars in the parking lot, and they note any trailhead issues or trail conditions that need attention. These points are then shared with the relevant land managers, in this case Pima County and Marana Parks & Recreation. We vetted this program with them and they see the program as a valuable volunteer contribution to increasing trail safety and improving the trail user experience.

                  Mountain bikers are sometimes cast as scofflaws in the community who are only concerned about recording the fastest times on local trails, everyone else be damned. While every group has its share of renegades, this characterization is untrue of most mountain bikers, however. To reinforce the importance of sharing the trail with others and exhibiting appropriate behavior on the trails, our “Be Cool” campaign with mountain bikers was launched 3 years ago with the specific goal of improving trail etiquette amongst mountain bikers. The elements of our etiquette campaign:

    • 1)    “Slow Your Roll”-control your speed, especially on trails with short sight-lines;
    • 2)    “Respect Others”—yielding to uphill riders and all other trails users, and
    • 3)    “Pay Attention”—watch out for other trail users at all time, turn down your music, don’t ride up on someone at a high speed, and always use a bell to let others know you are approaching.

    Personally, we have noticed an improvement in trail etiquette here in Tucson with the "Be Cool" program, particularly at Sweetwater where the past was sometimes marked by complaints and conflicts from hikers about MTBers. Our new bike ambassador program is designed to take the new step to make our trails even safer and better—for all users.

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