As nearly everyone knows, Tucson and southern Arizona gets HOT in the summer. But that doesn’t mean that mountain bikers stop riding. Long time desert rats have made accommodations with the extreme weather to keep on riding despite the heat. Here are a few quick tips and tricks for staying in the saddle through the hot months, especially if you’re a newer rider or visiting the area during the summer:
Here is southern Arizona, we are fortunate that we can mountain bike nearly every day of the year because of our great weather. But we have to make adjustments in summer. Hopefully these tips will help you get out even during the hottest times and still be safe.
E-Bikes, or electric bikes, have become increasingly popular in recent years with most major bike companies selling at least one mountain E-Bike. They have become wildly accepted across much of the rest of the world, however there has been significant pushback to their acceptance in the United States. Here we strive to objectively discuss some of the ongoing controversy around E-Bikes, lay out the rules governing E-Bike usage for different land managers, and lastly identify where they can and cannot be ridden in the greater Tucson area.
Note that SDMB as an organization DOES NOT have an position about E-Bike usage, however, we partner with multiple land-management agencies to build, maintain, and advocate for trails in the area and therefore feel it is our responsibility to explain and discuss local policy and potential controversy surrounding E-Bikes. Understanding the history of the debate over mechanized vs. motorized recreational designations is important to understanding the current debate over E-Bike usage, especially for e-mountain bikes on multiple-use singletrack trails.
^ “The Elephant in the Room” by Stephen Haynes (originally published in DirtRag 2015)
What is an E-Bike?
There is a range of classifications for E-Bikes (see classifications below), but at minimum all have a battery powered motor and pedal-assist function. Additionally, class 2 E-Bikes have a throttle that can work without pedaling. E-Bikes have provided a great resource for bicyclists who could not ride certain terrain or certain distances (due to injury, illness, or lack of physical ability) by providing an additional battery powered pedal-assist or throttle function. This also presents a potential problem, as the pedal assist and throttle functions allow more power to be transferred by any particular rider into the riding surface.
The three E-Bike classes are defined as follows:
Class 1: E-Bikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.
Class 2: E-Bikes that also have a maximum speed of 20 mph, but are throttle-assisted.
Class 3: E- Bikes that are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph.
*All classes limit the motor’s power to 1 horsepower (750W).
Classification of E-Bikes differs based on land-management agency and riding area. Many agencies (U.S. Government: US Forest Service / Bureau of Land Management / National Park Service, Pima County) define all E-Bikes as motorized therefore only allowing E-Bikes where other motorized vehicles (e.g. motorcycles) can also travel. However, some agencies (locally, the State of Arizona) consider class 1 E-Bikes to be functionally similar to non-E-Bikes and therefore allow them to travel everywhere that a mechanized bicycle can also travel. This disparity in interpretation means that is E-Bike access is not ubiquitous across all trail networks. From here on we will only discuss Class 1 E-Bikes as they relate to traditional road and mountain bikes due their popularity and to their variation in regulation by land-management agencies.
Additionally, E-Bikes were initially very easy to spot, as they had an externally mounted battery, large motor case, and heads up control panel (e.g. Haibike SDURO shown below). However, as E-Bike design has progressed in recent years, they have come to look increasingly like non-E-Bikes (e.g. Specialized Turbo Levo below). This “blending in” of E-Bikes has led to difficulty in differentiating E-Bikes from normal bikes for park and law enforcement rangers and therefore regulating them within different agencies.
What’s all the controversy about?
Remember the mention of motorized vs. mechanized travel above? This debate stemmed from federal agency interpretations of the Wilderness Act of 1964 (Act) (for much more information on federal wilderness click here). That act defined motorized methods of travel as inconsistent with wilderness character and banned motorized travel within all future wilderness areas. Separate federal agencies then interpreted the Act, subsequently developing their own regulations governing recreational use within wilderness areas managed by each agency. In those regulations, the U.S. Forest Service defined bicycles as a mechanized form of transport, as they are human powered but provide a mechanical advantage (via gearing) to the rider. The agencies also interpreted that mechanized travel was not consistent with wilderness character and banned mechanized forms of transport (including bicycling) from all current and future wilderness areas. Additionally, there is a currently a push by some members of the mountain bike community to reopen that debate about the interpretation of whether mechanized travel is consistent with wilderness character, as it was not explicitly stated in the Act and bicycles were riding previously in areas that have since been designated wilderness. That long-term debate directly influences the current debate about E-Bike usage on designated non-motorized trails within the United States today.
Federal trails and roads are all specifically designated based on the types of allowable uses on that trail or road through the formal travel management process. These use types include hiking, horseback riding, bicycle riding, motorcycle riding, larger off-highway vehicle (OHV) driving, and street-legal vehicle driving (see table below). As E-Bikes are considered motorized, they are lumped in with motorcycles in where they are allowed to ride on federal lands. Many trails in popular riding locations (e.g. Santa Catalina Mountains) are designated as non-motorized, therefore E-Bikes are not allowed on those trails. Additionally, many state and local jurisdictions (locally, Pima County) have adopted federal guidelines for designating allowable uses on trails to maintain consistency with adjacent federal lands.
^ U.S. Forest Service singletrack trail signage in Sedona, AZ
Allowable uses by trail/road designation:
Hiking, horseback riding
Hiking, horseback riding, bicycling
Primitive motorized trail
Hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, E-Bike / motorcycle riding
Primitive motorized road
Hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, E-Bike / motorcycle riding, OHV driving
Improved motorized road
All other uses and street-legal vehicles
Regardless of how you feel about the wilderness debate or how mountain bikes or E-Bikes have been classified by federal agencies, current regulations govern where and how we can recreate. Not following posted regulations not only opens you up to a citation from law enforcement, but it also risks losing continued future access for all mountain bikers on our local trails.
So, where can I ride an E-Bike?
In order to answer this question, you need to know what agency manages your local riding area. If you don’t already know, please read our first SDMB In the Know dispatch: Land Managers 101. E-Bikes are prohibited from all non-motorized trails managed by any federal agency or Pima County. E-Bikes are allowed on state lands, City of Tucson property, and trails managed by the Town of Marana (please see the table below for specific riding areas). *Note that as the Arizona Trail was designated as a federal non-motorized National Scenic Trail, E-Bikes are not allowed on it even if it is passing through lands that would otherwise allow E-Bikes (i.e. AZT in Oracle State Park). Additionally, while the Town of Marana has provided funding for trail construction and now maintains trails within Tortolita Mountain Park, Pima County manages this land, so E-Bikes are not allowed on the Ridgeline/Wild Burro Loop and roughly the upper half of Wild Mustang. Bikes (and E-Bikes) are only allowed on specific Town of Marana managed trails in the area including Lower Wild Burro (above Alamo Spring Spur)*, Alamo Spring Trail and Spur*, lower Wild Mustang, upper Javelina, and the Tortolita Preserve (* Note as these trails are accessed through the Tortolita Mountain Park, one could not ride an E-Bike to these trails). Finally, note that there are also many Forest Service motorized trails and roads (north and east side of Catalina Mountains, Redington Pass area, Santa Rita Mountains) that allow E-Bikes as well as motorized vehicles (see Coronado Natl Forest Motor Vehicle Use Maps here).
Essentially, this means that E-Bikes can legally ride on less than ¼ of the ~400 bike-legal miles of singletrack in the greater Tucson area.
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
It is imperative that local riders know and comply with the posted regulations governing E-Bike use for all local riding areas. Not doing so could potentially jeopardize future access for all mountain bikers. If you are a rider considering purchasing an E-Bike, please research where you can legally ride it. Bike shop owners and employees can be crucial in this education process by informing potential E-Bike buyers that they will be limited to riding in the few local areas that allow E-Bikes or trails and dirt roads that also allow motorized vehicles.
Please click the map below to view all of the bike-legal trails in the greater Tucson area on Trailforks. To view E-Bike legal trails within any riding area hover over the FILTER tab at the top of the map, then click the “Ebike trails” button.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about where E-Bikes can legally be ridden in the greater Tucson area. If you have any questions about E-Bike or general mountain bike trail access, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the first dispatch of SDMB’s ongoing “In the Know” series, where we break down the rules, tips and tricks, and benefits and impacts of mountain biking, trails, and outdoor recreation in the greater Tucson region. In Dispatch 1, we break down the agencies that manage the riding areas around Tucson as well as the rules and regulations for riding in each of those areas. We hope that locals and visitors alike can learn something new and become more knowledgeable and responsible mountain bikers.
^ Riders enjoying the McKenzie Ranch XC Race Course
Mountain bikers in Tucson are privileged to count over 400 miles of rideable (non-Wilderness) singletrack within a 90 minute drive of downtown. With so much trail spread across so many different trail networks there are seven main land managers that manage multi-use singletrack. Those are 1) Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation, 2) Coronado Forest Service, 3) AZ State Parks, 4) City of Tucson, 6) Town of Marana, 6) the National Park Service, and 7) the AZ State Land Department. See the map below to find out who manages your local riding network.
These diverse agencies present a diverse riding experience based on rider experience, desired terrain, and allowed tail users. Please read below for more info on and rules for each land manager with links to more information directly from those agencies. We hope you are able to learn the rules for your local riding areas and the resources to find out more information. And as always, remember to follow proper trail etiquette and Be Cool out on the trail!
Pima County NRPR manages seven parks and preserves that allow mountain biking, which are broadly distributed across greater Tucson and offer many challenging and diverse riding opportunities for all ability levels. Click below for links to specific trail networks:
Rules differ by property and are briefly outlined below:
2) Coronado National Forest
The Coronado National Forest manages many miles of bike-legal trail (all trails outside of wilderness except where posted “closed”), which ranges from front-county singletrack to back-country epics. Much of the trail in the Catalina Mountains is rough and rugged, while the Santa Rita’s are quite a bit smoother. The 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail runs through both mountain ranges, with prime opportunities for long, rugged rides. The Tucson Off-Road Cyclists Association (TORCA)and Arizona Trail Association (AZTA) work to maintain trails on the Coronado National Forest.
Rules are the same across all forest lands:
Arizona State Parks offers many trails statewide that are open to mountain bikes, however the two State Parks in the Tucson area are Catalina and Oracle SPs. Catalina SP is immediately east of Oro Valley and is commonly used to connect to the 50-year trail system, while Oracle is further north and represents great trails with opportunities to connect to the Arizona Trail.
Rules are the same across all State Parks:
SDMB has partnered with the City of Tucson to establish the 100-Acre Wood Bike Park! This will be Tucson’s first mountain bike specific bike park! This land is owned by the US Air Force and leased by the City of Tucson. 100-Acre Wood is a designated city park, and will contain trails and features designed to allow progression of all mountain bike users. Many of the trail corridors in Zones 1 and 2 are rideable while the bike park is under construction. For more information on 100-Acre Wood or to help out please visit http://100acrewoodbikepark.org
Rules at 100-Acre Wood are listed below:
5) Town of Marana
The Town of Marana has a commitment to maintain outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and visitors. To that end, it manages two trail networks on the flanks of the Tortolita Mountains, the Dove Mountain trails and the Tortolita Preserve. The Dove Mountain trails are generally located to the west of and below the trails in the Tortolita Mountain Park managed by Pima County. These trails are accessed through either the Wild Burro or Tortolita Preserve trailheads.
Rules are the same across all Town of Marana trails:
National Parks typically do not allow mountain bikes on any trails, however Saguaro National Park has two trails that allow mountain biking! This access took much negotiation, so please follow all park rules so we do not risk losing future access.
Rules are the same across both bike-legal trails in Saguaro National Park:
There are multiple trail networks on Arizona State Trust lands managed by the Arizona State Land Department. None of these trails (except for the 50-Year trail) are legal, however they represent some of the most popular trail networks in the greater Tucson area. Access to these areas is tenuous at best, so self-policing is of the utmost importance to allow for continued future access. Please use legal access points and report any vandalism / issues to SDMB.
As these trail networks are not sanctioned (except the 24 HOP course) there are technically no rules for trails on AZ State Trust lands, however following these rules will help us maintain continued access:
Thank you for reading all the way through our first In the Know dispatch! If you have any questions about the agencies that manage your local riding area or the rules that pertain to using those trails please don't hesitate to contact us at email@example.com!
Another hot season is upon us and the high riding season is winding down. Every year it seems like the number of local and visiting mountain bikers (and other users) on Tucson trails continues to grow at a faster rate than our singletrack resources do. This puts stress on our already crowded trail systems and promotes the likelihood of user conflict between mountain bikers and other trail users. For that reason SDMB continued the Be Cool outreach campaign during the 2018/2019 winter riding season.
Between October and May, SDMB held 10 outreach events at many of the major county trailheads, including Sweetwater Preserve, Genser/Starr Pass, Gabe Zimmerman, Golder Ranch/50-year, the Tortolita Preserve, and even Oracle State Park. This totaled over 80 hours of collective effort between SDMB board members and additional volunteers (special thanks to the Oro Valley Mountain Bike Team!). We handed out over 500 bike bells (!!!), countless stickers, and much information to riders and non-riders alike. We reminded everyone of proper trail etiquette, of which users have the right-of-way on trail, and how to respect the trail when conditions are less than ideal.
The overall feedback from both riders and other trail users this season was overwhelmingly positive, with many comments about how courteous riders have been recently: yielding to non-mountain bikers as appropriate, using bike bells or calling out when riding up from behind, notifying other users of how many additional riders there are in the group, and generally being friendly and courteous. This goes a long way towards continued public acceptance of mountain bikers retaining full access to all non-wilderness trails in the greater Tucson region. Kudos to all SDMB members for supporting these efforts with your membership dollars!
We've got a lot in store for next season, with new initiatives and many more outreach events planned! So be on the lookout for ambassadors at your favorite local trailhead, and remember to Be Cool out on the trail!
As a reminder the Be Cool campaign has three components:
1) "Slow your Roll" - control your speed, especially on trails with with short sight-lines
2) "Respect Others" - yielding to uphill riders and all other trail users, and
3) "Pay Attention" - watch out for other trail users at all times and don't ride up on someone at Mach 5, always use a bell to let other users know you are approaching.
For more information on Be Cool click here.
If you are interested in helping out or getting involved with the Be Cool campaign or other SDMB advocacy initiatives, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change is coming to Fantasy Island (again)!
If you ride FI, you have definitely noticed that construction of the Saguaro Trails subdivision. SDMB has been working with Mattamy homes for several years to mitigate the impact of construction and keep as many of the trails open as possible. Next up is Tucson Water's SHARP (South Houghton Area Recharge Project), which will impact the northern end of the Bunny Loop. GO HERE FOR A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE SHARP PROJECT
Tucson Water and Borderlands Construction have already started work in the area, and they expect to close off the designated part of the Bunny Loop (see the map below) as early as 2/25/19. We hope to have a marked reroute in place which is also on the map. Please respect all closures and reroutes and stay out of the construction area. We don't know exactly how long construction will take, but it will be several months at minimum. The good news is that when it's done, there will be riparian area in Fantasy Island with amenities like benches and ramadas! The Bunny Loop will pass through the SHARP park and around the recharge basins, and the reroute will remain in place for a high-speed bypass.
Questions? Email trailsteward@SDMB.org.
© 2018 - Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists - SDMB - is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization
PO Box 65075, Tucson AZ 85718