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  • 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.

  • 21 Mar 2022 3:41 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    TransitCycles is the first woman-owned and operated bicycle shop in Tucson. Owner and head mechanic, Jenna, has been a bicycle industry professional for over 20 years.

    Jenna's passion for bicycles started in her early-teens with modified three-speeds she picked up from garage sales and thrift stores. She bought her first "real" mountain bike, a Gary Fisher Mt. Tam, in 2002 and has been hooked ever since.

    Jenna began her professional career in 2001 in Rochester, NY and worked for three nationally recognized shops in the area. in 2014, Jenna left New York and moved to Santa Cruz, CA where she worked for a popular bicycle manufacturer as well as a high-end mountain bike shop in San Jose. After a few close calls in California, she moved to Tucson in 2017 and made herself at home. 

    Jenna purchased her dream shop, Transit Cycles,from Duncan Benning in January 2021 and has dedicated her life in an all new way to the bicycle. 

    Transit Cycles is located at 267 S. Avenida Del Convento in the MSA Annex, near the base of A Mountainand just off The Loop (exit westside at either Congress or Cushing St.)

    Our current hours are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Tuesday-Saturday and 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on Sunday. Please check our website or on Instagram @transitcycles for any changes.

    Transit Cycles carries Revel Bikes, Esker Cycles, Surly, Salsa, All-City, State Bicycle Co. and Radio bicycles in stock. We also special order Why titanium bicycles, MONÉ and Baphomet steel bikes, Linus townie-styled bikes and Cleary kid's bikes. 

    Transit Cycles is a full-service repair shop. From brake bleeds and suspension overhauls to building your dream bike- wheels and all, our work is done right the first time. 

    After mechanical service, we specialize in what we like best: bike-packing, commuting, and doing our best to rely on automobiles as little as possible. Our weather here is absolutely fantastic in Tucson, and if you want to leave your car parked, we can help you with that. 

    We carry all types of racks, bags and accessories to make getting out (or getting away) on your bike easier and more enjoyable. We do our best to carry bags and accessories made in the US. We like to support our neighbors the best we can, so in our shop you'll find brands like Bags by Bird, Widefoot, Oveja Negra, King Cage, Nittany Mountain Works, Revelate Designs, Old Man Mountain racks, DOOM handlebars and many more. 

    Come check us out!

    Contact the shop at:


    Instagram @transitcycles or  Thanks Tucson!

  • 10 Feb 2022 1:40 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    We have been asked by Pima County Parks & Recreation to notify everyone that the Big Wash TH at Rancho Vistoso Blvd. will be CLOSED for a full 6 weeks while construction crews work on wash bank protection for an adjacent development. There will be absolutely no access to/from or parking at the Big Wash TH between February 21 – April 4.

    The Big Wash Trail (1.3 mile trail between Rancho Vistoso Blvd. and the “Honeybee” trails to the north) will remain open but you will not be able to access it from the south. There are no other alternative access points except the church trail. Given how small the church parking area is, bikers should consider parking at the old detention center lot on the east side of Oracle Road. Edwin Road has also recently been plowed and you can access the upper Honeybee trails from this road. Development of any user created trails to bypass the construction at Big Wash is prohibited.

    This will inconvenience many in the local riding community, but is unavoidable and necessary for public safety. Please share widely and adapt accordingly.

  • 18 Dec 2021 10:27 PM | Anonymous


    With rain forecast for the next several days, be sure to check with the host of the subsequent rides to see if they will be held. Contact information for each host is below.

    The 8(ish) Days of Xmas ride series is back!  The 8(ish) Days was started in 2007 when some Tucson locals decided they wanted to ride every day between Christmas and New Year’s, and it’s grown into a showcase of the amazing trails and riding community in Southern Arizona.  It’s a chance for folks to get out with the organizations and clubs that make Tucson a great place to live and ride.  So come on out, try some new trails, make some new friends, and celebrate the holidays by bike!  All are welcome for all the rides, but make sure to check out the events for info about trail difficulties.

    Tuesday 12/28: Our MTB Rides Tuesday Night Lights

    Event Host:

    The Ride:  Camino Loma Alta to Pistol Hill and back on the Arizona Trail

    Difficulty: Intermediate

    Meet Location/Time: Camino Loma Alta TH @ 7:00 PM

    Wednesday, 12/29: Old Pueblo MTB

    Event Host: 

    The Ride: Honeybee trails with a Badlands option (bring lights!).

    Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate (depending on route).

    Meet Location/Time: Big Wash TH @ 2:30 PM

    Thursday, 12/30: Portal/Explorer Trail Build Day

    Event Host: or

    The Ride: Build fresh trail at Tucson Mountain Park.

    Difficulty: You decide!

    Meet Location/Time: NW Corner of Kennedy Park @ 9:00 AM.  Bring water, snacks, rain coast, and work gloves.

    Thursday, 12/30: 50-Year Trail

    Event Host: Catalina Brewing Company, Brian Vance @ 520-275-2875

    The Ride: 50-Year trail to the Chutes, maybe Upper 50 and Baby Jesus if there is interest.

    Difficulty: Intermediate/Advanced

    Meet Location/Time: Golder Ranch Road parking lot @ 9:30 AM

    Friday, 12/31: Guy Fawkes and the Cycling Anarchists “Champagne Ride” (Champagne for Everybody!)

    Event: Cancelled because of forecasted rain

    The Ride: Tortolita Preserve Loop

    Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate

    Meet Location/Time: Tortolita Preserve TH @ 5:00 PM

    Saturday, 1/1: MTB Addicts Hangover Ride


    The Ride: A leisurely booze-fueled loop at Fantasy Island

    Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate

    Meet Location/Time: Fantasy Island Valencia TH @ 11:30 AM

    Sunday, 1/2: SDMB Poker Ride & Trail Run


    The Ride: Non-competitive poker ride/run in the Tucson Mountains.  Multiple distances.  Get cards, win prizes!

    Difficulty: Intermediate

    Meet Location/Time: NW corner of Kennedy Park (Ramada #40) @ 9:00 AM

  • 11 Dec 2021 1:00 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    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 widely 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 single-track 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 a 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 age, 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 onto the riding surface.

    The three E-Bike classes are defined as follows:

    • Class 1: The Class 1 e-bike provides assistance only when you pedal, and stops assisting when you reach 20 mph — great for bike lanes, bike paths, roads or anywhere you'd take a traditional bike.
    • Class 2: The Class 2 e-bike is equipped with a throttle which provides a boost without pedaling, and stops assisting at 20 mph.
    • Class 3: The Class 3 e-bike is equipped with a speedometer, and only assists until the bike reaches 28 mph — an excellent choice for commuters. The most popular bikes fit into Class 1 or Class 3 because riders still want to pedal.

    *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:


    Allowable Uses

    Non-motorized/non-mechanized trail

    Hiking, horseback riding

    Non-motorized trail

    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 National 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 single-track 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


    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


    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.

    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 SDMB.

  • 7 Dec 2021 6:00 PM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    The results of the recent McKenzie Frenzy Race are now posted. Congrats to everyone who participated and enjoyed fabulous weather for a race--and no wind! More than 80 people signed up to participate. Also see overall results here: 2021 McKenzie Frenzy Results - Overall.pdf

  • 13 Nov 2021 8:55 AM | Kirk Astroth (Administrator)

    Arizona State Parks and Trails has launched the 2023 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation (SCORP) public survey. Every five years, the SCORP must be updated. This plan gathers information and recommendations to guide the management and funding priorities for outdoor recreation in Arizona. Please make your voice heard.

    If you participate in outdoor recreation in the state of Arizona, please take the survey. The survey takes approximately 15-20 minutes to complete and is available in English and Spanish on the Arizona State Parks and Trails website (

    Public participation by Arizonans over the age of 18 is vitally important. Arizona State Parks and Trails is collecting feedback from user groups, the general public, stakeholders, advocates, and recreation providers to develop outdoor recreation priorities for the state for the next five years. These priorities will inform grant criteria to guide the distribution of state and federal monies to non-profits like SDMB that can aid in the acquisition, development and maintenance of outdoor recreation sites.

    The survey will be active through December 2021.

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