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Electric Assist Mountain Bikes

Innovation drives new technology into every avenue of our lives and often the policies guiding usage fall far behind the speed of innovation. This is the case with electric assist mountain bikes (eMTBs). eMTBs have been around since the 90’s, however, the Washington state legislature only recently passed ESSB 5452 – concerning eMTBs. This policy passed by the WA state legislature instructs DNR and WDFW to undergo a public process collecting information from various user groups related to electric-assist bicycle use on nonmotorized natural surface trails and closed roads open to bicycles. Aimed at determining which classes of bicycles will be allowed on which trails and roads under the management of those agencies.

What is an eMTB?

Funded by a military grant in 1997 Montague bikes teamed up with Currie Technologies and began development of early electric assist mountain bikes as a way to move military troops and equipment without the heat or noise signatures of a combustion engine. In the years following, innovation has exploded bringing improvements to battery and motor technology which has introduced a new generation of electric assist mountain bikes to the market [1]. Today eMTBs are sold around the globe for recreational use and as a means of transportation.

eMTB Classes

Generally, eMTBs are broken down into three separate classes (I, II, & III). All classes limit the motor’s power to 1hp (750W), the variations lie in the speed and operational function (pedal or throttle) of the bikes [2].

Class 1 – Pedal assist only, maximum motor assisted speed of 20 mph.

Class 2 – Throttle assist, maximum motor assisted speed of 20mph.

Class 3 – Pedal assist only, maximum motor assisted speed of 28 mph.

Regulations

Currently there are a patchwork of regulations for eMTBs depending on which agency is responsible for the management of the land. [3]

DOI – authorizes the use of low-speed eMTBs (class I) on trails and paths where traditionl bicycles are allowed. Order 3376 directs FWS, NPS, BLS, and BOR to do a rule update to be consistent.

USDA Forest Service – Considers eMTBs as a motorized vehicle

DNR – Considers eMTBs as motorized, limited to roads and ORV trails.

Washington State -SB6434 (passed in 2018) if local jurisdiction doesn’t address eMBTs, then rules default to classes I & II being allowed on roadways. Prohibited from use on non-motorized trails with natural surface (no added surfacing material). alternative).

Washington State Parks – Allows the use of class I & III on trails where nonmotorized bikes are allowed.

WDFW – Allows eMTBs where motorized vehicles are allowed. Does not allow eMTBs on designated non-motorized trails with natural surfaces (with limited exceptions – consistent with SB 6434).

Your Opinion Matters

ESSB 5452 has instructed WDFW to begin a public process to collect information related to the use of eMTBs on nonmotorized natural surface trails, closed roads open to bicycles. As well as determining which classes of eMTB are acceptable on those surfaces. We would love to hear your thoughts on eMTBs, please visit our poll HERE.

[1] https://www.montaguebikes.com/folding-bikes-blog/2018/04/history-of-first-electric-mountain-bike/

[2] https://www.bosch-ebike.com/us/everything-about-the-ebike/stories/three-class-ebike-system

[3] https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2021-01/e-bikes_on_wdfw-managed_lands_0.pdf (cover photo from WDFW presentation)