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SAM Magazine—Washington, D.C., April 21, 2022—The U.S. Forest Service issued final directives clarifying e-bike definitions and use management on National Forest System lands. Per the directive, all e-bikes, including Class 1 pedal-assist-only e-bikes, are now classified as motorized vehicles.USFA 440x340 As such, e-bikes are not allowed on non-motorized trails unless those trails undergo a NEPA process for redesignation.

The change will not impact ski area constructed and maintained trails within special permit boundaries, noted National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) director of public policy Geraldine Link in the organization’s latest Capitol Watch newsletter. “However,” Link advised, “ski areas that have an NFS trail inside their permit boundary or connecting NFS trails outside their boundary should be aware that the ‘seamless experience’ that NSAA advocated for in our comments was not achieved with this new policy.”

The USFS policy is a departure from that of the Department of Interior and other agencies, which chose not to classify e-bikes as motor vehicles and instead regulate e-bikes usages like traditional bike usage: Local land managers on Bureau of Land Management and Park Service lands must issue a written decision authorizing e-bike usage on non-motorized trails. 

“This results in a process,” said Link, “but the process is arguably more efficient than a USFS process that requires re-designation of trails versus decisions of what bikes are permitted on a non-motorized trail.”

While the final directives ultimately do not shift existing USFS policy much, Paul Mutch, owner of three Pedego e-bike stores, including two in Colorado, sees the decision as a missed opportunity.

“We are seeing unprecedented demand for e-bikes,” said Mutch. “However, this decision only adds barriers, confusion, and enforcement burden for the public and the Forest Service and its partners.” He hopes, going forward, USFS policy may allow for more local review and permissions to access USFS lands.

According to Link, NSAA and the Forest Service will be addressing the policy change in detail at NSAA’s Downhill Bike Park Summit in June at Deer Valley, Utah.