E-bikes on singletrack trails

E-bikes designed for off-road use (aka E-MTB’s) are a relatively new phenomenon and both public and private land managers are implementing and adjusting their access policies for this activity.

Galbraith Mountain:
Public access by motorized vehicle, including pedal-assist electric mountain bikes, is not allowed on Galbraith Tree Farm property, including access roads and trails.  The recreation easement between the City of Bellingham and Galbraith Tree Farm names the WMBC as the recreation manager, however, the WMBC does not set policy for access. Since the first Recreational Use Agreement on Galbraith in 2002, the land manager’s policy has always been non-motorized access.

The Washington state vehicle code, ratified by the legislature in February 2018 in SB 6434:

  1. Defines what an e-bike is in Washington State, and establishes a regulatory framework for their use.
  2. Classifies an e-bike as a special class of bicycle, as long as the power output is no more than 750 watts, it has a saddle, includes fully operative pedals, and meets the following other class restrictions:
    • Class 1: E-assist only while pedaling, with a maximum speed of 20 mph.
      Class 2: Can be propelled solely by the motor, with a maximum speed of 20 mph.
    • Class 3: E-assist only while pedaling, with a maximum speed of 28 mph, and has a speedometer.
  3. Generally disallows e-bikes on designated non-motorized natural surface trails, including singletrack, unless specifically authorized by the land manager.
  4. Requires prominent labeling for all e-bikes containing the Classification Number, Top Assisted Speed, and Motor Wattage.

Currently E-MTB’s can be used off-highway in the following places in Whatcom and Skagit counties:

  • Walker Valley OHV area
  • Canyon Ridge motorized trail (US Forest Service)
  • Motorized access roads that are open to the public on DNR land
  • WA State Park wide gravel paths, unless otherwise posted

Some open questions that affect current and future policy decisions about E-MTB access are:

  • How will the current emerging E-MTB technology change over the next few years?
  • Will other trail user groups be more or less inclined to support human-powered mountain bike access on trails due to increased E-MTB access?
  • How will E-MTB power activation and speed limits  be enforced?
  • Who will advocate for E-MTB access and who will represent E-MTB users?
  • Will E-MTB’s increased speeds lead to more user-group conflicts?

The WMBC will continue to closely monitor the emerging E-MTB technology and its use across the country and around the world. We will work with local land managers on E-MTB policy to ensure it makes sense for all trail users.

no e-bikes

E-MTB signage (example)

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