A recent Letter To The Editor, titled “E-bikes should not be allowed on non-motorized trails” seems at first to be reasonable and sensible. But if we take a moment to apply a bit of logic we will find the holes in those arguments.
First, though, let us confine our discussion here to Class-1 eMTBs only (the common industry designation for e-mountain bikes). No reputable eMTB manufacturer produces Class-2 or Class-3 bikes designed for on-trail usage. To be sure, there are some outliers producing non-category-legal e-bikes under the “Bigger, Faster, Badder” American ethos, but market forces will soon drown them out once Class-1 eMTB access becomes a nationally accepted policy.
Second, while it is unfortunate that all e-bikes were originally classified as “motorized vehicles,” those of us in e-bike advocacy are fighting mightily to get Class-1s (and Class-3s) reclassified as “Assisted Bicycles.” Why? Because these two classes require significant physical effort via pedaling to achieve forward propulsion. Can you name any other motorized vehicle that requires more than the twist of a throttle, the stomp of an accelerator pedal, or the push/pull of a lever in order to move? Class-1 eMTBs are just a bicycle with a little bit of boost. How little? Class-1s are limited to a peak power output of 750 watts, or one horsepower. You likely have a blender or food processor on your kitchen counter with greater output, and most eMTB manufacturers are now producing models that max out under 500 watts (2/3hp) in order to keep weight down and make the bikes more playful to ride.
Speaking of weight, eMTBs in general are only about 20 pounds heavier than a standard mountain bike with comparable capabilities. At my job with a local bike shop, I prep 32-pound mountain bikes for 200-pound riders all of the time, yet my own 150-pound body on a 50-pound eMTB would weigh 15% less and undoubtedly have a little less trail impact.
The previous LTE cited IMBA’s 2015 study that found no appreciable impact differences between regular MTBs and eMTBs, but claims that doesn’t apply here because our terrain is different. If the impact is the same in the soft, mushy Northwest, why would it not be so on our hard rock surfaces? She states that no additional studies have been made, but how can you research something that is legally prohibited in the first place? Advocates for the legalization of cannabis will recognize that particular political ploy.
The vast majority of eMTB enthusiasts, just like regular MTB riders, are not looking to get rowdy and “tear stuff up.” We’re just middle-aged and older riders who want to continue to enjoy the legacy trails that we rode in our younger years, the trails that many of us helped build and immortalize in the ’80s and ’90s when Moab was still looking for its post-mining purpose. But when people are fighting change simply because of irrational fear, they stifle progress and hurt those who would otherwise bring their energy, and likely their money, to bear on issues like trail building and maintenance.