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Traditional cyclists, e-bikers clash over new trail rules

I saw this in E&E News last week. I thought it was Interesting because I had never heard of an Ebike prior to early 2017 when I was working on a travel management plan for the BLM Shoshone Field Office. The staff there kept talking about Ebikes and I kept thinking mopeds or scooters (really I was thinking mopeds). How wrong I was. Ebikes are real, they are a thing, and they are exploding in popularity, particularly in the demographic that still enjoys biking and utilizing bike paths, but that struggle with some of the steeper sections. I see them on bike paths all over Tucson these days. Important to note that in Tucson motorized vehicles are not allowed. So are eBikes bicycles or are they motorcycles. That seems to be the question and one in which many agencies, including the BLM, don't have the answer. The E&E news article is reprinted below in it's entirety with a link to the original article at the end.

After a couple days of hard hiking last fall, Tim Brass thought it was time to track down a motor. He was bowhunting in a trophy unit near Creede, Colo., and plenty of other hunters were using a motorized trail for swift access.

His friend offered an e-bike. Brass got his elk."Best hunting experience of my life. And that tool made it a lot easier to get the elk out of there, I'll tell you that. It made it bearable, for sure," said the Colorado policy director for the 40,000-member Backcountry Hunters & Anglers group.

But that pedal-assisted hunt wasn't enough to flip Brass into a wholehearted embrace of e-bikes. He points to wildlife surveys showing animals increasingly bothered by all types of explorers adventuring deeper into Colorado's wildest lands."

Do we want people to be able to ride a bike twice as far in a day? Do we want to allow them where motorcycles can't go? What if we know the impacts to wildlife will be greater?" Brass said. "The fact is, these things have a motor that lets people go deeper and further much easier than ever before. It can be a bit of a slippery slope when it comes to allowing motorized use on nonmotorized routes."

Allowing e-bikes on nonmotorized trails, as ordered by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last fall, is pitting traditional pedalers versus e-bikers as federal land agencies craft rules to implement the new order.

Cyclists fear the embrace of electric-assisted pedalers could get all bikes banned from trails. Trail builders worry about impacts from motorized bikes that can reach more than 50 mph. E-bikers fret their opportunities to explore public lands could be relegated to motorized thoroughfares.

Thousands of public land users are flooding the public comment portals in what is emerging as one of the most controversial rules in years for the Bureau of Land Management.

For Jake Roach, the CEO and co-founder of QuietKat, the Eagle, Colo.-based maker of off-road e-bikes, the conflict boils down to "outdoor elitists" who are able to power themselves into the backcountry."

I think what you find is that currently in public lands access, it's basically set up to really benefit the individual who has a lot of time and is in really good shape," said Roach, whose QuietKat has seen explosive growth in recent years. "That is not necessarily the demographic of the typical American taxpayer."

Roach is helping to mobilize the growing swell of e-bikers to sway federal land managers to allow the electrified rides. He hopes to spread the idea that e-bikes might not only open public lands to a wider range of users, but disperse those users across public lands."

The first mile is crowded, but once you get past that first mile, it can get lonely," Roach said. "Spreading out the public on public land can only add value. There's a perception that outdoor elitists want to keep public lands for themselves and that's not a fair assessment of how public lands should be used."

BLM, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all last month proposed rules that would open nonmotorized trails to electric-powered mountain bikes. Each agency is asking for public comment on the plan. The rule comes from a controversial order Bernhardt issued in August directing the agencies' managers to develop rules allowing e-bikes on all bike trails.

The agencies are collecting public comments on the rule through June 8. The park service and FWS plans are not proving too controversial, with a total of about 500 comments on the agency's online portals. (Each of those agencies largely prohibit bikes on backcountry trails, so the rules add e-bikes to largely motorized routes where bikes already are allowed.)

But for BLM, which manages nearly 500,000 miles of roads and trails, the comments are piling up thousands deep as human-powered advocates and e-bike users square off.

BLM spokeswoman Maribeth Pecotte said the agency is studying e-bike use on nonmotorized trails using analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and its community-surveying processes for developing travel management plans that determine where certain types of vehicles are allowed.

Pecotte said the agency wants to conduct site-specific planning for e-bikes, measuring their impact as well as the perspectives of local trail users. She suspects more people are growing accustomed to e-bikes and the end result of BLM's review will expedite that acceptance by opening more trails to the electrified rides."

The more people are exposed to e-bikes, the more they accept them as time goes by, and I think they will come to accept them more as they become more prevalent," she said. — Jason Blevins, Colorado

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