E-Bike at Devil's Den State Park

USDA Forest Service Issues E-Bike Guidance

The Community Bicyclist

USDA Forest Service Issues Guidance to Manage Future E-Bike Use on National Forests and Grasslands

USDA Forest Service has issued guidance for their offices throughout the country on designating trails for e-bike use. This is a big move and important to Arkansas considering the number of mountain bike trails on Forest Service property including all five of our IMBA Epic Trails. Final changes were made to Forest Service Manual 7700 Travel Management – Zero Code and to 7710 Travel Management – Travel Planning. The directives add a definition of e-bikes as a class of motor vehicle and establishes criteria for consideration in designating roads, trails, and areas for e-bike use that are not currently designated for motor vehicle use, among other changes.

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Below is the meat of the guidance.

4. Specific Criteria and Guidance for Designating E-Bike Use on Trails. In addition to the general and specific criteria in FSM 7715.5, paragraphs 1 through 3, when designating trails for e-bike use (FSM 7705), consider and document the following:

  • Whether and the extent to which the trails are managed for bicycle use or bicycle use is allowed (FSM 7705) under the applicable TMOs.
  • For trails that are managed for bicycle use or where bicycle use is allowed, the extent to which effects from e-bike use are comparable to effects from existing bicycle use, accounting for, as appropriate, differences in speed; potential effects from increased or concentrated use; and any site-specific considerations.
  • Consider designating a class or classes of e-bike use, as appropriate, on NFS trails managed for bicycle use or where bicycle use is allowed, where effects from e-bike use would be comparable to effects from bicycle use.

The appropriate level of environmental analysis, including programmatic analyses, should be evaluated when considering whether to designated roads, trails, or areas for e-bike use.

E-bikes are not allowed on a National Scenic Trail unless a regulatory exception authorized by the National Trails System Act is met or there is an exception in the enabling legislation for the trail.

E-Bike taking a drop at Devil's Den State Park
E-Bike taking a drop at Devil’s Den State Park. (photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism

Reminder – Category 1 E-bikes are currently allowed on any trail that allows bicycles within Arkansas State Parks. For a better understanding of these different land management agencies see our reference post.

News Release from the USDA Forest Service

Washington, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is announcing that internal guidance on how future e-bike use is managed on national forests and grasslands has been finalized. The updated guidance clarifies existing policy and provides guidelines to local Forest Service employees that may be considering expanding e-bike access at site-specific locations.

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The Forest Service currently allows e-bikes on all Forest Service roads that are already open to motorized vehicles, as well on 60,000 miles of motorized trails, which represent 38% of all trails the agency manages. Today’s finalized guidance allows e-bikes to continue to operate on currently-authorized roads and trails and lays out a process to evaluate future requests for expanded access. The updated guidance also outlines the required environmental analysis and public input required before making future decisions to expand local e-bike access.

“National forests and grasslands are a place for all people to recreate, relax and refresh,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The additional guidance will help our district rangers and forest supervisors better serve their communities with a policy that allows managers to make locally based decisions to address e-bike use. This growing recreational activity is another opportunity to responsibly share the experience of the outdoors with other recreationists.”

The Forest Service manages nearly 160,000 miles of trails in 42 states and Puerto Rico for a variety of activities. E-biking is one of many legitimate recreational activities, such as horseback riding, snowmobiling, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, hiking, and backpacking, that the agency manages under its multiple-use mission. The clarified guidance will support local Forest Service decision-makers as they consider opportunities to expand access for this emerging user group.

Other land management agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, allow for e-bike use on 18,000 miles and 16,000 miles of trails, respectively.

For more information on how this will affect Forest Service properties in Arkansas, contact the Ouachita or Ozark-St. Francis Districts of the USDA Forest Service.

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For more information on recreational activities, contact your local national forest or grassland.

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2 Responses

  1. “Consider” doesn’t impose any enforceable rule. It really seems like they just punted on making a regulation specific enough to be meaningful.

  2. I ride both pedal and e-mountain bikes. From my experience, the impact from e-bikes is no different than the impact from mountain bikes. There is no noise and no trail damage. E-assist mountain bikes represents a new technology and should be allowed where ever mountain bikes are allowed. Arkansas state parks has allowed them from the start with no adverse consequences.

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