A rapidly growing threat to public safety on our hiking trails — particularly for our vulnerable young children and elderly hikers — has emerged. Motorized mountain bikes, or “e-bikes,” have exploded in popularity in recent years.
In 2016, Ken Miner, Director of Sales, Haibike-USA, said “in the last five years the e-mountain bike scene has really taken off across Europe. We’re starting to see those same kinds of indicators here in the U.S.”
Outside magazine ran an article in January titled “We’ll All Be Riding Electric Mountain Bikes Soon” in which the author writes, “amid concerns over trail conflicts and land-management issues, e-mountain bikes just keep getting better and better.”
Aided by hidden electric motors, e-bikes can reach unnatural and unsafe speeds with relatively little effort (see the January 2017 “60 Minutes” story on e-bikes). Alarmed, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have established that e-bikes are to be considered motorized vehicles, just like motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles, and that they, therefore, cannot be used on non-motorized trails:
It is impossible to distinguish e-bikes from traditional mountain bikes without closely inspecting each machine. Outside magazine reported in June of 2016 that “it’s a trail bike at heart… there is little indicating this e-bike is anything but a typical mountain bike.”
Forest Service law enforcement officials, too, point out that they cannot differentiate motorized mountain bikes from regular mountain bikes. Since the use of e-bikes is growing exponentially, and a large percentage of mountain bikers are cavalier scofflaws, it follows that these dangerous machines will be regularly, surreptitiously, widely used on trails – including on trails that are intended to be non-motorized.
Therefore, it is axiomatic that since any one of them could be an e-bike at any given time, no mountain bikes at all should be permitted on any of the non-motorized trails in the Allegheny National Forest. This, of course, includes not only all of the trails at the 9,700-acre proposed Tracy Ridge Wilderness Area, but also the Tanbark Trail, Morrison Trail, and several others.
With the advent and growth of e-bikes, mountain biking must be permanently removed from any non-motorized trail in the Allegheny where it is currently allowed. If the Forest Service fails to take this common-sense action, the liability will be on their hands when (not if) a hiker is struck and injured by a careening mountain biker using an e-bike on a non-motorized trail.
Kirk Johnson, Executive Director,
Friends of Allegheny Wilderness,