Forest Service issues new guidelines for e-bike use |

Forest Service issues new guidelines for e-bike use

Opening non-motorized routes is possible but must be thoroughly studied

Roaring Fork High School’s Sam Friday, 16, gets air off of a small rock jump on the Prince Creek Trail system in Carbondale on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The U.S. Forest Service released national guidelines Thursday that reinforce e-bike access to roads and trails open to motorized uses and give local officials leeway in evaluating the use of additional routes.

The national directive classifies e-bikes as a motorized use. Expansion of use onto non-motorized trails is possible but must go through the agency’s regular environmental analysis process.

In the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, the guidelines mean that Forest Service roads such as Basalt Mountain Road and Upper Lincoln Creek Road remain open to e-bikes but trails including the Hunter Creek Valley network and Hay Park remain off limits.

“There will not be any immediate changes to our approach for managing e-bikes on the White River National Forest,” said David Boyd, public information officer for the forest supervisor’s office. “Any proposed changes would go through a formal planning review including a (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis with opportunities for public comment.”

There are no current proposals being reviewed or planned to expand e-bike use, he said.

On a national scale, e-bikes are allowed on 60,000 miles of motorized-use forest trails, roughly 38% of all trails the agency manages. Statistics on open trails and roads in the Aspen-Sopris District were not immediately available.

E-bike use on non-motorized trails became controversial in 2019 when the Department of Interior said any routes open to regular bikes should be opened to e-bikes. That resulted in the opening of some trails managed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. It didn’t affect the Forest Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The interior department stepped the rule back and gave local federal land managers more authority to evaluate e-bike access on a case-by-case basis.

Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, said the controversy over e-bike use has largely calmed down in our neck of the woods and he didn’t see anything in the Forest Service guidelines that would reignite it.

“It does seem that the e-bike topic is getting a little less heated over time,” he said.

A mountain biker rips through the Hunter Creek Valley on a cloudy afternoon as a storm rolls into Aspen on Friday, October 8, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

He personally believes e-bikes are valuable to keep mountain bikers pursuing their passion as they grow older, and it gets other people off the couch. On the other hand, critics are concerned that opening non-motorized singletrack routes will attract more riders to trails that are already overcrowded, he noted.

Class One e-bikes seem to be the most accepted among cyclists. They are pedal-assist bikes that require the riders to actively engage rather than simply twist a throttle.

In the Roaring Fork and Lower Colorado River valleys, there is limited use of e-bikes and very few problems reported to the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, Pritchard said.

E-bike use on the paved Maroon Creek Road has been more of a sore subject. A consortium of agencies that includes the Forest Service, Pitkin County and the city of Aspen is looking at changes for e-bike use on the popular route.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails allows e-bike use on some of its trails that are paved or cover in crushed rock but not on its extensive dirt trail network.

“I’ve had no direction to change anything,” said Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of the open space program. Any change would require review by the open space board of directors and Pitkin County commissioners.

There is a hodgepodge of regulations in some areas that can be confusing. In the midvalley, for instance, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails operates two of the most popular trailheads to the network on the Crown, the lower Price Creek Trail and Glassier Trail. Some of the BLM trails on the Crown are open to e-bikes as well as motorcycles, while other BLM routes are closed to motorized uses.

In other areas, such as the relatively new Sutey Ranch, BLM trails are closed to motorized uses, including e-bikes.

Nationwide, the BLM allows e-bike use on 18,000 miles of trails.

The Forest Service’s national office released a statement Thursday that said flexibility is a necessity when assessing e-bike access.

“Emerging technologies such as e-bikes are changing the way people enjoy their visits to national forests and grasslands,” the agency’s statement said. “As e-bike use trends change with time and new technologies, the way the Forest Service manages these lands for multi purposes to ensure their long-term health and resilience must change as well. The agency thoroughly examined our policy to identify new ways to expand e-bike access for Americans in ways that meet user needs while continuing to protect forest resources.”