Ready or not, here they come! A new rule says electric bikes are allowed in national parks and on public lands—maybe even near you.
Electric bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle industry. They’re pricey, they’re popular, and they’re sometimes controversial. Their design combines the frame of a regular bike with lightweight batteries and electric motors. That gives a rider’s physical strength an electric power boost.
Once, electric bikes (or e-bikes) were restricted from public lands. But due to a recent Trump administration order, that is changing. E-bikes make it possible for more trail riders to experience greater heights, deeper forests, and longer views. Those scenic trails were once limited to traditional bikes—with riders fit enough to operate them.
National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith explains that e-bikes “make bicycle travel easier and more efficient.” Gordon Goodwin, 69, agrees. He and his wife want to enjoy the 57 miles of carriage paths that wind through Acadia National Park. They want to see the trails’ stunning views. Until now, e-bikes were confined to the park’s paved roads. Now, Goodwin gets to see the same sights as more physically capable bicyclists. “We’re stoked,” he says.
But more than 50 hiking, horse-riding, and other outdoor groups have spoken out against opening trails to e-bikes. The administration’s order allows for speeds up to 28 miles per hour. Opponents say that will change the nature of national parks. Kristen Brengel is Vice President of the National Parks Conservation Association. She explains some of the concern, saying, “If you’re hiking on a trail in Utah, and you’re rounding a bend, and something’s coming at you at 20 miles per hour, that really changes the experience.”
For years, parks and other public lands have struggled to regulate electric and gasoline-powered vehicles that can disrupt a peaceful trail experience. E-bikes frequently buzz in and out of the paths of those traveling on foot, horseback, or traditional bikes. As a result, the National Park Service has tried to sort out rules to minimize conflicts. For example, e-bikers are supposed to use motor power only to boost their own pedaling. They aren’t allowed to power up for speeding down hills. But how will short-staffed parks enforce such regulations?
Allowing e-bikes serves some who long to enjoy the sport of cycling. It makes trails accessible to people of varying fitness levels and abilities. But it also elevates risk for others using those same trails. Is it possible for everyone, regardless of physical ability, to enjoy the vast beauty God has given us?