E-bikes: What you need to know
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
Whether you have a huge commute or you like the idea of an extra long trail ride, the allure of e-bikes can be hard to deny. What's more: they're here and they're not going anywhere.
But before you decide to buy one or head out to the trails it's important to know how e-bikes are managed in and around Missoula. To be clear, e-bikes are motorized vehicles and are regulated as such in almost every scenario. Looking forward, e-bikes deserve a conversation on where and how they are managed, but until that happens riding e-bikes on non-motorized trails represents a huge risk to mountain bike access and ongoing trail building efforts.
How they work - There are two main kinds of e-bikes: throttle assist and pedal assist, and they're both aptly named. A throttle assist e-bike applies power to the wheels through a handlebar mounted throttle lever; a pedal assist e-bike senses that you're pedaling and adds power to each stroke. Both throttle and pedal assist e-bikes run on batteries and supplement your pedaling efforts with an electric motor.
Where you can ride - Different jurisdictions have different policies on where e-bikes can be ridden in bike lanes. We suggest you check with your city for direction (we're more interested in trails). It's important to know that e-bikes are generally considered motorized by land managers, and we encourage you to know where access is allowed before you head out to ride.
USFS - The US Forest Service is clear on this: e-bikes are prohibited on non-motorized trails. This includes the Rattlesnake, most of Pattee Canyon, and the non-motorized trails at Blue Mountain. There are, however, a number of motorcycle trails in the Blue Mountain Recreation area, which is a great place to spin the new e-bike!
City of Missoula - Missoula Parks and Recreation is slightly more nuanced. In cases where an e-bike is serving as a power-driven mobility device (such as a Segway PT or Rascal scooter), e-bikes may be allowed on some paths such as the Kim Williams trail and the service roads on Mount Jumbo. The City policy states that powered mobility devices, including e-bikes, are not permitted on singletrack. You can read the City's policy here, and call the Parks and Recreation Department (406-552-6277) for more information.
Five Valleys Land Trust - Five Valleys Land Trust has gone above and beyond by allowing us to build trail on their property in Marshall Canyon, and it's up to all of us to keep that relationship strong. Their policies look a lot like the city's: some power driven mobility devices may be suitable on dirt roads, but e-bike use on singletrack is inappropriate.
Don't Be a Poacher - Riding e-bikes on non-motorized trails validates the argument that e-bike use cannot be managed or distinguished from mountain bikes. This is ridiculous, obviously, but it's a narrative we hear every day from individuals and groups who want to see trails closed to bikes. When we work with land managers to build new, bike-specific trails, it's with the understanding that we are advocating for human-powered, non-motorized use. Breaking down this distinction undermines land use negotiations and new trail projects. Poaching closes trails - you wouldn't poach an elk, don't poach a trail.
If you have any questions about e-bikes, e-bike policy, or access please don't hesitate to reach out to your local land manager, or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll see you on the trails!