A new B.C. government policy announced in late April means that bicycles with electric motors are now allowed on all trails managed by Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. (RSTBC), including the vast majority of off-road forest bike trails in the Revelstoke area.
Previously, e-bikes were banned on the trails as an interim measure while RTSBC developed a provincial policy to deal with the electric-assist bikes, which are increasingly popular in some places, such as in Europe, but have been slower to catch on in North America.
However, while the e-bikes are now allowed on the recreation trails, new measures will likely be brought into place to restrict their use on some Revelstoke trails.
John Hawkings, the provincial director for RSTBC, said the new policy now allows e-bikes powered by a 500-watt or smaller motor on RSTBC-managed trails, but local RSTBC officers can work with stakeholders to restrict their use on certain trails. The restrictions would involve a public process that includes stakeholder consultations with groups such as bike clubs, environmental groups and other trail users.
E-mountain bikes come in a range of designs and powers, including high-powered models that essentially function like a small dirtbike. Those over 500W are banned on RSTBC trails under the new policy.
The policy for riding on trails has several alignments with rules for e-bikes on B.C. roadways, where e-bikes with power ratings over 500W are not categorized as e-bikes and can’t be legally ridden like a bicycle. The new policy from RSTBC, however, doesn’t apply to electric bike use on roadways.
RCA to advocate for some e-bike trail closures
Revelstoke Cycling Association (RCA) president Meghan Tabor said now that the new policy has been rolled out by the provincial authority, the RCA plans to ask for restrictions on some trails networks, including the Mount Macpherson trails network and the Frisby Ridge trail.
Tabor said the club surveyed their membership and is acting in accordance with members’ feedback on the survey. She added that the RCA plans to re-vote on their e-mountain bike policies in the fall when the club holds its annual general meeting.
She added that those who use the electric bikes due to a disability are exempt from the policy.
The RCA doesn’t have enforcement jurisdiction on the trails, so any restrictions will operate on an honour code.
Restrictions possibly coming back soon
Revelstoke-based recreation officer with RSTBC, Marcia Bennett, said that she’s received communication from the RCA and that changes to restrict e-mountain bikes on Mount Macpherson and Frisby Ridge will likely come soon, and that signage noting the e-bike restrictions could be in place as early as next week.
Many issues to grapple with
The technology that integrates electric motors into mountain bike drive trains has come a long way in the past several years. The majority of major mountain bike manufacturers now offer e-bikes in their offerings, and the bikes are a fast-growing segment of new bike sales, especially in the European market.
But is it really mountain biking? The debate continues to rage on in the mountain biking world, including lots of debates over subtle distinctions.
Those with a range of disabilities argue the bikes enable them to get back in the saddle and out riding with friends.
Some argue that the e-bikes are more appropriate for certain kinds of riding. For example, some downhill-focused riders argue they could skip shuttling up the hill in pickup trucks if their bikes had electric motors to power the bikes (which are hard to ride uphill due to their geometry and weight) back up the hill.
The bikes can also increase riders’ range and penetration into the backcountry, which some argue is a good thing, others not.
Some opponents of e-bikes argue that they fundamentally change the sport, leading to conflicts and safety issues when the bikes travel at different speeds on the uphill.
Loose enforcement of the rules and the ability to modify the power settings on the bikes can lead to a dirtbike-lite style of riding, and traditionalists worry that the e-bikes aren’t just mountain bikes with a little extra help on the uphill, but a whole new thing altogether. On the other hand, e-bike proponents argue that the concerns are overblown: it’s just a little extra help up the steep sections.
Hawkings, who rides in mountain biking hotspot of Squamish, said he’s seen a big jump in e-mountain bikes in that area this spring.
“I believe [the electric motor technology] is transformative. How concerned I am is something we’ll need to watch carefully,” he said.
Note: The policy does contain a lot of details on bike power settings and the new rules on various kinds of trails other than bike trails. Check the policy and be clear on the rules before you ride.