Kamryn Anderson knows an 89-year-old man named Fritz who changed his life by staying active.

He didn’t walk, swim or hike.

He bought an e-bike.

“It has done wonders for him as far as staying active,” she said. “It’s been absolutely fantastic for him.”

There is another customer of Salt Lake eBikes who has fatal ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, which progressively degenerates the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

“An e-bike is the only way he can go and ride and keep up with his sons because they have been riding bikes for their whole life, and now with his new diagnosis, he can’t quite do what he used to be able to do,” said Anderson, who manages the business. “So having an e-bike has been life changing. He can still go on those rides with his kids and keep up within minutes. It has been a great way to put that aside for at least a little while and ride.”

Not everyone is a fan of e-bikes

The U.S. Forest Service recently released its own rules on how it classifies e-bikes, saying they are not allowed on any nonmotorized trails within their lands.

That edict brought up a discussion with members of a legislative committee who expressed concern about allowing equal access to public lands.

The Utah Legislature’s Federalism Commission invited the U.S. Forest Service representatives to its meeting, but they declined to participate, according to the chair of the commission who described the lack of participation “disheartening.”

Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, expressed his concerns over the issue.

“In our area, we have a lot of trails, both off-road vehicles and bike trails, and they’re building more all the time. But we get people in there who are older, like myself, and have an e-bike and then they find out that they’re not allowed to ride on these trails,” Albrecht said. “The previous administration allowed this and then it was rescinded under the current administration.” 

Where e-bikes are allowed and not is confusing.

“I hear these same concerns brought before me. I get calls about this from recreational users, trail managers, people that are advocates and foundations that build trails,” said Jason Curry, director of the Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Office. “The retailers that sell these products, people that rent them as part of their business, and even people at the ski resorts that operate their resorts on Forest Service properties have questions. So you can’t currently operate on Forest Service land. They are considered a motorized vehicle, which is just inconsistent with state law.”

The problem, in part, stems from what type of e-bike a person is riding. Is it class one, class two or class three? The farther up the ladder you go, the more torque you get.

There are some of the bikes which are just pedal assist and operate at 250 watts, which Anderson contends do not tear up a trail any more than a regular mountain bike. Others have more power, with as much as 1,000 watts.

She said that is a big difference, with some that can go up to 50 mph. However, she said the most popular e-bikes they sell go up to 20 mph and tap out at 10 mph when mountain biking.

“I think all mid drives, especially your full suspension should be allowed anywhere,” she said.

Curry said the problem is with inconsistency.

“National Parks right now allow e-bikes anywhere they allow regular pedal bikes, and so they’ve done a similar policy in state parks. So both state and national parks, you can ride any bike anywhere you can ride a regular bike and you can also ride one of these pedal assist e-bikes.”

The Bureau of Land Management, he added, has been a bit more “progressive” in determining where the bikes are allowed.

“They’ve opened a lot of places and trails in Richfield. Those BLM routes have been opened to e-bike use but the Forest Service currently considers them a motorized vehicle. We have advocated for consistency from that federal USDA definition to match closer with what most of the states are doing.”

He emphasized it all comes down to classifications.

“So, at this point, the problem lies in the definition of an e-bike as a motorized vehicle.”

The state Division of Wildlife Resources banned the upper tier e-bikes in all waterfowl and wildlife management areas due to their increasing popularity.

“E-bike use, as a recreational activity, has increased dramatically in the past five to 10 years,” Capt. Chad Bettridge said. “As a result, we are seeing increased use on our waterfowl and wildlife management areas. In areas where there is a lot of e-bike use, notable habitat damage is occurring. These new rules will help to preserve these properties for their intended use, which is for wildlife and their long-term benefit and health.”

Wilderness Watch has its own concerns over not just e-bikes but mountain biking in general because of the impact to the environment.

“For far too long conservationists have ignored the threat that mountain biking poses to wildlands, wildlife, and wilderness,” the group said.

Research shows that like all recreation, mountain bikes displace wildlife, and because they travel farther and faster than hikers or equestrians, they can impact a much greater area in the same amount of time.”

Albrecht said he found irony in the issue. With an administration designating monuments for open space and beauty and at the same time promoting electric vehicles, the Forest Service comes out with a ban on e-bikes to diminish access.

“I mean, here we are converting our national fleet and supposedly they want to go to electric vehicles. But then they won’t even allow an e-bike with a self contained motor.”

The commission hinted they may actually issue a subpoena to compel the Forest Service to explain its ruling, if a representative does not show up in person in the future.