E-bikes are the latest addition to the always growing list of users on land trust trails. This summer, a bill was passed in the Maine legislature that clearly defines three classes of e-bikes, provides guidance on where they may travel, outlines protections for consumers, and puts in place safety protections for children. We found this article on bikelaw.com very helpful in understanding the background, classifications, and outcomes of the new law.
For land trusts, perhaps the most notable part of the law relates to where e-bike operators can travel. According to the law, Class 1 and 2 e-bikes may travel on roadways and public ways like regular bikes, but a municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency that has jurisdiction over a bicycle path may prohibit the operation of a Class 1 e-bike or a Class 2 e-bike on that bicycle path, regardless of the surface of the path.
Further, the new e-bike laws affirmatively prohibits Class 1 and 2 e-bikes on any bike paths “designated for non-motorized traffic if significant portions of the trails have a natural surface, including gravel, stones or wooden bridging” (e.g. single-track or minimally improved mountain-bike-type-trails) unless authorized by the municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency that has jurisdiction over the bicycle path. This means that a land trust would have to opt in for e-bike riders to use any of their trails.
The law also prohibits Class 3 e-bikes from being operated on any bicycle path unless they are “within a highway or roadway or the bicycle path has been authorized for the operation of Class 3 electric bicycles by the municipality, local authority or governing body of a public agency that has jurisdiction over the bicycle path.”
These restrictions were developed after consideration of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) Guidance to New England Bicycle Dealers Regarding the Issue of Electric Mountain Bikes and are intended, among other things, to give control over e-bike use on local trail systems to local managers.
Obviously, each land trust needs to balance the need to protect habitat with the desire to support and encourage healthy outdoor recreation, but land trusts who want to learn more about e-bikes and think about how they could fit within existing or future trail systems might consider contacting their local bike shop and setting up a talk or demonstration for their board or membership. Taking a proactive stance to be part of an overall plan for bicycle recreation in your area stands to benefit all trail users.