Where Can You (Not) Ride E-Bikes?

Trek Powerfly E-Bike

Well, it’s finally happened…

We’ve spotted e-mountain-bikes at the top of Whoops Trail. One of our staff members encountered 3 riders, all on e-bikes, riding up the road to Whoops. There was a mostly friendly conversation about where they could and could not ride – with a lot of good questions generated on both sides of the discussion.

As a Santa Cruz and Trek dealer, Pine Mountain Sports has special ordered Trek e-bikes for our customers, but we do not support e-bikes like the Trek Powerfly on the single track trails because (first, and foremost) they are not legal on most of our local trails. Plain and simple. We are fortunate to have access to amazing trails in our area and none of us wants to jeopardize that access.

This is not a post about whether you or I support pedal-assist e-bikes on the trails. This is a post about exactly where pedal-support e-bikes are currently legally allowed to ride.

Now that e-bikes have started appearing on our trails, Pine Mountain Sports wants to make sure that our staff and our Trail Ambassadors are doing a good and accurate job of educating visiting e-bike users on exactly where they can and cannot ride these bikes in Central Oregon.

With that in mind, we’ve contacted COTA, USFS and BLM and compiled a few facts (as far as we know)…

1. A pedal-assist e-bike is, by Federal Law definition, a motorized vehicle (when on dirt trails). It is not, by State Law definition, a bicycle (when it is not on a roadway). This is important to keep in mind and answers a lot of questions for us. Yes, you will find that the Department of Transportation defines e-bikes as bicycles, but this is specific to roadway situations. For example an e-bike is by definition a bicycle when it comes to insurance (it’s not required) and paved bike paths (in most cases e-bikes are allowed). There are lots of legal places to ride e-bikes. Just not on the non-motorized singletrack trails maintained by Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) or other trail adopting groups. These are dirt trails where you can’t drive a car, and so Department of Transportation rules do not apply. COTA does not advocate for ebikes as that is outside of their mission statement of advocating for human powered trails. Regardless, motorized vehicles, including e-bikes, are not allowed on trails maintained by COTA as those trails are on USFS and BLM lands. Note: If you’d like to read up, here’s a link to an excellent Legal Guide for E-Bike Riders.

2. Most all of our local trails are on Forest Service land. The Forest Service has an e-bike ban on all USFS trails where motorized use is not allowed. So dirt roads, specific-ATV tracks and motorbike trails are OK but that’s it. If you can’t legally ride a motorcycle on it, or legally drive your car on it, you can’t ride your e-bike there. So (for example) our 3 e-bikers we talked to were still on the road to the top of Whoops Trail, so at the moment they were legally riding their e-bikes there. Just so long as they don’t enter any of the single track trails. USFS dirt roads are legal. USFS single track (most trails in Bend) are not legal. There are no exceptions to this rule. For example: E-bikes are not considered an assistive device that meets the legal definition of a wheelchair or mobility device, therefore they do not qualify for an exception.

3. COTA works with the USFS and BLM under what is known as a Volunteer Agreement. COTA’s history of 25 years of building and maintaining trails is what has given Central Oregon the awesome trail system we have today, but all of that hard work was intended for human powered use including mountain bikes. COTA’s Position Statement on E-Mountain Bikes is simply a recognition and support of both the USFS National Policy and the BLM National Policy that ebikes are considered motorized by these agencies and thus are not allowed on trails managed for non-motorized use. COTA will continue to work with both federal land managing agencies on signage and education at all local trail systems where ebikes are not allowed. In addition to No Ebikes and No Pedal Assist stickers (see pic below), COTA will be providing the same info on signs at all trailheads and major entry points into the trails.

4. The singletrack trails in the Skyline Forest – which includes the Bull Springs Tree Farm and the MTB trails that the Chainbreaker MTB Race happens on each year – are CLOSED to motorcycles. That said, the current land managers at Whitefish Cascade Forest Resource do allow e-bikes on those trails. This is an example of a land owner making an exception just for e-bikes. (Thank you, Chris Johnson!) Skyline Forest does have a seasonal winter range closure to “motorized” vehicles, (as well as a year-round ban on camping and campfires) and offenders would get a pretty hefty ticket if caught. Singletrack in Skyline Forest is legal on e-bikes most of the year.

5. BLM has recently announced some future changes to their rules regarding e-bikes in Central Oregon. Those future changes may permit visitors to use low-speed e-bikes on BLM roads, trails and designated areas where traditional bikes are allowed. The public comment period for that rule change is still in effect (as of Oct 28, 2019), so no changes are official yet. For the time being  e-bikes are NOT allowed on BLM trails including those at Maston, Cline Butte, and Horse Ridge.

6. In Oregon State Parks, like Tumalo State Park and Smith Rock, e-bikes are considered motorized vehicles and are not allowed on most narrow hiking/walking trails. They are welcome to be ridden in the parks so long as they stay on the roads, just like cars. In some cases e-bikes are now permitted on open trails that are wider than 8ft. This may vary from State Park to State Park and from trail to trail. Please defer to and respect any park signage. E-bikes are not legal on walking/hiking trails (narrower than 8 feet wide) in Oregon State Parks.

7. E-bikes are permitted on most trails where motorcycles are allowed. Not necessarily welcomed, but certainly allowed. So, we might recommend that e-bikers head out to the vast Millican OHV system. The riding at the south end in the forest is really good, although many of these trails are closed in winter, so do respect seasonal trail closures. E-bikes are subject to OHV trail rules, so an ATV permit/sticker is required. Please recognize that you are an unexpected guest on OHV trails and use caution, as fast-moving motorized riders may not be expecting to see you there. Move to the side, smile, and wave. It’s like riding your fatbike on the groomed snowmobile trails. Riding e-bikes on OHV trails and groomed snowmobile trails is legal.

8. Seasonal fatbike-specific trails have been groomed at Wanoga when the snow level permits. While a snowmobile is used (with permission from the USFS) to create and groom these trails, these are fatbike-only trails and e-bikes (including e-fatbikes) are not permitted.

9. It’s important to note that in a lot of places in the country e-bikes on trails are legal and these are all non-isues. Riders who bring those bikes to Bend are often not aware of the local rules so we should all stay in front of this issue and know (and share) the facts. Many e-bikers are new riders and you’ll be a good samaritan by welcoming them to the sport while also politely and accurately letting them know exactly where they can and cannot ride their new bike in Bend. No matter where you stand on the idea of e-bikes, let’s all make sure that we can politely share the rules of the specific trails we’re on. 

Fact: E-bikes are gaining popularity so it’s important that we accurately educate riders on where to ride, and not ride them.

This post is a work in progress. Last updated 10/28/19. Do you have any additions or corrections to this list? Please let us know by contacting Henry@PineMountainSports.com