Class 1 eMTBs at Mosquito Creek

Michigan’s Edge Mountain Biking Association (MEMBA) was recently asked to consider allowing ebikes at the Mosquito Creek MTB trail. The request came from a donor whose business has been engaged with a large bicycle manufacturing company in marketing and promoting their developing line of ebikes. There are no trails in the MEMBA area that currently allow ebikes. At first blush, we felt that this was a bold request. As an organization that looks to promote more riders riding more trails sustainably, we felt it was appropriate and responsible to educate ourselves on the issue of ebikes before making a decision to request access from the landowner. Here’s what we learned.

First, as a chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), we thought we would look to their resources and guidance on the issue. Very quickly we learned that there are 3 distinct, widely accepted classes of ebikes. These definitions are being used at the national and state levels for rules and regulations. Here they are from the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code, section 257.13e:

Class 1 electric bicycle. As used in this subparagraph, “class 1 electric bicycle” means an electric bicycle that is equipped with an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that disengages or ceases to function when the electric bicycle reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour. 

Class 2 electric bicycle. As used in this subparagraph, “class 2 electric bicycle” means an electric bicycle that is equipped with a motor that propels the electric bicycle to a speed of no more than 20 miles per hour, whether the rider is pedaling or not, and that disengages or ceases to function when the brakes are applied. 

Class 3 electric bicycle. As used in this subparagraph, “class 3 electric bicycle” means an electric bicycle that is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that disengages or ceases to function when the electric bicycle reaches a speed of 28 miles per hour. 

IMBA announced in 2017 that they were updating their stance on ebikes to “support trail access for Class 1 eMTBs and support shared use on trails as long as access is not lost or impeded for traditional mountain bikes” (or as one industry representative called them, ‘Analog MTBs’). IMBA had actually been studying this issue for several years prior to 2017’s announcement, and had performed an environmental impact study of Class 1 ebikes.

In 2015, IMBA performed a scientifically controlled field study to measure soil displacement and erosion caused by a traditional mountain bike, a Class 1 eMTB, and a traditional off road motorcycle (dirt bike). The study took place in Northwest Oregon and involved 500 passes of the mountain bikes, and 200 passes of the dirt bike. The results showed that the impact from the mountain bikes were very similar and not statistically different. The dirt bike, as one would expect, had a very different impact. While this study was done in Oregon on trails that most likely have different soil composition than the rest of the country, the fact that the difference in impact between the two mountain bikes was negligible is still of significant value and importance. You can read more on IMBA’s eMTB position.

Second, we searched for ebike related content and discussion and discovered podcasts and articles with a wealth of information and divergent viewpoints. One article stood out about a study done by BYU Public Health Professors on the amount of exercise achieved on a Class 1 eMTB. They studied 33 amateur riders’ heart rates on a 6 mile trail that included 700 feet of climbing. Riders were asked to ride the loop once on each bike while wearing a heart rate monitor (Polar HRMs and Apple Watches were used to capture the data). Then, the researchers compared heart rate data between the two rides and found that on average, riders achieved 94% of their traditional mountain bike heart rate average on the eMTB. Average speed and time of completion were faster on the eMTB, but there was no information collected on top speeds or average descent speeds to analyze if that was a result of faster ascending or if riders were riding everything faster on an eMTB.

Third, we looked to see if there were any regulations on the use of ebikes and found that both the State of Michigan and the National Parks Service had recently implemented rule changes that were relevant to our decision. In August of 2019, the National Parks Service updated their policy on ebikes at national parks in support of their Healthy Parks Healthy People goals and allows for ebikes to be wherever traditional bikes are allowed. At the state level in Michigan, as of January 1, 2018, a new law went into effect that A) allows local authorities or agencies to allow ebikes on natural surface non-motorized trails (mountain bike trails) and B) requires ebike manufacturers and retailers to prominently and permanently label each ebike with its classification number on it.

What does this all mean? As we surveyed all of the information we dug up, it became apparent to us that there is a wave of change happening in the bicycle industry and the Country concerning ebikes. Many of the past arguments against eMTBs are being addressed or dispelled (eMTBs cause more damage, eMTBing isn’t exercise, you can’t tell what class an eMTB is, etc.). This new and emerging class of bicycle is not only being adopted by consumers (industry reports a rapid growth in the sale of ebikes), but also by national agencies (IMBA) and governments (National Parks Service and Michigan). It is being recognized as a valuable way to promote health and recreation to a wider audience. And when more people ride, we get asked to build more trails.

Because of this, we felt it was an appropriate request to ask the Muskegon County Board to approve an amendment to our agreement that allows for the use of Class 1 eMTB’s at the Mosquito Creek mountain bike trail. In early March, just prior to the statewide stay-at-home order, MEMBA representatives presented and gained approval of the amendment at a Muskegon County Board Meeting. The final amendment has been signed. As of this letter, eMTBs are now allowed at Mosquito Creek.

However, we want it to be clear that ONLY Class 1 eMTBs are allowed and ONLY at Mosquito Creek. None of our other trails have been approved for eMTB riding, of any class. This may change in the future, but as of right now, if you have a Class 1 eMTB please only ride it at Mosquito Creek.