Motorized electric bicycles may soon be humming their way into serene national parks and other public lands nationwide. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the order without fanfare Thursday, Aug, 29, classifying e-bikes as non-motorized bikes and giving agencies 14 days to adjust their rules, according to a report by the Associated Press.
A new Trump administration order allows the so-called e-bikes on every federal trail where a regular bike can go, the report states. Interior's order allows motorized bikes that can go up to 28 mph to be classified as regular bikes.
"Reducing the physical demand to operate a bicycle has expanded access to recreational opportunities," Bernhardt wrote in the order. The Interior Department said Friday morning it would have a statement later.
Thursday's directive calls for a period of public comment on the individual rule changes under Bernhardt's order.
Guidance must be completed within 30 days on how the new e-bike policy will be carried out by the National Park and National Wildlife Refuge systems, and on land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.
Sales of the bikes, powered by both pedals and batteries and small motors, are booming, and some aging or less fit people have sought the rule change. The change would allow them to whirr up and down biking trails in the country's roughly 400 national parks and other federally managed backcountry.
E-bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle industry, with U.S. sales jumping 72% to $144 million last year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks bike sales. The motorized bikes are popular with commuters and baby boomers who might not otherwise be able to get out on a bicycle.
The bikes, which can cost $2,000 or more, combine the frame of a regular bike with lightweight batteries and electric motors.
But more than 50 hiking, horse-riding and other outdoor and conservation associations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Pacific Crest Trail Association, objected in a July letter to the Interior Department. They say the administration acted to fundamentally change the nature of national parks with little or no public notice or study.
In their letter, the outdoors groups complained the move allowing motorized bikes on bike trails broke with policies dating back to the early 1970s confining cars, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and all other motorized vehicles to roads and designated areas and trails on public lands.
Electronic powered bicycles on public lands were addressed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2015. An information bulletin released in July of that year states. "There is a great variety of e-bikes available and some can be used for mountain biking. Public interest in the use of e-bikes on Federal public lands is rising. As a transportation and recreation option, e-bikes represent an opportunity to reduce emissions, as they also appeal to a growing demographic with physical limitations to conventional bicycling. These factors contribute to a corresponding increase in interest and utilization on public lands. The BLM manages e-bikes similar to the U.S. Forest Service (FS). The FS manages e-bikes as a motor vehicle per their Travel Management Rule."