Latest E-Bike Rules for National Parks
Great news for e-bike riders who want to explore the US National Park System: the NPS rules for e-bikes have finally caught up with their popularity. The updated rules laid out in Secretary of the Interior Order 3376, “Increasing Recreational Opportunities through the use of Electric Bikes” went into effect on December 2, 2020 and offer common sense guidelines for the use of e-bikes on land administered by the NPS.
There are any number of reasons for a rider to choose an e-bike over a traditional bicycle and this is a win for all of them. Whether you ride an e-bike because of the boost it provides to compensate for age or abilities, you appreciate the ability to extend your duration for a longer trip, or simply because it contributes to your overall fitness, you can now enjoy your e-bike alongside traditional bicycles in the US National Park System.
Increasing e-bike access to National Parks will also ease car congestion and the demand for limited parking spaces. Compared to a car, e-bikes are unquestionably better for the environment.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the new e-bike rules in National Parks.
E-Bikes Are Allowed in More Places
By and large, e-bikes are now allowed on most roads or trails where traditional bicycles are allowed. This includes designated biking trails, parking areas and roads open to motor vehicles, and service roads that are closed to motor vehicles but open to bicycles.
Where E-Bikes Are Prohibited
There are no instances on NPS land where bike use is prohibited but e-bike use is allowed. So “No Bikes” means “No E-Bikes,” too.
And there may be some exceptions to e-bike use where traditional biking is allowed on a Park-by-Park basis. This could be because of local laws, the discretion of a particular Park’s Superintendent, or other instances where competing regulations may be in place. Ultimately, it’s up to the Park Superintendent to ensure that bike or e-bike use is “consistent with protection of the park area’s natural, scenic and aesthetic values, safety considerations and management objectives, and will not disturb wildlife or park resources.”
Wilderness areas remain closed to e-bikes and traditional bicycles alike.
The best thing to do before any trip to a National Park is check the particular Park’s website for specific details about their rules. A little planning will always pay off.
Updated Definition of E-Bikes
The latest rules also clear up a lot of confusion for e-bike riders and expand the allowable use of e-bikes in National Parks. Here is more clarity on the definition of e-bikes.
E-Bikes Are Not Motor Vehicles
Notably, the definition of “electric bicycle” has been updated to expressly exempt all e-bikes from the definition of motor vehicles. So if you come across a sign prohibiting motor vehicles in an area of a National Park, you can be confident that the sign does not refer to your e-bike.
750 Watt E-Bikes Are Allowed in National Parks
Further, the definition clarifies that e-bikes can have motors of “not more than 750 watts,” which clears up the previous wording of “less than 750 watts.” So the confusion around that one watt difference is gone and your popular 750 watt e-bike is good to go.
Check the Rules for the Park You’re Visiting
The National Park Service has a very easily navigable website at www.nps.gov that can help you find information for whichever Park you visit. Check “Plan Your Visit” → “Things to Do” → “Biking.” A quick peek at the Yosemite page revealed within seconds that 750 watt e-bikes are allowed on all bike trails, but the speed limit is 15 mph throughout the Park. Good to know!
What About Shared E-Bikes?
Short-term e-bike rentals are a popular way for many people to access e-bikes without needing to own one or bring it with them while traveling. Part of the attraction for some and the source of consternation for others is the ability to leave the e-bike wherever the rider is at the end of the rental period. To do your part to avert this nightmare scenario of unsightly piles of abandoned e-bikes in remote and scenic areas, simply follow the rental guidelines that prohibit locking the e-bike to trees or other structures, as well as blocking pathways, sidewalks, or ramps. The NPS expects that the penalties imposed by the rental companies will do the heavy lifting to deter this behavior.
E-bikes and Safety in National Parks
There’s tremendous diversity among the 424 National Parks in the US National Park System. Some are seamlessly tucked into urban or suburban areas. But many can be quite remote with few amenities other than the natural splendor around you. If you’re venturing into a more remote area with your e-bike, take appropriate precautions. Here are a few considerations that might be different than e-biking close to home.
Make sure you have a map of the area and know how to read it. Stick to established biking paths and don’t venture off road. GPS systems are great and can make navigating in National Parks a breeze. But a paper map malfunctions far less frequently and weighs next to nothing.
Be prepared for weather conditions to change. Especially if you’re traveling far from home to a National Park, the local weather may not be what you’re accustomed to. Hot or cold, wet or dry, any weather can be dangerous if you’re unprepared for it. Dressing in layers can help you react quickly to any weather situation.
Water and Snacks
Have enough water and snacks for the trip you have planned.
Be sure your e-bike has adequate charge for the complete duration of your trip or that you can realistically propel your e-bike past the life of the battery.
The National Park Service website has a great FAQ on it’s e-bikes page that may clear up any lingering questions you have about e-biking on National Park land.
Where to Explore First?
There are 424 National Parks in the US National Park System, so whatever state you find yourself in, there’s a park waiting for you. Have fun and be safe out there!