E-bikes on trails ... a good idea?

Continuing Watch: angry cyclist wants to see the rule that allows disabled man to ride motorized bike on the trail - #43 by Scott_Hammond (Don’t want to derail.)

I agree with this. I guess my only justification for the rule I proposed is that it isn’t a vague rule and there actually is a problem with people riding motorized vehicles on trails and making a vague rule seems likely to only increase those problems.

It’s a subtle argument. I’m not sure. It seems to me that there is benefit to having trails that are somewhat inaccessible. There is environmental damage that is caused by bikes to trails. Making a trail more accessible to more people would likely increase that environmental damage.

Suppose there is a neat guyser in Yellowstone that is an 8 mile hike to get to right now. It’s effectively inaccessible to anyone who isn’t in shape to walk 16 miles. Is this unfair? Is it abilist? Should a road be made to accommodate everybody? It seems to me there is a balance and it isn’t crazy to want to push back on accessibility in the name of environmental preservation. I’m not sure what I think the right balance is.

1 Like

An elderly/mobility-limited person riding an e-bike doesn’t damage the trail any more than an athletic person riding a pedal-only bike does. “We had to exclude those people for the sake of maintaining healthy trails” doesn’t hold a lot of water for me.


I don’t follow your argument or your example. This trail was already accessible to disabled folks on ebikes. No special new environment-wrecking accommodations needed. And in your Yellowstone trail example, if a disabled person wanted to use a mechanical exoskeleton to aid in walking on the trail just like everyone else then hell yes it would be ableist to forbid them to do so.


Suppose that if you allow only acoustic bikes on a trail it means that 100 people each week will ride their bike on that trail and if you allow e-bikes, it means that 120 people will ride their bikes on that trail. It clearly means that you are allowing more people to ride on it, right? More environmental damage is being done, right?

This isn’t clear though. The reason I proposed my version of the rule “E-bike prohibited except for disability” on national park trails is that it makes a clear rule. @chenille didn’t actually ask about officially disabled people but people who are in a grey area between disabled and able and that is the kind of person I want to know if they need to be accommodated with e-bikes.

So you’re proposing that we exclude certain people not because those individuals cause any more wear and tear to the trail than anyone else, but because we need to limit the number of overall trail users and instituting an ableist policy is a convenient way of doing that?


Well, that’s a fundamental difference of opinion between you and many of who are arguing that it’s really none of our business at all. But you do you, I guess.


I’m not really proposing it. My example with the Yellowstone guyser was to demonstrate that this condition actually exists right now. There are places that an athlete can go see and enjoy right now, that an average person cannot but would be able to if they were allowed to use an e-bike. Is it abelist to say that we should not increase the accessibility of those places by average people?

I guess my inclination is that every effort should be made to allow actually disabled people to use whatever resources they have access to, but I don’t feel like we should necessarily have to extend accessibility to average people who want to use technology.

If we need to increase the accessibility to every location to everybody such that if an athlete can get there then everyone can, do we not need to get rid of the prohibition on motorized vehicles altogether?

As I see it you’re conflating two different things.

The examples of “accommodation” you describe involve making changes to paths or trails to make them wheelchair accessible.

In this case allowing people to use e-bikes would require no changes whatsoever to the existing bike paths and the visitors who used those bikes would cause no more damage to the trail than any other user. It’s not the same as allowing a motorcycle or an ATV, because a motorcycle or ATV has a different impact on the trail than a pedal-only bicycle does.

Like @Otherbrother says, a better analogy for banning pedal-assist e-bikes would be banning powered exoskeletons on hiking trails. In both cases the impact on the trail is the same as if a person was moving entirely under their own power.


It’s the same amount of environmental damage per person but clearly a larger amount of damage overall. I like the exoskeleton analogy too. Let’s say that we have an exoskeleton that allows people to climb up the steep side of El Capitan. Should able people be allowed to use this technology to climb up the steep side of El Capitan given that right now only a few people can do so?

Sure, as long as they go through the same waiting list process as everyone else to apply for a permit to climb El Capitan.

If the concern is “too many visitors will damage the site” then there are better ways to limit the number of visitors than to pass a rule designed to exclude people with disabilities.


Just to remind you, the rule that we are discussing is “No E-bikes allowed except for people with disabilities.” We are only talking about whether it makes sense to restrict e-bike usage for able people.

If you want, you can reframe the All-Terrain-Vehicle lifestyle in terms of ablism. You can reframe access to petroglyphs as ableist. You can also believe that toxic sludge is good for you.

If someone wants a bit of assistance because they’ve had a hard day, are working split shifts etc. Then let them use e assist. This is an argument that is over. Done. Finito. And it was had years ago.

People using trikes, step through frames, ebikes: they are all cyclists. Cycling is about a positive attitude to the environment, both urban and rural. A bike route is one that disabled people, old people, and children can use or it is not a bike route for the community.


Why should I care if another trail user has an e-bike if they aren’t doing any more damage to the trail than any other bike?

I don’t check to see if anyone who uses a wheelchair has legitimate mobility issues either.

It would be if someone instituted an arbitrary rule like “nobody who walks with a cane is allowed to see the petroglyphs.”


I think part of the problem I’m having is that what I picture as a “mountain biking trail” is actually not something that is typically one that many disabled people, old people or children would be able to use even if they had a fully motorized bike, i.e. a trail that is typically very steep in places and has rocks and difficult terrain. Do these not count as “a bike route for the community” in your mind? Do you think bikes shouldn’t be allowed on them at all?

How about letting them make their mind up for themselves? If I saw an eassist trike on a trail I’d be like “go you!”.


You’ve all convinced me that it is stupid to restrict e-bike usage in places where normal bikes would be allowed. I’m convinced that even if there were increased access by a few people the difference would be minimal in terms of environmental impact and I doubt there are very many people who would be willing and able to use an e-bike for many miles who would not also be able and willing to use an acoustic bike.

I do have a question about the classes of e-bike. Are class 3 e-bikes worse for environmental damage than class 1 etc?

1 Like



If something is to be restricted, make it horses-with-riders. Give me ATVs any day of the week. Two national parks I’ve worked closely with have horse trails, and the damage those things do is incredible. Some of it is the result of multiple sets of hooves digging through the trails, but a lot of it is [in my experience] that riders like to spread out abreast of each other, and they shred the surrounding areas.