People For Bikes, the national advocacy organization, has put out an action alert urging people to support a rule change that would give superintendents of National Parks “greater authority to allow the use of e-bikes wherever traditional bicycles are currently allowed.”
Many National Parks are typically already rather restrictive about bicycle access, so this rule change would not mean people could suddenly go e-biking wherever they want. Instead, it would allow e-bikes to be treated like a pedal bike “unless superintendents determined that restrictions or closures of certain areas were warranted after taking into consideration public health and safety, natural and cultural resource protection, and other management activities and objectives,” according to the official environmental assessment of the proposed rule change (PDF).
National Parks are very different from each other. Most people probably think first of the wilderness areas and geographic wonders, but some National Parks are within urban centers. It makes sense to put this level of decision in the hands of superintendents who are familiar with each individual park’s needs. Aside from some extreme exceptions (very technical mountain biking is a possible example), e-bikes fit in just fine with pedal-only bikes, especially Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes. The new rule includes definitions for the different e-bike classes, so a superintendent could presumably ban Class 3 e-bikes (can be powered up to 27mph) but allow the more common Class 1 and 2 bikes (powered up to 20 mph).
You can submit a comment in support of the change by July 21 using this online form. People For Bikes wrote this sample language you can use or modify for your comment:
I am writing in favor of the proposed action (preferred alternative) outlined in the Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the use of electric bicycles within the U.S. National Park System. Expanding access to electric bicycles will help more Americans enjoy the beauty and wonder of our National Parks while dispersing congestion from crowded park areas by replacing car trips with those made by bike.
Electric bicycles, including Class 1 electric mountain bicycles, should be treated the same as non-electric bicycles across our public lands. Thank you for the opportunity to comment and your consideration of e-bike access in our National Park System.
It’s not immediately clear what impact this would have on national parks in our areas. For example, e-bikes are already allowed on the limited number of car-free routes where bikes are allowed within Mount Rainier National Park, such as the washed-out Carbon River Road up to Ipsut Creek Campground (which, by the way, is a fantastic low-stress bikepacking destination). This road used to be open to cars, so it is an obvious place to allow biking. Hiking trails off the road and beyond the campground are off-limits to bikes, and they would remain off-limits under the proposed rule.