Jim Hasenauer on E-bikes
Part 1 of 2: History Lesson on MTB Advocacy and Motors
For the next round of Q&A with Jim Hasenauer, I asked him if he’d be willing to share with us his thoughts/take on the new USDA Forest Service guidelines for e-bikes. Immediately commenting that it was a complex issue, he did not say no. That “taking the bull by the horns” speaks to Jim’s passion and concern for all things mountain biking.
What is below is insight that, in its totality, was not what I had truly considered, not in that kind of detail. Why? I did not know the entire history. It is this kind of understanding/long view that is essential in making informed decisions. Also, it is careful (not careless) and considerate of other people (it’s not about you/me but us).
This is part 1 of Jim’s thoughts on riding e-bikes in national forest lands. Basically, it’s a history lesson.
Thank you, Jim/Professor Hasenauer, for teaching us.
As land managers try to develop e-bike polices they find themselves navigating a labyrinth of previous policy language, tradition and sometimes contradictory messages from stakeholders. In 2019, NPS and other Department of Interior Agencies took a shot. In March of this year, the Forest Service got it right.
Is that little electric motor a minor modification to a bicycle or something completely different? I think e-bikes are different from regular mountain bikes and good policy should reflect that.
A little history of mountain bike advocacy and motors:
When mountain bicyclists faced trail closures in the 1980’s, anti-bike folks often told us they weren’t against bicycles, we just belonged on the motorized trails. The Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service and several state and local agencies had miles of motorized trails and fire roads and they were used to managing “off road” recreation. Those trails were fun for those who lived near them, but they certainly weren’t enough. Besides most of the early mountain bikers were coming from hiking, backpacking, running, or road cycling themselves. As NORBA , the local clubs and later IMBA organized, we worked hard to define ourselves as “muscle powered”, more like hikers than motorcycle riders. We rejected overtures from motorized off road advocates like the Blue Ribbon Coalition who themselves were being severely restricted. We didn’t have anything against motors, it just wasn’t who we were. We wanted access to the “hiking” and “equestrian” trails. There were more of them and that’s where we thought we belonged. In 1988, I wrote a position paper for The Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association that later became IMBA’s Multiple Use Philosophy. It argued for shared multiple use non-motorized trails. That’s the message we delivered to land managers for years.
Meanwhile road cyclists were fighting for inclusion on the paved roads. They demanded that bicycles be treated as “vehicles”, sometimes even as “motor vehicles.” That was seen as the only way to become a legitimate part of urban transportation planning.
In the dirt, we pushed back against that. There were too many “closed to vehicles” signs in the backcountry. We didn’t want that to mean us. This was one of the reasons that the bike industry, mountain bike clubs and riders rallied around IMBA, not the League of American Wheelmen (later League of American Bicyclists) to wage the land access battles of the 80’s and 90’s.
We’ve made remarkable progress. Mountain bicyclists have been accepted as partners in most non-motorized trail communities. We’ve demonstrated our care and appreciation of the environment. We’ve opened many of the trails that were closed to us. More importantly we’ve helped design, build and maintain thousands of miles of new trail, most multiple use, many purpose-built. Most land managers distinguish between motorized and non-motorized trails and mountain bicyclists are welcome on both.
Nonetheless, some significant closures still haunt me. We lost the Wilderness in 1984 when the Sierra Club and others convinced the Forest that the banned “mechanical transport” of the 1964 Wilderness Act language meant bicycles. We’re still arguing that the legislative intent and ordinary language of the time was that “mechanical” meant “motorized” and “transport” meant the “carrying of passive passengers”. In 1988, they closed the Pacific Crest Trail and all National Park Service dirt roads and trails along similar lines. Many of us are convinced that they confused us with motorized off-road recreation and there’s still hope that we can reverse these setbacks.