Another Washington State Survey--Ebikes On Trails

Mr. Coffee

Well-Known Member
A Demented Corner of the North Cascades
Not wanting to (re)start an (old) argument, but why would a Class 3 be worse on trails than a Class 1?

It seems to me that torque might be an issue, in that high torque could possibly tear up the trails, but torque isn’t limited by bike class as far as I know. If speed is the issue, does anyone really think a Class 3 is going to go faster than a Class 1 while off-road? Heck, my Class 3 can coast downhill faster than I can pedal, so I’m sure a Class 1 can as well…or for that matter, an analog bike. Personally though, I can’t imagine going that fast on a trail….it scares me on the road if I think about it! 😊
I think this is in the context of specific trails on Washington State DNR lands. By direct observation my opinion is that fewer than ten percent of those trails are suitable for any e-bike. These trails are generally steep, rocky, and narrow and most of us wouldn't enjoy riding them on our e-bikes.

A lot of technical downhills arguably have a minimum safe speed, but I've yet to find an "e-MTB" that I'd want to ride on any of those trails, or expect to even survive riding on any of those trails. Most "e-MTB" have uncomfortably long wheelbases and are insufficiently nimble to navigate such trails safely. Bluntly most electric mountain bikes are largely styled to look like mountain bikes but are basically city bikes.

I'm not a fan of class 2 bikes on narrow trails, and it took me a while to evolve to this position. There have been a lot more e-bikes in these parts in the last year or so and I've observed a number of accidents caused by "throttle misapplication" -- where the rider hit the throttle at exactly the wrong instant and everything went sideways. I've noticed that e-bikers often use the throttle to goose their way through tight spaces as well, and this seems like a natural thing to do. But I can imagine that all going Very Wrong when passing another visitor on a steep sidehill and possibly causing serious injuries.

Keep in mind that none of these trails have speed limits at present, and few acoustic bikes and no horses or hikers come equipped with speedometers. On the tiny minority of trails where I think e-bikes would be a realistic options the sight lines are often pretty short and there is a big difference (in terms of reaction times and safe stopping distance) between coming up on someone at 28mph and 20mph.

Also, in discussions with other trail users, a 28mph e-bike is a nonstarter while a 20mph limited e-bike is seen as reasonable. Fair or not, rational or not, we do need the cooperation and goodwill of other trail users.

I'd also like to emphatically point out that I am not talking about rail trails and similar multi-use-paths. I don't see any problem with any e-bike class on such routes.


Well-Known Member

Not sure, but I may have been law breaker when I rode my nerdy Gazelle around Perrygin Lake. I should think that this trail, which is pretty easy, would be a candidate for ebike use. It is in a WA state park. I got passed by an acoustic MTB. I wasn't trying to go fast, I was enjoying the scenery and seeing where the trail went.


Well-Known Member
I would venture to guess so called "throttle misapplication" is a byproduct of other characteristics of these "class 2" bikes. Removing throttle wouldn't make them any more suitable for trails under consideration.

How do we educate if we just throw up our hands vs. have an intellectually honest discussion about whether assist beyond 20 mph would even come into play? If you can actually use assist beyond 20 mph on a natural surface trail it's probably a trail that should already be open to ebikes and mandating speed limits would make more sense than mandating class 1.