Management and Use of Electric Bikes on BLM-managed Lands
The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to 1) establish policy concerning the use of electric bikes (e-bikes) on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed trails where mechanized use is allowed and off-road vehicle use is otherwise prohibited, and 2) implement the final e-bike rule that the BLM published in the Federal Register on November 2, 2020, 85 Fed. Reg. 69,206 (Nov. 2, 2020).
 This IM is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.
E-bikes are bicycles that contain an electric motor to provide power assistance to the rider and reduce the physical exertion required to propel the bike forward. They are motorized vehicles that are capable of, or designed for, travel on land or other natural terrain and, therefore, fall within the definition of off-road vehicle at 43 CFR 8340.0-5.
In November 2020, the BLM issued its e-bike rule, which 1) amended the BLM’s off-road vehicle regulations to include a definition for e-bikes at 43 CFR 8340.0-5(j) and 2) created an authority by which authorized officers may allow e-bike use on trails where motorized vehicles are otherwise prohibited by excluding Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes from the definition of off-road vehicle. However, certain considerations warrant a cautious approach in the manner and situations where the rule is used.
First, as was highlighted in the preamble to the e-bike rule, the body of research on the impacts associated with e-bike use, and the compatibility of e-bikes with other uses of the public lands, is relatively limited and still developing. Over time, additional studies may be published that could provide a better understanding of the type and extent of resource impacts and user conflicts that result from e-bike use. Such studies would help better determine the accuracy of the e-bike rule’s assumptions about the similarity of impacts from Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes and traditional, non-motorized bicycles. Additional studies will also help inform future BLM decision making about where and when it is appropriate to exclude Class 1, 2, and 3 e-bikes from the definition of off-road vehicle and allow e-bike use on trails where motorized vehicles are otherwise prohibited.
Second, it may be difficult for the BLM to enforce critical aspects of the e-bike rule. Under the rule, an e-bike can be excluded from the definition of off-road vehicle and, therefore, allowed on trails where off-road vehicle use is otherwise prohibited, only when the electric motor is not exclusively propelling the e-bike for an extended duration. Despite language in the rule’s preamble asserting that such enforcement challenges are not unique, this limitation, which is intended to help keep speeds down and prevent riders from venturing too far into the backcountry, may be difficult to police on remote, non-motorized trails.
Given the considerations addressed above, state, district, and field offices should obtain concurrence from the Assistant Director, National Conservation Lands and Community Partnerships, before using the e-bike rule to exclude e-bikes from the definition of off-road vehicle or authorize e-bikes on trails on which motorized vehicles are otherwise prohibited. Obtaining Assistant Director concurrence will allow BLM leadership to carefully consider the issues raised by application of the rule in site-specific circumstances, including the agency’s ability to enforce critical aspects of the e-bike rule that are designed to ensure public safety. Moreover, the National Conservation Lands and Community Partnerships Directorate is better situated than individual state, district, and field offices to monitor new research on impacts and the compatibility of e-bike use on public land. To that end, the Directorate will monitor the status of relevant research. Staying apprised of recent developments will allow the Directorate to know whether new research indicates that e-bike use results in different—and potentially greater—impacts than what was assumed when the BLM promulgated the e-bike rule in 2020.
By comparison, Assistant Director concurrence is not necessary in situations where state, district, and field offices continue to manage e-bikes as off-road vehicles and elect to not utilize the definitional exclusion at 43 CFR 8340.0-5(a)(5). In such cases, e-bike use will require application of the designation criteria, also known as the minimization criteria, in 43 CFR 8342.1 and will not raise enforcement issues concerning the extended, exclusive use of the vehicle’s electric motor. Consequently, the considerations identified above will not be implicated.
This IM is not intended to address situations in which persons with disabilities request a reasonable modification under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, to ride an e-bike on trails where mechanized use is allowed and off-road vehicle use is otherwise prohibited. In such situations, the BLM authorized officer should assess the request in accordance with applicable Department of the Interior regulations at 43 CFR 17(e) and applicable BLM policies. Where granted, reasonable modifications do not require concurrence from the Assistant Director, National Conservation Lands and Community Partnerships, nor do they require application of the criteria at 43 CFR 8342.1.
This policy is effective immediately.
This policy will have a minimal impact on budget related to the increased time required to coordinate with the Assistant Director, National Conservation Lands and Community Partnerships.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act directs the BLM to manage public lands for multiple use and sustained yield (unless otherwise provided by law) and provide for outdoor recreation. Many visitors ride bicycles on BLM-managed public lands, and improvements in bicycle technology have made bicycling an option for more visitors and public lands more accessible to cyclists. One such improvement involves the addition of an electric motor that provides power assistance to the rider and reduces the physical exertion required to propel the bicycle. By reducing the physical demand associated with bicycling, e-bikes expand recreation opportunities for the public, including for people with physical limitations.
On August 29, 2019, the Secretary of the Interior signed Secretary’s Order (SO) 3376, which addresses “regulatory uncertainty regarding whether [electronic bikes (e-bikes)] should be treated in the same manner as other types of bicycles or, alternatively, considered to be motor vehicles.” The order articulated a general policy that e-bikes “shall be allowed where other types of bicycles are allowed,” and “shall not be allowed where other types of bicycles are prohibited.” SO 3376 also directed the BLM and other Department of the Interior bureaus to promulgate rules to implement that policy. With respect to the BLM, SO 3376 directed the agency to expressly exempt all e-bikes as defined in section 4.a of the SO from the definition of off-road vehicles in the regulations at 43 CFR Part 8340.
The BLM published a proposed rule on April 10, 2020, 85 Fed. Reg. 20,229 (Apr. 10, 2020), and a final rule on November 2, 2020. The final rule amended the BLM’s off-road vehicle regulations to include a definition for e-bikes at 43 CFR 8340.0-5(j) and, where certain criteria are met and an authorized officer determines through a formal decision that e-bikes should be treated the same as non-motorized bikes, expressly exempts those e-bikes from the definition of off-road vehicle.
For questions about this IM, please contact David Jeppesen, Travel, Transportation and Accessibility Program Manager, Division of Recreation and Visitor Services, (HQ-430), at email@example.com.
This IM was developed in coordination with the Division of Recreation and Visitor Services (HQ430), Office of Law Enforcement and Security (HQ120), Office of Civil Rights (HQ130), and Office of the Solicitor.