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Posted by Gregory Maassen on December 15, 2020 - Latest revision April 30, 2021  Reading time: minutes remaining

What Federal Regulations Say About E-biking in National Parks

Cyclists have access to national parks in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. Whether e-bikes are permitted depends on the determination by the superintendent (manager) of the park.

E-bike Lovers keep a record of the rules and regulations pertaining the national parks in the DMV-area. See below a list of parks and trails in the National Parks System's units in our region.

General Regulations

The following regulations normally apply to bicyclists and e-bikers on designated biking and multipurpose trails in national parks:

  • The speed limit for bikes is 15 MPH.
  • Cyclists must stay on the right side of the trail. They should move left only to pass and give ample audible warning when passing other trail users.
  • Bicyclists must adhere to protective equipment requirements and regulations set by the applicable state or county.
  • Trail users must keep to the right and travel in single file.

In addition, a person operating an e-bike is subject to the following sections of 36 CFR part 4 that apply to the use of traditional bicycles:

  • § 4.12 Traffic control devices.
  • § 4.13 Obstructing traffic. 
  • 4.20 Right of way.
  • § 4.21 Speed limits.
  • § 4.22 Unsafe operation.
  • § 4.23 Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • § 4.30 Bicycles.

What is an E-bike Under Federal Law?

An e-bike is a two- or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of not more than 750 watts (1 h.p.) that provides propulsion assistance.

A Federal definition of “low speed electric bicycle” is included in the Consumer Product Safety Act. Many states have adopted policies for regulating e-bikes consistent with this Federal definition, including in some cases a labeling requirement identifying an e-bike’s compliance with the following classifications:

A class 1 E-bike label indication the maximum speed and motor wattage of the bicycle

A class 1 E-bike label indicating the maximum speed and motor wattage of the bicycle.

  • Class 1 electric bicycle shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 2 electric bicycle shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 3 electric bicycle shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.

Amended per October 2, 2020 and November 2, 2020

When is an E-bike a Motor Vehicle?

Devices with electric motors of more than 750 watts (1 h.p.) of power and that are not defined as a 1, Class 2 or Class 3 e-bike in the classification system are managed as motor vehicles under 36 CFR Part 4.

Except as specified in the Superintendent’s Compendium of each national park, the use of an e-bike within the park is governed by State law, which is adopted and made a part of the Superintendent’s Compendium.

Motor vehicle definition under 36 CFR Part 4 

Motor vehicle means every vehicle that is self-propelled and every vehicle that is propelled by electric power, but not operated on rails or water, except an electric bicycle, a snowmobile, and a motorized wheelchair.

Motorcycle means every motor vehicle having a seat for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more thatn three wheels in contact with the ground, but excluding a tractor.

36 CFR § 1.4 - What terms do I need to know?

Note: The spelling mistake is in the CFR - it is not ours

In other words, if you buy a device that looks like an E-bike with an electric motor of more than 750 watts (1 h.p.) of power and that is not defined as Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 in the classification system (with a maximum of 28 MPH), you are riding a motor vehicle and no longer a e-bike.

As a result, you are no longer allowed to "e-bike" where regular bikes are allowed in national parks. It is also certain to assume that you need a motor license, wear a helmet and have insurance to operate the vehicle.

How Much Speed and Power do You Need?

Remember Simon Cowell's accident when he broke his back on a out of class electric vehicle that was initially reported by the media to be an E-bike? He played around with a "SWIND EB-01 hyper electric bicycle." It has a 15,000 watts (15 kw) motor and it has pedals - have a look here.

The SWIND EB-01 hyper electric bicycle

compared with a Specialized Levo Turbo class 1 e-mountain bike and a high-duty Riese & Muller Delite Class 1 e-mountain bike.

Who needs so much power?

SWIND EB-01

15,000 watts

Levo Turbo

250 watts nominal

R&M Delite

250 watts nominal

A 15,000 watts motor is 20 times more powerful than an e-bike with a 750 watts motor. In comparison, a pro Tour De France athlete may produce some 500 watts. 

Conclusion

Buyer, be aware! Check the maximum speed and power of the motor of the e-bike you are interested in.

Although the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) appears not to make a distinction between the nominal and peak power of the motor, you may want to use the peak power of the motor as guidance if this information is provided by the manufacturer.

Note: If you buy an e-bike conversion set, ensure that the motor is not more than 750 watts and doesn't go faster than 28 mph to gain legal access to NPS trails when this is permitted by the superintendent of the park.

Interested in E-biking in National Parks?

Explore our growing collection of self-guided e-biking trail descriptions.

As usual, please check the latest regulations before heading out as we do not provide legal advice on this website.

References

Nps.gov. (2020). Electric Bicycles (e-bikes) in National Parks - Biking (U.S. National Park Service). [online] Available at: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/biking/e-bikes.htm [Accessed 14 Dec. 2020].


Dr. Gregory F. Maassen

Gregory discovered e-biking after 20 years of overseas work as project manager for the World Bank and USAID. He writes about e-mobility and e-biking in the DMV area, and loves the outdoors (white water kayaking, hiking and biking). He lives with his wife, Janet in Washington DC.


Favorite e-bike: Riese & Muller Super Charger Class 1 touring e-bike.


Dr. Gregory F. Maassen

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