Electric bikes in Michigan allowed on state park trails, other natural surface paths under new order

Proposed changes to where someone can ride an electric bicycle in Michigan could bring some of the biggest expansions to outdoor cycling in years.

On Thursday, the Department of Natural Resources will present a new land use order to the Natural Resources Commission that expands where someone could ride an e-bike. Under the proposed rule, certain classes of electric bikes would be permitted on trails where only non-motorized bikes are currently allowed.

With the popularity of motor-assisted cycling growing in Michigan, the state is hoping to make the activity more accessible to those who prefer e-bikes. 

"E-bikes are a fast-growing segment, and they level the playing field for everyone who wants to ride," said Neal Glazebrook, the events director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB). "You have folks from all walks of life, all kinds of ability, and e-bikes are what allows them to ride at the same pace as others."

Under the order, all Class 1 electric bikes would be allowed on any natural surface trail managed by either the Parks and Recreation Division or the Forest Resources Division in the DNR. That includes most state park trails. 

It would also allow Class 2 electric bikes on the same trails if the rider has secured permission from the state. The goal of allowing some fully-motorized bikes on natural trails is to give people with disabilities the same opportunity as others.

Class 1 e-bikes are equipped with a motor that assists the rider while pedaling, which shuts off if it reaches 20 mph. Class 2 e-bikes are throttle-controlled and only disengage when the brakes are applied. 

When it comes to multi-use paved trails, the local government where the path is located has the final say if e-bikes are allowed or not. But the new order pertains to the entire state.

"This is a broad ruling on all parks and rec lands," said Glazebrook.

Not everyone is happy about the e-bike's growing use in the state. Glazebrook says tensions between different riders have bubbled over into lawsuits and even instances of folks self-policing some situations where someone on an electric bike was riding where they shouldn't.

Concerns over e-bikes being allowed on natural surface trails include high speeds making them unsafe and whether e-bikes could damage the soil on the trails. 

In its order, the DNR said other states that expanded the use of electric bikes saw few issues after changing the rule. It also said class-1 electric bikes were "not likely to have any more impact" on the trail surface than traditional mountain bike users.

"Whenever you introduce a new technology into a space that's been stagnant for a while, it stokes the debate between old guard and new guard," said Glazebrook.

In drafting its order, the DNR spoke with several stakeholder groups in 2023 and 2024, including multiple non-motorized work groups. Among them was the LMB, which said it would support the order so long as the DNR gathered public input, accessible surveys, and reached out to the disability community and other entities, so they had a chance to weigh in.

Nicole Hunt, a regulator unit manager within the parks and recreation division, said along with the order there will also be updated signage at trail heads that reflects the new rule pertaining to e-bikes. It will include a QR code that allows people to take a survey that asks for their thoughts on electric bikes on natural trails.

The soonest the order could go into effect is in July. 

If it does, the DNR will review the impacts after one year of e-bikes on natural surface trails. If there's evidence of negative impacts, the order will be rescinded. If not, it will remain in effect.


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