E-bikes crossed over from the fuzzy realm of nonregulated acceptance into solid law last month when the state Legislature approved a bill setting standards for the emerging mode of transportation.
Jackson, ahead of the curve, adopted its own electric bicycle regulations nine months earlier. In May the Town Council passed an ordinance based on the federal Consumer Product Safety Act’s policy, and the Board of County Commissioners followed suit a few months later.
“Because we didn’t have the definition at the state level, the process of addressing modern e-bikes was somewhat clunky,” said Brian Schilling, pathways and trails coordinator for Jackson and Teton County. “There wasn’t a perfect fit with what had been the existing definition for the vehicles.”
The new state bill, which goes into effect July 1, is essentially the same boilerplate language being circulated in other states by the Colorado-based bike advocacy group PeopleForBikes. About a dozen other states, including Colorado, Utah and Idaho, have passed the legislation.
The law provides definitions for e-bikes, which before were lumped in awkwardly with mopeds under state statute. They are now officially considered nonmotorized vehicles.
There are three recognized classes of e-bikes, all of which must have a motor of less than 750 watts: class one, which is equipped with an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and doesn’t exceed 20 mph; class two, which is the same except the motor can be used without pedaling; and class three, which is the same as class one but up to 28 mph.
E-bikes must come with labels stating which class they are, and owners cannot modify the motor without updating the label.
The legislation is essentially the same as Jackson’s regulations, so Schilling said nothing substantial will change at the local level. Jackson also requires e-bike owners to register them.
Patrick Collins, the owner of Bicycle Station in Cheyenne, who advocated for the bill in the Legislature, said it will help aging people and others who have a hard time riding regular bikes.
“There’s a huge group of people out there who would really benefit,” he said. “It’s not like it’s going to have any more impact; it’s just going to let them stay out there longer.”
With the state on board, state and national parks may be next. Collins said officials from both seem interested in approving policies to allow e-bikes in places where regular bikes are allowed, such as the multiuse pathway in Grand Teton National Park.
For now, on public lands e-bikes are subject to the same restrictions as motor vehicles: They are allowed on certain trails, like Cache Creek and some other U.S. Forest Service trails — as Schilling said, anywhere you can take a dirt bike.
Collins compared the current push for e-bikes to the fight over mountain bikes when they first came out and met with resistance from other trail users.
“Now it’s just understood, mountain bikes belong on these trail systems,” he said. “But we had to really battle.”
Debate still rages over whether bikes should remain banned in federally protected wilderness.