Kurt Gensheimer
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SBTS brings National Forest and MTB industry staff together to learn and play in Downieville 

By Kurt Gensheimer

Cyclists enjoy riding electric mountain bikes in Downieville.

Even though he’s not a writer, mountain bike racing legend Mark Weir has a way with words. He’s able to summarize life experiences succinctly while being entertaining, making you simultaneously think while laughing. Take for instance his description about e-bikes and why he loves them so much.

“Back in my racing days, I did rides that ninety-nine percent of people couldn’t physically do,” said Mark. “Climbing for hours while staring at my fork tubes wasn’t fun. It sucked. It was painful. I was cry-breathing a lot. After the pain and suffering subsided, the ride seemed fun. But on an e-bike, that same climb is now suddenly fun in the moment, not afterward looking back. That’s what I love most about e-bikes; you can have fun while doing it.”

In addition to having fun while doing it, e-bikes provide more social interaction than mountain bikes. They allow a broader range of skill and experience level to have fun together. The Tahoe National Forest defines a Class 1 electric bicycle as “… a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.” Riders still get a workout because you must pedal to get power, but it takes the edge off and makes climbing far more enjoyable for more people.

In late June, the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) hosted officials from the Tahoe National Forest and Plumas National Forest and industry brands Fox, Shimano and Bosch at an e-bike summer camp at The Lure Resort in Downieville, California, continuing learnings around this newest form of outdoor recreation. There was a broad range of skill, experience and fitness in the group of nearly 20 riders from professionals like Mark Weir to complete beginners.

One of the newer riders was Evelyn, an employee of the Plumas National Forest – Beckwourth Ranger District. Evelyn could count the number of mountain bike rides she’d done on one hand. Thanks to the e-bike and her determination, Evelyn was able to ride with an advanced group of riders on two days of Downieville trails, each day covering nearly 30 miles with almost 5,000 vertical feet of climbing. Evelyn’s performance was a prime example of the importance of e-bikes; they allow more people to explore further into the backcountry, seeing terrain they’d otherwise never get to see.

Considering how remote many of the trails in the Lost Sierra region are, getting more people to explore these seldom visited areas helps take stress off the main trails used most often, especially the trails that make up the Downieville Downhill route.

After two days of riding, participants sat and gave feedback on the experience. High ranking officials from the Tahoe National Forest were in attendance, having ridden e-bikes enough to understand their impacts and how they compare to mountain bikes.

Having this firsthand experience with e-bikes has led the Tahoe National Forest to take a progressive stance on Class 1 e-bike trail access. The Tahoe National Forest believes that e-bikes should be considered non-motorized recreation because they are still human powered. Without pedaling input from the rider, there is no power assist from a Class 1 e-bike. And because they are limited in their power and are only about 15-20 pounds heavier than a mountain bike, they have no significant environmental impact over a mountain bike.

In light of these findings, the Tahoe National Forest recently opened more than 200 miles of non-motorized trail to Class 1 e-bike use including favorites like Hole in the Ground, Emigrant, Sawtooth, Bullards Bar and North Yuba Trail in Downieville. These are in addition to the already 2,000 miles of roads and 195 miles of OHV trails in the Tahoe National Forest.

“We’ve taken a hands-on-the-bars approach with understanding e-bikes,” said Greg Williams, SBTS Executive Director. “We’ve ridden these bikes enough to know what their impacts are and SBTS fully supports the progressive stance of the Tahoe National Forest on Class 1 e-bikes. We are fortunate to have such open-minded partners like the Tahoe National Forest, who are willing to get outside with us and experience this new form of recreation together.”

Not only will expanding access for Class 1 e-bikes help encourage more of the public to explore their public lands, but the rapidly growing popularity of e-bikes will also help bolster the recreation economy of struggling mountain towns like Downieville that rely on visitation and tourism revenue.

E-bikes are not just another passing fad; they are here to stay and will change the face of outdoor recreation. The better we understand what e-bikes are, the better we can integrate them into the existing trail networks. SBTS is excited to continue working with the Tahoe National Forest, providing quality recreational experiences on public lands.

More information on Tahoe National Forest e-bike riding opportunities can be found here.