IMBA Canada’s continued mission is to ensure that Canada is home to a strong and vibrant mountain biking community, riding a world class network of mountain bike trails. There are contexts where e-Bikes are advantageous to the furthering of this mission, such as when e-Bikes allow those with disabilities to be involved in mountain biking, or for the building and maintenance of trails.

The development of e-Bike technologies has caused significant controversy in the mountain bike community. Ultimately, decisions regarding the role and allowance of e-Bikes must be made on a local, case by case basis depending on the unique needs and challenges of that locale. To assist land managers, protected areas, trail designers/builders and advocacy organizations, IMBA Canada has developed the following suggestions for consideration. Currently, insufficient research has been conducted regarding the potential pros and cons of e-bikes to establish clear understanding. However, based on extant issues within the mountain bike community, IMBA Canada has developed the following advice. 

E-Bikes are managed under Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations, where they are defined as power-assisted bicycles. IMBA Canada is against the use of throttle-controlled e-Bikes, and believes that only those which are activated by the use of pedaling should be considered on mountain bike trails in any context. Therefore, an e-Bike for use on trails must include the following details:

  • Is capable of being propelled by muscular power,
  • Has a total continuous power output of 500 W or less,
  • When engaged using muscular power, power assistance immediately ceases when the muscular power ceases,
  • Is incapable of providing further assistance when the bicycle attains a speed of 32 km/h on level ground.

IMBA Canada is against the use of any powered bicycles which fail to meet the above parameters and notes that such vehicles may be illegal for use on trails, and in parks or protected areas.

Of key importance for consideration by individual cycling groups is their specific context. Variables that should be accounted for include (but is not limited to) demographics, other trail user groups, and environmental/trail conditions. 

From a demographic perspective, if your community includes a high proportion of older or family-oriented riders, improving access to e-bikes may be beneficial. Older riders and those with disabilities will be able to continue their riding experience. Similarly, parents may be able to use e-bikes as tools to bring their families on rides. IMBA Canada support’s the Government of Canada’s Policy on Sport for Persons with a Disability. “The Policy envisions the full and active participation of persons with a disability in Canadian sport at all levels and in all forms, to the extent of their abilities and interests.” As such, e-bikes can assist in broadening the demographics of riders, and extend the ability for older, injured or disabled riders to continue biking. An outright ban of e-bikes could also be perceived as discriminatory against those with disabilities, who would rely upon e-bikes to access trails otherwise unavailable to them. There is potential for legal challenges to such a ban on the grounds of discrimination. As many disabilities are not visible, requiring proof of disability to ride an e-bike is also a prohibitive barrier. 

Additional research into the appropriate usage of e-bikes is necessary, to understand their potential environmental impact, among other possible issues. Until such research is complete, some temporary assumptions may be made, for instance, as e-bikes have the potential to travel at a much higher rate of speed on some segments of trail, it is important to consider how e-bike users may interact with other user groups. Negative interactions between cyclists and equestrian users for example, have the potential to be magnified by the usage of e-bikes by virtue of their higher speeds. Similarly, trail builders may have designed their trails around bicycles travelling at conventional speeds. E-bikes travelling at higher rates of speed may face additional hazards and may also erode and damage trails at a higher rate. As always, IMBA Canada suggests developing strong relationships between user groups, and providing education and advice to user groups on how to facilitate compatible use and communication between user groups. Developing protocols and information/signage related to right of way and trail etiquette will assist in minimizing these risk factors.

Given the vulnerability of alpine terrain, IMBA Canada suggests limiting or eliminating the use of e-bikes in the alpine, or in other vulnerable ecological zones. These areas already present significant environmental risk, and exceptionally high rates of required maintenance. As such, any additional stresses upon these trails and locations should be avoided whenever possible. 

Long distance and multi-night bike-packing may be facilitated using e-bikes; however, the possible electrical or mechanical failure of an e-bike in remote locations increases risk. As these failures are more difficult to repair and potential evacuation from remote locations is exacerbated, it is advised that allowing e-bikes into remote wilderness areas for multi-night or long-distance bike-packing is not recommended. 

Finally, e-bikes can be valuable tools for riding communities in their ongoing construction and maintenance work. Several Canadian locales have demonstrated how e-bikes may facilitate trail designers, builders, and maintenance teams in completing their work. The additional propulsion provided by e-bikes can reduce the use of other trail access mechanisms such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), as well as allow greater loads to be carried in. IMBA Canada supports the use of e-bikes as tools in the context of facilitating trail construction and maintenance – especially when used to reduce the use of other trail equipment such as all-terrain vehicles. 

Finally, please note that Federal, Provincial, or Municipal regulations regarding e-Bikes supersede and local decision making. Should trails be built in a park or protected area where e-Bikes are banned, the local decisions of that trail association shall not conflict with those made by formal governments. 

If you have questions or comments regarding e-bikes or wish to be involved in e-bike research with IMBA Canada, please contact us.