Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Jack Drury: E-bikes Deserve A Place in the Park

Jack Drury on his Class 1 e bike at Great Camp Sagamore As we pedal up another long hill, I realize I’m the oldest in my small group of five bicyclists by close to 20 years. I think of the fact that I have outlived my dad, who died at 50, by 20 years.

Is it because I selected a career as a wilderness education instructor and guide, keeping me physically active most of my life? Who knows?

What I do know is that I’m grateful today that I’m on an e-bike as I approach the 20-mile mark of our 25-mile sojourn over logging roads with over 2,000 feet in elevation change.

I have used the bike’s pedal assist sparingly, but it has made all the difference as to whether I would have taken today’s trip. I had all but given up mountain biking. I still hike the peaks and paddle the rivers, lakes, and ponds, but found I just couldn’t get psyched for those long uphills on the bicycle. On my last mountain bike trek, before I got my e-bike, I found myself walking up many of the hills. I wasn’t having fun.

I didn’t realize that I was part of a wave that is sweeping the country. Electric bike sales jumped by 95 percent between 2016 and 2017. Estimates suggest the trend continued through 2018. The big question, though, is whether there is a place for these battery-powered “pedal-assist” bicycles in the Adirondack Park and its forest preserve. The short answer is yes, absolutely. The long answer is more complex.

The benefits may not be obvious, but e-bikes are a healthy form of recreation and are getting thousands of people off their couches and into the outdoors. In addition, they are environmentally friendly. E-bikes are emissions-free, low-impact, and they operate silently. We’re not talking pollutant-spewing, noisy internal combustion engines that require no physical effort. We’re talking about bicycles 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 mph. E-bikes complement one’s muscle power.

Most of the time, you ride an electric bike like any other bike — but you can get help from the motor when you are traveling long distances, pedaling against the wind, and going uphill. Despite some critics that proclaim e-biking is “cheating,” e-bikes do count as exercise and help people get fit. E-bikes burn 80 percent of the calories burned on traditional bicycles. Research indicates that people with e-bikes get out twice as often as they did with their conventional bikes. Riding an e-bike still takes work. Unlike a moped, e-bikes don’t mean you simply let the thing fling you forward. You’re still pedaling, but as you do, the motor enhances your efforts. When you climb a hill, you pedal with more force, and the bike provides just enough power to let you rise with less effort.

There are challenges and issues to be worked out for sure. New York State has yet to address the issue, so e-bikes are technically illegal to ride on most roads in the state. Only 10 states have created an e-bike classification system intended to differentiate between types and speeds of e-bikes. For our purposes we are talking about a Class 1 e-bike, which is a 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 mph. I am not an advocate of Class 2 e-bikes, which have a throttle. Perhaps they should be treated as motorized vehicles and registered as such.

The State Land Master Plan states: “Human use and enjoyment of those lands should be permitted and encouraged, so long as the re- sources in their physical and biological context as well their social or psychological aspects are not degraded.” To accommodate new recreational activities, in my mind, the activity needs to pass a test. Like the mandate that conservation easements have a “conservation value,” questionable recreation activities need to pass a similar test. E-bikes clearly pass the test because unlike internal combustion engines, they spew no gases, make no noise, and promote a healthy form of recreation. Allowing them where other motorized vehicles are allowed, including snowmobiles, seems appropriate. Exploring additional select locations also seems appropriate given their positive attributes.

If we want to limit use on forest preserve perhaps we should consider a reverse sort of licensing. We require an auto license at age 16; how about limiting e-bikes to those over age 60 or those with recognized limited physical abilities?

I agree with those who think that we shouldn’t allow recreational uses on the forest preserve just because they exist. I feel, however, that as new recreational uses evolve each needs to be evaluated on its own merits to see if there is both an environmental and social benefit. I think e-bikes provide both if appropriately regulated and managed. Class 1 e-bikes should be allowed on easement lands, select old logging roads in wild forest areas, and on multi-use snowmobile trails.

Photo of Jack Drury on his Class 1 e-bike at Great Camp Sagamore by Nancie Battaglia.

This essay originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

Related Stories

Jack Drury is co-owner of Leading E.D.G.E., a professional development firm, professor emeritus of North Country Community College having founded the college's Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program and has been an Adirondack guide for 45 years.

40 Responses

  1. Balian the Cat says:

    “Class 1 e-bikes should be allowed on easement lands, select old logging roads in wild forest areas, and on multi-use snowmobile trails.”

    My first reaction is to simply agree with this. A staunch believer in the sanctity of designated Wilderness – I do not wish to be exclusionary. That said, I believe the terms of Conservation Easements are negotiated between the state and the landowner. Simply stating that ebikes should be allowed where other bikes are allowed may not work. Also, and referring to my original statement of inclusion – I think it important that we remember that while the demographic is aging, the amount of wild land is not proportionately increasing. While I might sympathize with someones lost ability to go/do things they love, there are “larger” concerns related to resource protection that must be safeguarded. I am sure I’ll get hammered for even gently stating that…but it’s necessary to mention.

  2. James Bullard says:

    I don’t have an e-bike but at age 74 I too am walking up a lot of hills I used to ride up. My first bike as a kid had one gear and there were lots of hills I couldn’t ride up. Then I got a 3 speed, then a 10 speed, now a 21 speed. The e-bikes provide a boost not unlike multi-geared bikes do. They allow the rider to power up steep inclines they otherwise would not be able to. Aside from the fact that the e-bike has a part-time motor, how is that so different that they should be banned. No noise, no pollution, just a technological enhancement of the rider’s ability.

  3. Patricia Stone says:

    I agree class 1 e-bikes should be allowed. Aside from allowing people who are aging to continue to interact with the Adirondack Park as they have through much of their lives, the e-bikes offer more opportunities for people who may not have felt able to even attempt rides with challenging hills. No emissions, no noise, potentially less driving will contribute to protecting air quality and health of residents and visitors—both worthwhile quality of life endeavors!

  4. Joe Hansen says:

    Getting old is a fact of life, if we don’t die it happens to us all. Be a grown up and accept that. At 64 I still ride road and MTBs and when I no longer can I’ll do something else that is still possible.
    If you want to ride a bike with a motor do it where you can legally ride motorcycles.

    • TRailogre says:

      E bikes have no place in motorless areas


      • TRAILOGRE says:

        You may have to walk up some hills
        As is normal in mountain biking

        Buy yourself a fat bike
        Very low gearing
        You can ride up anything

        But I think if you allow any kind of motor s
        That’s the end of motorless

        • TRAILOGRE says:

          Robert Kibbey says:
          February 26, 2019 at 7:53 pm
          Your a real “downer” Joe. Did you read where it says ” NO pollution, NO noise”

          Did you see where it say NO motors…….

          • JohnL says:

            In the ‘not for nothin’ category, there IS pollution involved in an ebike, maybe not at the site of use but certainly from the continual recharging of the battery. Some 60-70% of all electrical power generated in the US is from fossil fuels, with 30% from coal. So, to say there’s no pollution from ebikes, you have to ignore quite a bit of reality.
            That being said, if you allow them because us older folk can’t do all the things we used to do, what do you do when we can’t even ride with an occasional assist. Do you then say we can use full powered ‘things’? Where does it end? We old folks have to come to grips at some point with the things we can’t do. It’s difficult, but personally, I’m trying to do just that.

            • James Bullard says:

              In case you didn’t see it, e-bikes are currently illegal in NY except in NYC where the mayor decided to allow them. You cannot ride them legally on any public road or presumably other public property. You can legally ride up and down your driveway.

              Also, although your stats on electric power production may be accurate nationally the power generated in NY is predominantly green. In NNY it is 100% green, either hydro, wind or in the growing segment of solar. The only fossil fuel plants in NY are downstate and are in the late stages of their life cycle.

          • Robert Kibbey says:

            Yes. I guess I should have said that I would like to see the APA make an amendment to what is meant by “motors” when it comes to e-bikes.

  5. Robert Kibbey says:

    Your a real “downer” Joe. Did you read where it says ” NO pollution, NO noise”

  6. James Bullard says:

    I did some Internet research and at present, it appears the only place in NYS where you can ride an e-bike is in NYC or on a road you own. They are not legal on any public road in the state outside of NYC. The state legislature has had bills to legalize them in 2017 & 2018, the Senate passed their bill but the Assembly never voted on theirs.

    I am amused by the “it’s a motor and no motors should be allowed” despite the fact that you could be riding next to one and not know it had a motor because of no noise and no emissions. The motors are in the rear hubs. The only real tipoff is the battery.

    It wasn’t that long ago that people were upset over cell phones in the woods, then they built in GPS and maps. All of a sudden they were okay, except I suspect for the real purists I suppose. Maybe we should require woven ash pack baskets and hobnail boots in the woods.

  7. Boreas says:

    This is a very interesting discussion that encompasses many aspects of NYS and Forest Preserve philosophy/ideology. Technology certainly evolves faster than NYS politics. (Think e-cigs…)

    “Class 1 e-bikes should be allowed on [select] easement lands, select old logging roads in wild forest areas, and on [select] multi-use snowmobile trails.” [brackets mine].

    I agree with this approach in general, although blanket legalization should probably be avoided. Many snowmobile trails have wet areas for 3 seasons and would be a poor choice. Easement lands are quite variable WRT usage, habitat, and wildlife types.

    Ideologically (OFF-ROAD), I feel Class 1 eBikes and even rubber-band-powered bikes should fall into the same category as human-powered bikes. They are all mechanized devices that must be pedaled. There certainly should be limits on where they should be legally used within the Park. I would think hardened bike trails and roads/rail beds would be suitable for both. Let Albany parse their ultimate legality on public roads.

  8. Big Burly says:

    Leave it to my friend Jack to discover and proselytize yet another form of healthy recreation. Hamlets to huts and now this ! Good on ya Jack.

  9. Paul says:

    Golf carts should be allowed as well? With the type of tires they have they should be even lower impact than these bikes. Plus you can have multiple passengers even further limiting the impact. Golf cart pooling!

  10. Walt Linck says:

    Poor ‘ol Paul Petzoldt is thrashing around and rolling over in his grave. Tch-Tch.

  11. Steve B. says:

    I’m in the camp of no motorized vehicles on paths and trails currently designated as “No Motorized Vehicles Allowed”.


    Lots of issues with e-bikes. 1) It’s impossible for anyone to police whether a bike is a Class 1 or not, thus you can get a lot of more powerful E bikes on trails and paths where they shouldn’t be. 2) With more power comes potential for more damage on dirt trails, something the mt. bikers work hard at mitigating. 3) On the bike paths I ride, I see e-bikes frequently (and illegally) and often see them being ridden at speeds inappropriate for the conditions, simply because they can. 4) The mt. bike advocacy groups and clubs have worked very hard to gain the tolerance of the “No Bike” hiking and other outdoor groups, by building sustainable trails for mt. biking in appropriate areas. Those tolerances and hard fought for acceptance may be at risk if motorized e-bikes are allowed.

  12. John McCormick says:

    E bikes should be allowed as a part of the APA conforming to the ADA act
    as a reasonable accommodation to a disability
    If not let the courts be dragged into another issue as to what constitutes a disability they are for dragged into every other issue
    that folks want to whine about or delay

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Is age considered a disability?

      That was the point of Jack’s article.

      On trails that are popular due to their downhill quality, EBikes can increase the use if repeated frequently. Impacts will need to be considered.

      As for:
      “On my last mountain bike trek, before I got my e-bike, I found myself walking up many of the hills. I wasn’t having fun.”

      I can only say, this is a personal problem and not a good reason to create policy in the Blue Line.

  13. Hope says:

    Love ’em or hate ’em. E bike is a game changer for more than just the older folks. I’m not advocating them in Wilderness Areas but designated bike trails, carriage roads, ATV trails, paved roads, why not? If you can ride a bike why not an e-bike? Its peddle assist, not a motor bike. Makes no more noise than a regular bike. There are no emissions. If it gets more folks out on bikes, bring it on!

    • S Bailey says:

      Is it a bike ?, or a motor-cycle ?.

      I already see issues on assorted bike paths on my bike commute in NYC, where food delivery guys as well as folks on full blown motor scooters are increasingly using bike paths. Its going to be a dangerous situation with the speed they sometimes get up to. As well, with improved technology, the amount of horsepower you can generate is going to increase. That’s one of the issues that are concerning a lot of the mt. bike advocacy groups, as the know they cannot keep up with trail maintanence if you have motorized bicycles putting out more horsepower, and subsequent trail damage.

      It is a very difficult issue. I well recall the time the Appalachian Mt. Club was told by the US Forest Service they had to make Lakes of the Clouds hut ADA compliant during a renovation. The AMC argument was Why ?, when there was very little likelyhood a disabled person could gain access to the hut, given the difficulty of the terrain. Than and to prove them wrong a disabled man had itself winched up a trail to the hut.

      Does the use of e-bikes by folks desiring that extra bit of help mean we need to make every trail accessible ?. I’m inclined to say no.

      • Boreas says:

        S Bailey,

        Yes, e-Bikes do come in many flavors. Mr. Drury is speaking specifically about Class 1 e-bikes, which only adds assist when the rider is pedaling. They have no throttle and won’t go anywhere unless pedaled.

      • Hope says:

        An E-bike is NOT a motor scooter or a motorcycle. It is a regular bicycle that has a small electric motor that will assist with pedaling. It won’t go without the pedaling and most people don’t need to use it on the downhill or even flat terrain. I use my peddle assist Fat Tire bike to ride 8 miles of logging roads to get to our camp. I’ve done it on my regular mtn bike but I’m much more likely to do it more often on the E-bike. Just got to keep an eye out for those bears.

        • TRAILOGRE says:

          But it still has a…………………………..MOTOR!!!

          • TRAILOGRE says:

            Allowing any ….any…….
            type of motor

            is going to be cited as precedent to open up to all motorized vehicles by the motorized crowd

            No MOTORS

            • Boreas says:

              Open up what to “all motorized vehicles”? Motorized vehicles are allowed in the Park. So to me, this discussion isn’t motors vs no motors, the discussion is specifically where and when should they be allowed? If we start making blanket statements about motors in the backcountry, snowmobilers, train fans, and airplane pilots won’t be very receptive.

              • TRAILOGRE says:

                I’m talking about the motorless areas

                thats what is being talked about

                They should not be allowed in areas presently closed to motor vehicles

                I dont see how you didnt get that ………

                “So to me, this discussion isn’t motors vs no motors, the discussion is specifically where and when should they be allowed? If we start making blanket statements about motors in the backcountry, snowmobilers, train fans, and airplane pilots won’t be very receptive.”

                • Boreas says:

                  “Allowing any ….any…….
                  type of motor is going to be cited as precedent to open up to all motorized vehicles by the motorized crowd”

                  No, the article and discussion is about eBikes in the Forest Preserve, not motorless areas. Your statement mentions nothing about motorless areas.

                  • TRAILOGRE says:

                    Yes the forest preserve …


                    motors are not allowed !!

                    ebikes should not be allowed on any bike path for motorless vehicles

                    • Boreas says:

                      Thanks for the clarification. I agree!

                      My point was, one gray area would be snowmobile trails – for instance on old RR beds such as Bloomingdale Bog trail or newer Class 2 connector trails. Bikes are allowed on them, motorized snowmobiles are allowed on them, but not these Class 1 eBikes with simple electric assist? How does the state reconcile that? If “no motors” is to mean none at all, where does that leave snowmobiles? I guess it will ultimately depend on how strong the eBike lobby will be.

          • Hope says:

            But I’m riding it on a logging road where large motorized vehicles, cars, trucks, ATVs and snowmobiles already are permitted. It is within the forest preserve. It is on easement lands. What’s the problem?

  14. Charlie S says:

    I just read every comment here and I must say…TRAILOGRE’s above struck me the most. Simply put! A motor is a motor is… Ere long E-bikes (E for effortless) will be out of fashion and we’ll be looking for the latest E-contraption so as to have another excuse to get away from physical exertion. This must have something to do with the US having the highest obesity rates in the world, this excuse to get away from good old foot travel. What next?

  15. Jerry R says:

    I have an ebike/pedal assist and it is wonderful. I use it instead of my car to commute when it wouldn’t be feasible to use my road bike due to time constraints..

    Sometimes I’ll use it solely recreationally, or lend it to a non biking friend to use so we can go on a longer ride together.. again it’s great for that.

    With that said I don’t think it has any place on mtn biking trails. I’m 68, can’t do things at the pace i used to, and see it as my time to do what I can and encourage the younger, more abled bodies, to get out there, push their limits and appreciate nature at its best with like minded souls.

    I do continue to get out and tackle quite rigorous events, but it’s true, I do walk more of the hills. Whether one is 68 or 18, in my mind, the goal would be to keep moving, to keep pushing ones self and enjoy our very special Adirondacks at its best..

    • Boreas says:


      What class of ebike do you ride? The discussion here regarding their use on bike trails is primarily about Class 1 ebikes – pedal assist without a throttle.

      • Jerry says:

        That’s exactly what I have.. the harder you pedal the more assist you get.
        You don’t pedal…. you don’t go anywhere.

        It’s a trek road bike type, I forget the exact model.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox