Accommodating the crest in popularity of e-bikes, the Interior Department last month agreed to open the gates and allow them on trails in national parks and other public lands across the country.
E-bikes, which combine pedal-power with battery-driven small electric motors, previously had been classified as motor vehicles and were restricted to park roadways.
The Trump administration order, signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, was a bow to senior citizens and others who want to ride a bike but may not be able to because of physical fitness, age, disability or convenience.
It’s a good change — or at least a good chance to take a trial run and see how it meshes with other park visitors at the nation’s 400 parks and other recreation areas.
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It also reflects the soaring popularity of the small, quiet, typically low horsepower e-bikes, that can go as fast as you can pedal, but typically cut out the electric assist at 20 mph or 28 mph. For riders, that usually means getting an assist on uphill climbs or extending the length of their bike outing so they can cover more ground.
Aging baby boomers — and, in some cities, commuters — have taken to the e-bikes and made them the fastest growing segment of the bike sales industry. Sales of e-bikes, which cost $1,000 to $2,000 or more, jumped 72 percent last year to $144 million, according to news reports.
Not everyone was humming along with the park change, however. Outdoors and hiking groups, along with horse-riding groups, opposed the change that will allow e-bikes on trails where previously only regular bikes and hikers had been allowed.
While that may briefly interrupt the solitude of the hiking experience, the change could also disperse some of the heavy visitor traffic and congestion on roads in national parks by allowing e-bikers to take to trails where they previously could not venture.
In Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, for instance, the new directive will allow e-bikes on the 57 miles of carriage paths with stone bridges that meander through the park and were constructed and funded by industrialist John D. Rockefeller, who owned a summer home there and donated the land.
That will open new vistas for visitors in Bar Harbor and hopefully do the same in other parks across the land, spreading out the millions of people who flock to — and sometimes overwhelm — national parks and providing a better outdoor experience as they take in the beauty of the nation’s mountains, lakes and forests.