eBikes in National Parks?

eBikes are good. As a car-alternative for commuting, they lessen congestion and reduce our carbon footprint. They allow less-fit riders to ride rail and cycle trails that would otherwise be too tough, long or steep. Experienced mountain bikers can knock off longer distances and future (lighter) eBikes offer a tantalising alternative to traditional up-lifts like buses and chairlifts. There is plenty to be excited about.

However the Department of Conservation (DOC) caught many off guard recently with their proposal to allow pedal-assist 300 watt eBikes on 33km of new shared-use track in Tongariro National Park. This may, or may not, be a good idea. 

There is cause for general optimism, but also reason for caution.

  • Only minimal anecdotal research exists on the physical impacts of eBikes on tracks, and the social impacts on other users.
  • Technology is evolving, fast. Expect future bikes to have lighter batteries, longer range and more grunt. Higher powered, throttle operated 'eMotorBikes' are unlikely to be appropriate on shared-use tracks.
  • DOC is yet to develop, test the need for, or the efficacy of, management tools that limit trail access to pedal-assist 300 watt eBikes where they have specified that to be the maximum output.

National Parks are special places that require a more conservative management approach than other parts of the Conservation Estate. As a nascent activity it is premature to test the use of eBikes in National Parks. Following their own eBike Guidelines published back in 2015, DOC should trial them on appropriate front-country tracks first. Let’s then monitor the benefits, impacts and any management issues over say the next five years before considering whether or not to charge into National Parks.

Submissions to the Draft Plan close 29 May. Trail Fund NZ and Federated Mountain Clubs are submitting their opposition to the use of eBikes in National Parks until their impacts are better understood. Have your say at www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved.

Feel free to download and modify our standard submission template as txt or pdf file.


Mountain biking on the Tukino Skifield access road. Photos: Gary Perkin


20 Comments

Graeme
Graeme

June 09, 2017

It’s all about Respect: for environment and for people. Ebikes do no more damage than pedalled bikes – it is the way the person rides! For selfish, personal, reasons, I would love to be able to ride DoC trails in our National Parks. I have been an active tramper, diver, climber and mountain biker for different stages of my life. Now as I head towards retirement I still wish to keep active in the outdoors with the intention of many more adventures ahead of me. Ebikes allow me to keep up with my family as we ride, they open up routes that I might not otherwise be able to do (uphill…), and they assist my fitness. They are one part of my quiver of tools to live life! However, I acknowledge that it could become a problem where anybody could hire an ebike and head off on the toughest trail. This has to be a well thought out as to where and perhaps when, access will be granted. It would be wrong to open up every trail – especially where there is advanced technique needed. Maybe selected trails, leaving other trails for “real” bikers? It might pay to remember the days when even MTB’s were not allowed in National Parks…

Harvey Teulon
Harvey Teulon

May 29, 2017

I an 63yrs old and have recently purchased an e bike so that I can go cycling with my wife.So far we have cycled both the Alps to Ocean and Wilderness trail.Both trails were magnificent.I would never have experienced this without an e bike.Like all of you Real mountain bikers I pay my fair share of tax.Unless this has changed I believe that this tax goes towards funding of DOC.I have a moustache e mountain bike which is limited to 25kmph.I get a little assistance uphill and into a wind.Most of the time I am passed by the “real mountain bikers”.The real mountain bikers will at a stage when there limbs are not so willing probably move onto e bikes.I also play golf.I do not use a cart but without the electric cart golfers would have to hang up their boots and put their clubs away long before it is necessary.

Mike
Mike

May 25, 2017

I have both an ebike and a conventional mtb and can vouch that the ebike while going faster uphill actually causes less damage than the conventional bike. I do agree with a number of the above comments that they will cause an increase in numbers on the tracks but is this not being a bit selfish. It is a bit like trampers first reactions when mtb’s were first allowed on tracks.

Rob
Rob

May 24, 2017

To those differentiating between eBikers and ‘real mountain bikers’ and those worried about opening up the back country to too many people, or problems misjudging the speed of another person, I make the following points:
Like it or not, ebikers are real mountain bikers.
The arguments you are applying are identical to those used by walkers attempting to exclude mountain bikers from tracks and national parks.
The arguments are also the same as those used by ‘real’ trampers in an attempt to exclude guided walkers from national parks.
Just like those arguments, I actually think it’s pretty weak sauce. There will always be places where only the truly capable and hard will go. There will also always be some people who will push the limits of good sense. I’ve seen this on tracks as a walker and off track too. National parks belong to everyone and should provide everyone with recreational opportunities that meet a range of capabilities. Put pre-conceptions and biases aside, rely on actual evidence and enjoy the ride. You might even find that some people on eBikes are worth talking to.

(PS, mods: For some reason my first post on May 17 appears twice. Do you want to delete the second copy?)

Sara
Sara

May 23, 2017

I run a cycle tour company aimed at the 50+ age group who are completely embracing ebikes. Personally, I love them and this is a good thing for cycling in general. But, from experience they are potentially a very bad thing for the backcountry and it has nothing to do with the environmental impact. Ebikes allow people with little fitness or experience to travel into areas they should not be in. They allow riders with poor bike skills to ride at higher speeds than they should be riding so make it dangerous for everyone! As always, it’s the human, not the technology that’s the issue. But, as DOC will have no budget to monitor and control the humans, I agree that we should tread cautiously and evaluate the pros and cons carefully before making a decision we all later regret.

Ground Effect
Ground Effect

May 22, 2017

Great to see some engagement on this. A few of points of clarification that maybe should have been spelt out better in the blog:
- Our 13 National Parks are a subset of the Conservation Estate – representing about 1/3 of the total area managed by DOC (and much of that is remote parts of Fiordland and Kahurangi). Tracks like the Central Otago Rail Trail, Alps to Ocean and Queen Charlotte lie outside of the National Park system.
- The issue raised in our blog is not whether eBikes are good or bad. We think they are fundamentally good. Initial observations on tracks like the Central Otago Rail Trail with 250 watt pedal-assist 25kph cut-out eBikes are quite positive.
- The point about National Parks is that DOC is required by the National Parks Act to manage activities within them in more conservative manner than elsewhere on the Public Conservation Estate.
- eBikes are new – and have only started to be used off-road in any volume over the past 1-2 years.
- eBike technology is evolving fast. No-one can crystal ball what they will look like in the future, but they have the potential to be lighter and faster – with dimensionally smaller battery packs.
- DOC needs a few years experience with, and monitoring of, eBikes on tracks outside of National Parks before trialling them within National Parks.
- Specifically they need to demonstrate that they can successfully restrict access to 250 watt pedal-assist 25kph cut-out eBikes.

Paul Trewavas
Paul Trewavas

May 21, 2017

I am a 68 year old E MTB rider. There will de no evidence to ban them from DOC MTB trails as the impact to the environment is no different to any other MTB. It surprises me that you people are not embracing this new technology but instead running scared an making all sorts of accusations that are totally unwarranted. ROB your imput sums this up perfectly.

Maree Quinn
Maree Quinn

May 21, 2017

This is a plea really for informed debate on the issue.
As someone who has been riding MTB for many years, well 30 really. My lungs, knees and other parts are now having difficulty keeping up with my aspirations. I am looking at an ebike, to assist me to continue to enjoy the off road experience. And assist is the key word. I’m not looking to power up and down national parks or any other track like a dirt biker, I’m merely looking to assist my declining body.
An ebike and MTB leave the same tracks. Why prohibit someone who needs assistance because of the fear of misuse?
Would an inexperienced off road biker, really tackle a technical single track just because they have more power under their pedals ? Or is the thought that experienced off roader would use this extra power to act irresponsibly ? I think that’s one of the key points – those who would use the extra power to act irresponsibly.
Comes down to the old argument, banning something to stop the few who abuse the privledge. Let’s work on education and encouraging responsibility.

I really want to continue experincing the country by MTB and I would love to think that many others who might need some assistance will be able to do so.

Graeme
Graeme

May 20, 2017

I agree, ebikes in general to my mind would be worse on doc / walking tracks and to the users that real mtn bikers would ever be. It opens them up to a lot of people who probably would not be able to control (read – start stop , avoid walkers and control there riding) due to the fact that the majority would be tourist types with a limited time frame trying to cram it as much as the could in the shortest amount of time, and also those to lazy to make the effort to get out and see the back country under their own steam.

Phil Battersby
Phil Battersby

May 19, 2017

I just turned 60.
I am a heart transplant recipient of 16 years.
I have seen my daughters grow up as a consequence.
My wife and i bike with a fantastic bunch of pepole every weekend on the tracks around Taupo
I had a minor stroke last year and within 2 weeks i had an ebike.
My fitness has gone up because i have to peddle for longer because i can. I do not have to pressure my system nor get sore muscles. I cannot keep up with the better people in our group but no one has to wait for me anymore.
I love our open spaces and especially the national parks which we also walk in.
To be able to bike in them would be very special because i respect them and the people who manage them on behalf of all of us. As with EVERYTHING in this world it is about respect. Bike must always give way to people. We all must respect the environment we are in and respect each other.
We must always stay within our limits. If all that happens in equal measure then there should not be any issue. We need more people out excercising and ebikes are a great way for people to do it. Please allow some tracks in the Parks!

Stephen Beuzenberg
Stephen Beuzenberg

May 19, 2017

As a MTBer, hiker, and e-bike commuter, I can’t see the problem. e-MTBs will allow a great opportunity for less able/dedicated folk to enjoy the great outdoors, and that is vital to ensuring public support for its protection.

e-MTBs are only different to MTBs during ascending sections, where speeds are slow anyway and control is probably better on an e-MTB. Slightly higher speeds might be averaged on level sections, although fit young folk are still likely to go faster than the sort of people who would opt for an e-MTB. Descents would be the same, except e-MTBers would likely be less reckless than most MTBers that I see.

Therefore, I can’t see that e-MTBs would be any more likely to crash others than MTBs, although being hit by a heavier e-bike could be worse.

Just like MTBers, e-MTBers MUST remain in control at all times, and give way to hikers. I don’t see any difference needed in protocols or practice.

Martyn Davies
Martyn Davies

May 18, 2017

As someone who has used both e-bikes (pedal assisted bikes )and conventional mountain bikes i’ve observed that there’s very little difference if any in their effect on terrain. If anything an ebike inflicts less damage riders cant throw them around the way they can a light weight carbon bike and uphill the additional weight provides greater traction and is less likely to suffer from wheel spin.

Having witnessed first hand the number of people coming back to biking or entering the sport because of them its only to be encouraged in my view.

Mike
Mike

May 18, 2017

I ride both e and non e-bikes, tending towards the latter as I age. and I get a good dose of exercise and the outdoors either way.
I go uphill a bit faster on the e-bike but on the flat not much faster – limited by riding ability – and downhill no faster for the same reason.
Sure, access for e-bikes is likely in time to increase numbers on tracks, but this seems a poor excuse for the exclusion of us oldies

Len
Len

May 17, 2017

Nope, ebikes are ok for commuting and that’s it.

Jeff Duncan
Jeff Duncan

May 17, 2017

Ì think 300watt is a good starting point but it will b impossible to guage impact as ‘normal’ mtb make the same imprint on the ground so you wont b able to tell who or what causes any extra impact if any at all?
But well done for not limiting the older or injured mtbers to enjoy our National parks.

Nev Waterson
Nev Waterson

May 17, 2017

It’s an age old story, is it not – it’s not the bikes that do harm, but the humans who ride them.
If people stay on the trails, leave no rubbish or human waste, then isn’t the impact on the environment no more or less than walkers and roads and vehicles?
Personally as a keen Mtb’er I would love to see a government funded mtb trail/s in our National Parks. For are they not there for generations to enjoy?
As for shared trails… I think it is pretty obvious e-bikes and walkers will clash, perhaps literally.

Rob
Rob

May 17, 2017

As someone who is in the target market for an e-mountain bike (older, bad knees and falling fitness), I’m not at all sure that I agree. in fact this has a distinct whiff of the sort of parochialism that mountain bikers faced (and still face) when trying to gain access to many areas initially. Mountain bikes in general are already rougher on tracks than walkers. There is no evidence yet that ebikes are worse, let-alone significantly worse. If ebikes generally, or throttle operated ebikes specifically, are found to be significantly worse in the future then they can be dealt with promptly. After all access is something DOC can mandate at the stroke of a pen. Why cut away potentially years, maybe the last years, of potential access for a swathe of riders on an as yet unfounded fear/prejudice?

I also point out that the DOC Guidelines referred to above do not actually state that trials on front-country tracks should be undertaken first. Rather it states:

“1) Consider key principles (see section 6) in relation to each biking trail. This will provide us with a list of proposed trails where we should and shouldn’t allow electric bikes. 2) Test the key principles and outcomes (list of trails) through the CMS and NPMP processes.
This will allow for public discussion and consultation. Note: The use of electric bikes should continue to be considered on a case by case basis in CMS documents and policies as these are reviewed into the future. This could result in electric bikes being allowed on all trails open to cycling and mountain biking, only on some of those trails, or only on roads.”

Finally, in my experience, the behaviour of the walker, biker, ebiker, is far more important than their mode of transport.

Phil
Phil

May 17, 2017

I would be happy for all e bikes to be kept out of mtb parks and conservation land.l find you have difficulty judging their speed relative to pedal power when you come across someone riding one and you have an oh my goodness that was close moment.

Graeme Leo
Graeme Leo

May 17, 2017

As both an e-bike and conventional mountain bike owner I will support your submission.
The other issue is that given DOC’s overstretched resources how are they going to allocate resources to police any discriminatory policy at this point. They are not equipped, the only sane way to proceed is for now just ban them, pending evidence based review.

David van Schaardenburg
David van Schaardenburg

May 17, 2017

Great minds think alike – presuming I have one. As a keen MTBer, hiker, and having a house in Oakune, I sent in my submission on the new shared trails in Tongariro National park totally supporting this BUT NOT the ebike bit…creates risk of high rider volumes (any tourist can ride), heavier environmental impact, and higher average speeds by inexpereinced riders creating higher risks for other users.

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