Electric Mountain Bike Information

E - MTB Access in San Diego County 
(updated 6/12/2018)

We are fortunate in San Diego to have access to some great trails.  However, our access to trails is the result of many years of advocacy to convince land managers and regulatory agencies that mountain biking is a sustainable, safe sport that is appropriate on public lands and shared trail systems. SDMBA was founded in 1994 when mountain biking was relatively new. Since then, mountain bike access has become mainstream –almost taken for granted– but our access is still predicated on the fact that mountain bikes are non-motorized vehicles.

We should not forget that mountain bike access is a result of the continued hard work of dedicated advocates, and in many areas we still have much to do. There are still many land managers and other trail users who do not like sharing trails with mountain bikers, and we must remain vigilant to safeguard our sport.

Motorized vs. Non-Motorized

Access in California has always been based on the fundamental understanding that mountain biking is a “non-motorized” form of recreation, on par with hiking, XC skiing, trail running, etc. As a non-motorized sport, those in charge of our public lands manage mountain biking using the same guidelines and practices as other non-motorized user groups – though there are still many parks which ban mountain biking. All in all, we are fortunate that there are myriad opportunities for mountain biking in Southern California but we need to keep in mind that this is because of the bedrock advocacy principle that mountain biking is a non-motorized form of recreation.

In contrast, off-road motorcycling, ATV'ing and even snowmobiling have been increasingly restricted and there are fewer and fewer legal places available to them. The same could likely happen to mountain biking if we become seen as a motorized sport.

If eMTBs begin to become common on public trails and usage problems result – legally or illegally – the primary and most effective way for land managers to keep them off public lands will be to ban all types of bikes. Also, if eMTBs become regulated as a “mountain bike” and are able to be ridden on non-motorized trails, land managers could create restrictive policies that affect the entire sport of mountain biking. This will greatly limit where all bikes can be legally ridden on trails.

Advocacy groups like SDMBA have worked hard to develop good relationships with other organized recreational-trail user groups. However, if eMTBs become common on our shared-use trails, there would likely be a backlash from a wide range of users and recreation stakeholders.

SDMBA works constantly to open up new trails and new areas to ride.  If our mountain bike advocacy efforts need to include eMTBs, our successes will be few and far between. Right now, there isn’t much of a population of eMTB riders but if a user base does develop, this new community of eMTB riders may need to set up their own advocacy organization and make their own case for access.

Where Can I Ride My E-MTB? 
It’s important to know where eMTB's can currently venture in the dirt in San Diego County. Because all eBikes have some level of motorized assistance, understanding the access to trails can be confusing. Many e-bikers are new riders and you’ll be a good Samaritan by welcoming them to the sport while also politely and accurately letting them know exactly where they can and cannot ride their new bike. No matter where you stand on the idea of e-bikes, let’s all make sure that we can politely share the rules of the specific trails we’re on. 

The information below is what SDMBA knows to be the current policy for eMTB on trails in San Diego County.  Always contact an individual land manager to learn more. 

City of San DiegoClass 1 and Class 2 eMTBs are allowed on any trail where a traditional bicycle is allowed unless otherwise posted. Currently the City of San Diego is the only jurisdiction that is allowing eMTB use on park and open space trails.  

EMTB's can also travel anywhere an off road vehicle is allowed.  A complete list of these routes in San Diego County is available at Dirtopia

County of San Diego 
County Trails ordinance prohibits motorized vehicles on the trails (including those with “electric” motors).   
*San Dieguito River Park/Lake Hodges is adopting the County's policy prohibiting motorized vehicles (including ebikes) on trails 

Federal Agencies
United States Forest Service - Cleveland National Forest
(Laguna Recreation Area, Noble Canyon, Palomar District)
The USFS considers all eBike classes to be “motorized” and eBikes are permitted only on Motorized OHV trails & fire roads within Federal land.  The Forest Service has an e-bike ban on all USFS trails where motorized use is not allowed. So dirt roads, specific-ATV tracks and motorbike trails are OK but that’s it. If you can’t legally ride a motorcycle on it, or legally drive your car on it, you can’t ride your e-bike there.
You can read the USFS 2016 memo on Electric Bikes and Trail Management here: 2016 USFS Electric Bikes And Trail Management Letter

United States Fish and Wildlife - San Diego Refuges (Mother Miguel, ....)
All classes of eBikes are considered motorized and are not allowed on non-motorized trails
The Code of Federal Regulations that covers this topic is 50 CFR 27.31 - General provisions regarding vehicles.
The code states, "Travel in or use of any motorized or other vehicles, including those used on air, water, ice, snow, is prohibited on national wildlife refuges except on designated routes of travel, as indicated by the appropriate traffic control signs or signals and in designated areas posted or delineated on maps by the refuge manager... "

Bureau of Land Management (McCain Valley) All classes of eBikes are considered motorized and are not allowed on non-motorized trails on BLM land.  2015 BLM Letter regarding Electric Powered Bicycles on Public Lands

State Agencies
California State Parks (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Onofre State Park, Border Field State Park)
All classes of ebikes are considered motorized vehicles and are not allowed on non-motorized trails. They are welcome to be ridden in the parks so long as they stay on the roads, just like cars. eBikes are not legal on the trails in California State Parks. 

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (Crestridge Ecological Reserve, Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area)  - All classes of eBikes are considered motorized and are not allowed on non-motorized trails

Other agencies

Center for Natural Lands Management (La Costa) - All classes of eBikes are considered motorized and are not allowed on non-motorized trails.

Escondido Creek Conservancy/Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve (EFRR) -All classes of eBikes are considered motorized and are not allowed on non-motorized trails.   EFRR's trail standards are modeled after the US Forest Service's Standard Trail Plans and Specifications.    

What is a Class 1 eBike?  
A class 1, pedal-assist e-bike is, by Federal Law definition, a motorized vehicle (when on dirt trails).  Most eMTB's from major manufacturers are Class 1. This is important to keep in mind and answers a lot of questions for us. Yes, you will find that the Department of Transportation defines e-bikes as bicycles, but this is specific to roadway situations. For example an e-bike is by definition a bicycle when it comes to insurance (it’s not required), freeways (no matter how fast one goes, they’re not allowed), and paved bike paths (in most cases e-bikes are allowed). There are lots of legal places to ride e-bikes. Just not on the non-motorized singletrack trails.  These are dirt trails where you can’t drive a car, and so Department of Transportation rules do not apply.

Where can I ride my eMTB on the trails in San Diego? 
City of San Diego trails (class 1 and 2)
and the locations listed here: https://www.dirtopia.com/wiki/San_Diego_County,_California

What should I do if I see an eBike on the trails?
First of all, BE NICE!  Usually, everyone out on the trails is there to enjoy themselves.  You don’t have to say anything as its not your (or SDMBA's) responsibility to enforce land manager policy.  If you want to educate them about eBike access, be polite!  No one likes to be told they are in the wrong, so BE NICE!  California’s eBike law has been confusing and there is a lot of misinformation online.  There is plenty of conflict in the world and let’s help keep our trails an enjoyable and peaceful place.

Is eMTB trail etiquette different than traditional mountain bike trail etiquette?   
Yes.  eMTBers should yield to ALL non-motorized users regardless of the direction they are traveling.  More info HERE

Other resources:
-People for Bikes eBike Resources


This post is a work in progress. Do you have any additions or corrections to this list? Please let us know by contacting info@sdmba.com