The bull elk bugled and raged around on the bench above as I approached in the predawn gloom. I knew the herd’s routine, and also knew I could never catch them as they worked up the mountain to a thick deadfall bedding area. My only option was to get ahead of them and be ready when the morning thermal switched uphill. I could intercept them then, with the right wind. But to do so required nearly a two mile hike through brutal deadfall timber on the opposite side of the ridge, or a three mile ride around the bottom and up to a saddle, where I expected they would cross.
I’d attempted the shortcut deadfall jungle the morning before, a futile and shin-bruising approach that left me far behind the herd. On this morning I was atop my Rambo R750 ebike, riding a rough trail, which was blocked in numerous spots by fallen logs.. My plan was to get ahead of the herd and wait until the sun hit the valley floor, causing the thermal to switch uphill and giving me the wind advantage. Each time I encountered an OHV-stopping log, I simply hopped off my bike and lifted it over. My headlamp illuminated rocks and ruts, which I navigated around. The silent travel allowed me to circle the bottom of the long ridge undetected, and when I was ½ mile from the saddle I parked and snuck in to be positioned when the thermal switched.
Sitting off to the side of the ridge where my wind carried down and away from the elk herd, listening to the bull bugling as he steamed up the ridge toward the saddle, I smiled to myself and thought of the many similar opportunities I’d had over the past 47 years of elk bowhunting, where I was chasing the herd, never catching up in time.
My name is Lou Phillippe, and I’m an ebike addict. I’m an outdoor writer and a serious hunter for more than 52 years, with asthma, a metal hip, a knee not far from the knife, and with thousands of miles on all my aging joints. I’ve been a bicyclist since age five, on both road bikes and conventional mountain bikes (I had a paper route for 8 years too, and won the City Bike Rodeo at age 12). I’ve backpacked all over wilderness areas in the West and still hike around 12 miles a week in the mountains during the off-season, biking nearly every other day. Now, for the past four years, I’ve been learning myriad ways to hunt, fish, scout, and get stronger on my Class 2 Rambo e-assist bike, which has been a game-changer. Besides my bow, rifle, and pack, it is one of the most valuable tools in my arsenal. It allows me to legally and silently access hunting places in forests and farms without resorting to a smelly, noisy, game-spooking ATV that often requires a chainsaw to clear the path in our beetle-kill infested western U.S., where new trees fall across trails on a daily basis.
Sure, I can walk, as some suggest, and I do – a LOT. During elk season I average 6-8 miles a day on foot, carrying a pack, but whenever possible I access my starting point with my Rambo vs. an internal combustion engine. The same well-meaning but misguided anti-ebike naysayers who criticize ebikes think nothing of reaching their starting point in a jacked-up OHV or a high-tech, computerized, fuel-injected twin-turbo four-wheel drive truck. Unless someone is hunting out their back door, everyone uses technology to reach their hunting spot. They readily accept technology that allows them to draw and hold an engineered technological contraption now called a “bow”, which provides as much as 90% “assist” to hold and shoot. And let’s not forget the rapid adoption of other uber-technology like laser rangefinders, lighted fiber optic sights, remote cellular trail cameras, real-time satellite scouting apps, thousand yard rifles, on and on. Compared to the technology most hunters use these days, an e-assist bike is on the low end of the scale. To these folks (and some are vociferous to the point of anger) I say, look in the mirror, my friend. If every ATV rider switched to an e-assist bike, they would be fitter, stronger, stealthier, less-intrusive, and the accessible natural world would be a much better (and quieter) place. E-assist bikes are here to stay, and are amazing tools for the serious hunter when used ethically and legally.
Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now. In this upcoming series of articles, we will explore the many ways ebikes can be used for hunting, scouting, fishing, and fitness. We’ll discuss ever-evolving ebike laws, and the struggles by various government agencies here in the U.S. to figure out what they are, how to define them, how to regulate them, or not. I’ll offer tips (hard won through trial and error, mostly the latter…. on how to ride and maneuver them, because there is definitely a learning-curve, and will ask for your suggestions, ideas, and experiences. I want this to be an interactive series, featuring ebike hunting stories sent in by readers.
As with any new technology, I strongly urge everyone to ride legally and ethically to avoid giving ourselves a black eye and forcing stricter regulations, as some ATV abusers have done. (Full disclosure – I own two ATVS, and where I live in the Colorado mountains I can ride them everywhere out my door on legal roads and trails. Since my Rambo love affair began, they’ve stayed in the garage except for rounding up cattle when helping a ranching friend. Otherwise, the Rambo gets the nod for general travel, even to the bar and restaurant over the mountain, and has become an amazing fitness tool as well.)
So let’s touch on ebike laws at a high level. We’ll dig deeper into this in a future edition. Regulatory agencies struggle to understand them, and even more so how to regulate their use. There are basically three classes of ebikes recognized in the U.S. Class 1 is less than 750 watts and has no throttle, is pedal-assist only. Class 2 is under 750 watts but has a throttle that tops out at 20 mph on flat ground with a 170 pound rider. Class 3 is anything over 750 watts. Back in 2001, Congress passed a law, H.R. 727, declaring that any low-speed electric bicycle with fully operable pedals and an assist motor of less than 750 watts “shall not be considered a motor vehicle”. Back then, ebikes were a relative rarity, especially all-terrain versions. But as they became more popular, government agencies struggled with how to define and regulate their use. They have a “motor”, sort of – less than half the wattage of a typical bathroom hair dryer - but by federal law they aren’t “motorized”. What to do…
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) declared them as “motorized” anyway for their TMR – Travel Management Rules; a distinction which still exists. So they are currently restricted to roads and trails where motorized use is permitted in National Forests. But the USFS requires “motorized vehicles” to either be licensed or possess an OHV sticker issued by the state. In Colorado and many other states, ebikes are not considered “motorized” by state law (HB 17-1151), so the state won’t issue registration stickers. Doesn’t matter to the USFS, they are still “motorized” even though they don’t have a motorized registration because the state says they aren’t motorized. So USFS looks the other way and doesn’t enforce that part of the TMR.
As time went on, many states and municipalities slowly began to adopt them, and got around the whole “motorized” conundrum by simply legalizing Class 1 and 2 bikes wherever other bicycles are permitted. Then in early 2020, the Department of the Interior dropped a bomb by issuing that same declaration for all lands administered under the agency: National Parks, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management lands all permit Class 1 and 2 anyplace old fashioned pedal bikes can go. As do many cities, counties, and states. For a comprehensive current list of regulations, People For Bikes seems to have the most up to date changes at https://peopleforbikes.org/our-work/e-bikes/policies-and-laws/
So the US Forest Service is the holdout now, although pilot programs are underway to measure the impact on National Forest trails and users. Regional Trails Managers have told me privately they believe USFS should follow Interior’s lead but “the wheels turn slowly in D.C”. Other similar pilot programs conducted by state and local agencies have found no deleterious impact or interference with other bicycle users.
Ebikes are here to stay, and it’s only a matter of time until they are accepted everywhere. Until then, we should be courteous and mindful of the laws and regulations wherever we ride, so we don’t give ourselves a black eye with the regulatory Powers That Be. Since the laws of states and municipalities are continually evolving, it is best to check before you ride.
Now, about that bull I was chasing. On that morning I did it right. I tucked my bike into a copse of lodgepoles, clambered up the steep slope and waited to the side until the sun hit the valley floor, when the thermal switched upslope. I snuck in, shadowing the herd, undetected in the shadows, when a frantic satellite bull pushed a cow past me and downwind. They both bolted, the herd bull and rest of the cows followed, and my excellent morning hunt ended with hooves crashing over logs and antlers banging doghair pines as they ran through the deadfall jungle. And that’s how it is most of the time. You do what you believe is best and hope fate tosses a favor in your direction. That morning, like most bowhunting mornings, the favor went elsewhere.
Next edition we’ll explore the backcountry learning curve with ebikes. I’ll be very interested in your input, so please share stories, hunting success, crash tales, and lessons-learned with me. We can all learn from other’s experiences. My email is email@example.com. If you contact the team at Ebike Generation and mention this column, you will be eligible for 5% off. Or browse the catalog here.
Send me your thoughts. I’d love to read and share them as we peddle down the path together.