In late 2020, the Trump administration did something that was actually very good for clean transportation: they ordered public land managers such as the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service to expand recreational opportunities for people riding e-bikes. But, this was only the beginning of the process. Managers for different areas of public lands had to first determine what areas would be suitable for e-bikes and how they wanted to handle things in each location. The result has been a years-long process of slow expansion in places that you can ride an e-bike.
The first thing that happened in most cases was allowing e-bikes on any motorized trail, but without any ATV or dirtbike-like registration requirements. This was the easiest policy change to justify without further study because e-bikes are motorized, but with far less power and noise compared to gas-powered off-highway vehicles (most of them, anyway). But, the plan was ultimately to expand access to include as many normal bike trails as possible to give the disabled and the elderly as much access to recreational opportunities as possible.
Recently, one of the most well-known US national parks announced changes to e-bike access policy:
Grand Canyon National Park Bicycling Information has been updated.
Learn where you can take an e-bike, about bicycle rentals, guided tours, repair service, and campsites for bicyclists on tour. > https://t.co/CGS3U7Ybu7 (7/5/2022) #GrandCanyon #Arizona #TravelTuesday #Cycling pic.twitter.com/bFMHr2Jhpm
— Grand Canyon NPS (@GrandCanyonNPS) July 5, 2022
Previously, the Grand Canyon only allowed e-bikes on motorized roads in the park. On both the North and South rims, this was a useful improvement. Areas like the Grand Canyon Village have quite a few paved roads where cars are subject to low speed limits that lead to everything from scenic vistas to restaurants, hotels, gift shops, and RV parks. On the north side of the canyon, there are many miles of dirt roads to explore, allowing for camping and sightseeing opportunities away from where you’d want to take a car without ground clearance and decent off-road tires.
Now, their bike policy has changed, and it’s much less restrictive to e-bikes:
E-Bikes: The term “e-bike” means a two-or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.).
- E-bikes are allowed in Grand Canyon National Park where traditional bicycles are allowed.
- E-bikes are prohibited where traditional bicycles are prohibited.
- Except where the use of motor vehicles by the public is allowed, using the electric motor to move an e-bike without pedaling is prohibited.
So, now all paths and areas open to bikes are open to e-bikes, too. But, you’ll need to keep your hand or thumb off any throttles if your bike has one. Pedal assist is the only way you can get a little electric help on the park’s bike trails. But, if you go on a normal road or other motorized area, feel free to give that throttle a twist and rest your legs a bit.
Opportunities This Opens Up
The South Rim (where most people go) is already very accessible without a car. Parking can get crowded in the park, especially in popular months, so the NPS recommends that people try to stay at hotels or park your car in Tusayan (a little tourist town just outside of the park) and take a shuttle into the park. Within the South Rim and Grand Canyon Village, bus service is better than most small towns in the United States and even better than many mid-sized cities.
The buses all have bike racks on the front, like many municipal buses do, but be warned that they don’t appear to be set up to take fat-tire bikes that are popular in the electric bike industry. With narrower tires, it shouldn’t be a problem to get a lift into the park and around the park as needed.
If you have something the buses can’t carry, you have a couple of options.
You could go ahead and drive your bike into the park and unload it at one of the less popular parking lots, then throttle your way up to the rim. Level 2 EV charging is available in a few of these less popular lots, so it’s a great way to get some juice while you go have fun on your bike. The time I stupidly took my Nissan LEAF up there, that made the trip possible.
If you’d rather bike into the park from Tusayan, there’s a “greenway” path from the IMAX theater in Tusayan to the Grand Canyon Village and visitor’s center that’s now open to e-bikes. It runs parallel to the main highway, but is a separate path that’s protected from cars. The path is several miles long, but with pedal assist, it shouldn’t be too bad. Plus, the forest is very pleasant as long as you don’t go in June or the rainiest parts of the monsoon season. Once you’re in the village, you can take other paths or low speed limit roads to see almost anything in the park.
Whether you’re loading bikes onto buses or not, an e-bike gives you a less strenuous option to enjoy the open air between the popular tourist vistas. Other greenway paths go from the visitor’s center to all of the most popular spots nearby. The only thing you’d struggle to do is go to more distant places east of the Village.
On the North Rim, only the hardiest bike tourers are probably going to want to bring their e-bike in on a rack or in a pickup bed. The rims aren’t that far from each other, but it’s an hours-long drive to go around the canyon and find the nearest bridge (the Navajo Bridge), and then come back to the canyon. But, once you’re there, they’ve now opened up the Bridle Trail to e-bikes, and as before, you can throttle around any road open to cars.
All of the normal bike and e-bike considerations apply at the Grand Canyon. Be safe, wear a helmet, bring some good locks along, and your tools. If you end up with repairs needed, there’s a bike shop up there. You’ll also want to bring spare batteries or find places to charge your battery. Hotel rooms are a decent option, as are some of the restaurants.
Featured image: The Lookout Studio and the Bright Angel Fault as seen from the South Rim. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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