E-Bikes Now Allowed on Some State Trails

As of August 1st, a new state policy allows use of electric bicycles on Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources trails.

Electric bikes are now allowed on some state trails.

According to State Trails Coordinator Brigit Brown, here are the basics of the new rules:

• Electric bicycles are now allowed on linear state trails that allow bikes.

• E-bikes are subject to a 15 mph speed limit.

• Only bikes with electric motors are allowed. No combustion engines.

• Counties can decide to close cooperative state trails (DNR state trails operated by counties) to e-bikes, but they must post them as closed to these bikes. Without these signs, the assumption is that they are open. Here is a list of state trails. Those with “county” under “trail operator” have the flexibility to close the trails to e-bikes.

• Electric bikes may also be allowed on other bike trails (such as mountain bike trails) on DNR lands, but only under certain circumstances, only after public input and only by affirmative action of the property manager. Finally, these trails must be specifically posted as open for this use.

• The new rules do not differentiate between size of motor or action (e.g., if it requires pedaling or not), but all bikes are subject to that 15 mph speed limit.

• Electric bikes are required to follow all the same rules as conventional bikes on DNR property.

So, as a general rule, an e-bike is now allowed to be used with the motor engaged on linear trails as long as you don’t exceed 15 mph. If they are not allowed on a trail or trail portion the trail will have to be posted with signs prohibiting them. For mountain bike trails, the assumption is just the opposite: they are not allowed unless they are specifically posted to allow them.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

11 thoughts on “E-Bikes Now Allowed on Some State Trails

  1. Dave writes “all bikes are subject to that 15 mph speed limit.” Really? What about all the pseudo-racers that go past you at 20 -25 mph without saying anything, like “passing” or “on your left?”

    I can hear their carbon wheels but way too many people are listening to loud music while riding and crashes happen.

  2. Thanks for the update, Dave. This seems like a pragmatic, workable solution for now, until the state has figured out a sensible approach to regulating electric assist bikes in general. Is the new policy published somewhere? DNR and county parks staff on the ground may take a while to become familiar with the rules…

    • Yes. It’s in an administrative code revision in NR 45. Those changes are posted in a usual legal manner that most local governments understand. I think that Brigit may also have shared it with her list, including local trails managers.

  3. • E-bikes are subject to a 15 mph speed limit.”>And how are they going to enforce that?

    For now. Mopeds, 50-cc dirt bikes, and battery-operated golf carts coming next.

  4. Tried using HTML above and it didn’t work.  Here’s what I meant to say:

    • E-bikes are subject to a 15 mph speed limit.
    And just how are they going to enforce that?

    • Only bikes with electric motors are allowed.  No combustion engines.
    For now.  Mopeds, 50-cc dirt bikes, and battery-operated golf cart-like vehicles coming next.

    -”BB”-

  5. Fair points, BB. I think the DNR was trying get out in front of (or catch up with) the new reality of growing use of e-bikes. It’s not perfect, but it seems reasonable.

  6. This is an excellent frame work to start with and is better than an outright ban. Enforcement procedures will be worked out

    I have just returned from a Rally where electric recumbent trikes made a major appearance. Baby Boomers will have a massive effect in this area in the very near future.

    If you have a problem adhering to the letter of the law as it is presently written; then please behave rationally and don’t attract attention. I have been known to exceed speed limits to overtake ‘Lycras’ and demonstrate courteous passing procedures.

    Thank you Dave C. for your work on this.

    joe i

  7. I have already seen a couple of e-mtbs out on the Southern Kettle Moraine trails. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it.

    • I asked DNR Trails Coordinator Brigit Brown about your question. She replied immediately and this is what she said:

      “DNR has signs available for shared horse/bike/ped use, if it is a public trail and they only need a few signs. Otherwise, I can give them the template and ordering information. FYI, we provided a few hundred of these signs to state and county trail providers earlier this year; Horse Council helped pay for them. You can see more on this in the April STC minutes.

      “The person inquiring might want to check with the trail’s manager to see if they don’t already have some of these signs.

      “The person who wrote in should understand that the new electric bike rule only applies to DNR trails…”

      • Many paved trails down south have a equestrian trail along side the bike/hiking trail. There are signs where the horse trail crosses the paved trail indicating that the horses have priority, next the walker, and the bike drivers should give them the right-of-way. There is one trail in Florida, the Withlacoochee, that has a commercial service where horses pull wagon loads of people, on the grass, alongside the trail, and the horses are not bothered by the cycists at all.

        I’ve experienced the flighty nature of horses around cyclists. A number of years ago I was on a bike tour through an Amish area. There was an Amish wedding on that Thursday morning and a number of buggies came toward me. I noticed that the horses were shying away from me. So I stopped on the shoulder and waited till they went past on the other side of the road. Well, one horse was not trained at all. While I was stopped, being quiet, the horse pulled the buggy into the ditch overturning it on the other side of the road. The 16 year old driver lost control.

        Now I’m careful around horses and ask the riders what I should do.

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