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26 August 2020

Yes Dorothy, Even in Kansas: Where to Ride eMTBs

While crisscrossing the country this summer, Leslie Kehmeier made it a point to stop and explore eMTB-freindly experiences.

Dark Kansas trail


Descending into a dark forest, it’s hard to believe I’m riding in Kansas, a state stereotypically known for sunflowers, wheat fields, and flat terrain. But here I am, about 30 minutes north of Manhattan, riding trails in Fancy Creek State Park that are definitely not horizontal. While Kansas wasn’t my intended destination, its state park system welcomes e-bikes, and that piqued my interest. While crisscrossing the country this summer, I have made a point to stop and explore eMTB-friendly experiences along the way. 


Shimano STEPS with Frog


So Kansas. The big square state nestled between Nebraska and Oklahoma was state #5 on my eMTB sampler tour. Washington, Tennessee, Missouri, and Colorado also made the list. Altogether, I rode everything from motorized singletrack on US Forest Land to urban trails managed by a city parks and recreation department. The experience was quite robust and I was pleasantly surprised to find a range of rides from challenging all-day adventure rides to peaceful explorations with plenty of solitude. 


Van Life


All of this did not come without some research and planning. Because eMTBs cannot go everywhere a mountain bike does, it was important to consult a handful of resources before riding. Although it’s not overly complicated to find a place to ride, there are different policies depending on where one might be riding. In some cases, like Federal Lands, eMTBs are allowed only on motorized routes. At the state and local levels, policies vary and in some cases, eMTBs can use the same non-motorized trails that mountain bikes do. Websites and apps like MTB Project and TrailForks are valuable for finding trails that are eMTB friendly. 


Kansas Street Sign


PeopleForBikes, a bicycle-focused non-profit organization, has the most extensive collection of information for all things eMTB. They provide the pertinent details for where to ride and their website is a great jumping-off point for planning your eMTB activities. In addition to an interactive map and a listing of policies from state to state, daring riders will also find eMTB Adventures, a curated list of destination-worthy rides across the US.  


Dark Foggy day in the mountains


Backcountry Exploration 

With information and inspiration in hand, I set off for the Pacific Northwest to tackle the first of a handful of adventure routes during my travels across the US. Nestled between Mt Adams and Mount St Helens, I found the Boundary Trail, a route winding through deep forests and across rugged ridgelines of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  Boundary Trail was one of six epic days of riding I enjoyed, barely scratching the surface of what’s possible in a place where eMTB-friendly, motorized singletrack is plentiful. 


Helmet planning adventure


Backcountry Exploring


The Urban Wilderness 

As I got very familiar with the eMTB on the PeopleForBikes website, I was to see places to ride in every state. In July when I traveled through Knoxville, Tennessee, I explored the Urban Wilderness, an extensive system of trails open to Class 1 eMTBs. In contrast to the Gifford Pinchot, Knoxville provides an immersive nature experience without having to venture deep into the backcountry. With 50 miles of routes that cater to the full spectrum of riding abilities, it’s also a place that has something for everyone.  


Urban Trails


The Honey Hole

After the unexpected fun in Kansas, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Colorado, a place that might be considered the honey hole for riding eMTBs. In addition to a number of motorized routes on US Forest Service and BLM Lands, the Greater Denver area also provides access to hundreds of miles of eMTB-friendly trails.  Jefferson County Open Space and Trails opened natural surface trails to Class 1 eMTB access in 2018 after Colorado state legislators passed a bill called HB 17-1151 in the spring of 2017. Among other things, the bill defined e-bikes as non-motorized vehicles, and allowed local land management agencies the ability to determine e-bike use on trails under their jurisdiction. This action was followed by JCOS executing a pilot program to study eMTB use on their trails, which led to the opening of 200+ miles of their mountain bike-friendly routes. 


Trails this way


Before reaching my hometown of Denver, I dove into a few additional rides from the eMTB Adventure list. In Crested Butte, I revisited old haunts with a completely new perspective. More than a decade ago I remember flocking to rides like 401, Deer Creek, and Snodgrass. This time around, I explored the less crowed areas of Reno-Flag-Bear and Crystal Peak. Here, I found similar challenging and remote-feeling trails as I did in Washington. To top it off, there were beautiful, mind-blowing views and hardly any people around. As popular as Crested Butte has become, it was enlightening to find a level of peace I wasn’t expecting. With Crested Butte in the rearview mirror, I got a little greedy with a quick stopover ride on the Monarch Crest trail. As a classic Colorado mountain bike epic, I have lots of memories of grinding and gasping my way along the iconic route. This time was quite the contrast — on my trusty Santa Cruz Heckler I felt like I was floating up to the ridge, soaking in views that I don’t think I’ve ever picked my head up to enjoy.  I even had enough energy at the top to soak up the experience, reflect on my travels, and do a little jump for joy.  


Trail sign





eMTB Riding Resources


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