Why you may see larger, faster e-bikes on suburban forest preserve trails

Once the weather breaks, trail users in the Lake County forest preserve system could have more company with the removal of a ban on some electric bicycles.

The forest preserve district enacted e-bike rules four years ago, permitting Class 1 bikes but prohibiting Class 2 and 3, which tend to be heavier and move faster.

But forest commissioners dropped the restriction last week, acknowledging the growing popularity of electric bikes and their value to older riders, people with disabilities or those recovering from injuries.

“We were sensitive to that and thought that was a good issue to review,” said Commissioner Jessica Vealitzek, who heads the board’s operations committee.

The Lake committee began reviewing the rules last fall in response to an increase in public comments, pro and con, related to e-bikes and other electric vehicles on trails.

E-bikes are gaining in popularity, especially with local police departments

Lake County joins the Forest Preserves of Cook County, McHenry County Conservation District and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in allowing more than one class of e-bike, though speed limits vary.

Illinois Bicycle Rules of the Road identify three classes of e-bikes, all equipped with motors.

Class 1 helps propel the bicycle only when the rider is pedaling. In Class 2, the motor can be used exclusively but stops when the e-bike reaches 20 mph. Class 3 works only when the rider is pedaling and stops assisting at 28 mph.

By definition, e-bikes are not considered motorized vehicles and can be operated on any highway, street or road authorized for bicycle use, including bicycle lanes.

That means that while motorized vehicles are not permitted on paths operated by the Lake County Division of Transportation, e-bikes can be used, said spokesman Alex Carr.

Local restrictions and permissions for e-bikes vary throughout the county, said John Nelson, the district's chief operations officer. That’s also true for forest preserve or conservation districts.

Visitors to Cook County forest preserves, for example, can use Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on official marked trails. The speed limit is 15 mph for bicyclists and e-bikes.

In DuPage County forest preserves, e-bikes equipped with fully operational pedals and an electric motor less than 750 watts, and that can travel a maximum of 20 mph on a paved level surface when powered solely by a motor, are considered bicycles.

DuPage allows Classes 1 and 2 but not Class 3 e-bikes, said Beth Schirott, communications specialist. There is no speed limit but riders must be safe and ride at reasonable speeds for conditions, she said.

The McHenry County Conservation District operates several trails and has seen an increase of pedal-assisted bikes on it 26-mile Prairie Trail, according to Wendy Kummerer, director of marketing and education.

“Our approach is to treat all types of bikes the same and the educate cyclists on the speed limit of no greater than 15 mph, no matter what they are pedaling,” she said. “E-bikes provide positive outdoor recreational benefits and help to get all ages and fitness levels on the trails.”

In all the venues, trail etiquette and safety are emphasized.

“It's critical that all trail users remain diligent in their efforts to safely share the trail: Stay alert and aware of others nearby, watch your speed, and be mindful of headphone usage and ensuring you can hear others,” said Stacina Stagner, communications manager of the Cook County forest preserve.

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