As electric-assisted bicycles, e-bikes, become increasingly common on roads and trails across Alaska, state lawmakers seek to clarify what an e-bike actually is.
Two companion bills introduced this year — House Bill 8, sponsored by Rep. Ashley Carrick, a Fairbanks Democrat, and Senate Bill 62, sponsored by Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat — seeks to revise state code to allow for any e-bikes a part of the generally recognized three-tier classifications of e-bikes to ride anywhere a regular bike would be allowed such as roads, bike lanes and multi-use trails.
The bills would also separate e-bikes from motor vehicles, such as motorcycles and motor scooters, along with waiving users from requiring to register with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The House bill had its first reading in House State Affairs Committee Thursday afternoon.
“It’s simply adding definition to and allowing municipalities to make decisions on how they’d like to regulate,” Carrick said.
Thirty-seven states have already passed similar legislation classifying e-bikes in state statute, however, Alaska is just one of four states that have no reference to e-bikes at all.
“We want to make sure it’s clear in statute that e-bikes are bicycles,” Carrick said in an interview with the Empire. “It’s currently a gray area and we’re just clarifying it so e-bikes would be synonymous with bicycles.”
This isn’t the first time a version of this bill has been introduced in the Legislature. In the previous two legislatures, former Rep. Adam Wool, a Fairbanks Democrat, brought similar bills forward but both times the bills never made it to the finish line.
However, Carrick said she feels “more confident than ever” that the bill will cross the finish line, noting this session is the first time it has support from a companion bill.
“It’s got some good momentum and a lot of bipartisan support,” she said.
Reid Harris, president of Juneau Mountain Bike Alliance, said the bill provides clarity on what classifies an e-bike now during a time when e-bikes are becoming increasingly popular across the state, especially in the mountain biking scene.
He said the classification helps federal, state and local land managers to decide which types of e-bikes should be allowed on trials on public lands.
“This bill does not tell you where you can and can’t use an e-bike, it literally just defines what an electric bike is,” he said to the Empire. “It really just sets a definition and provides clarity for classification and gives a breakdown of what is an allowed use and what is not an allowable use.”
Harris estimated that Juneau is home to more than 2,000 active mountain bike riders and thinks the growth of the e-bike industry can be a great way to make the sport more inclusive for anyone in the state interested in riding.
“The cool thing is it allows people to ride at the same level and allows older, disabled or maybe not as strong of riders to get out there and being able to ride with their family or friends.”
Ken Hill, the owner of Juneau Bike Doctor, agreed, and said as both the owner of a bike store that frequently sells e-bikes and as a personal user of an e-bike, he thinks the bills will be a good thing for Alaska.
“One thing that I think will be beneficial is once these definitions are laid out, then there will be a method where if someone says ‘Hey you can ride whatever place’ then there’s at least some publication to say what’s allowed in certain places,” he said in an interview with the Empire.
Hill said since Juneau Bike Doctor opened in 2018, he has seen a major uptick in e-bike purchases each year and looking to the future he expects both the number of people using e-bikes and the expansion of the industry to continue in its growth.
For Hill, he said he uses his e-bike to tackle big hills that he normally struggles to go up, and said the most e-bikes he sells t tends to be to more seasoned riders who are also looking to get that extra nudge of support to make up some the monster hills that Juneau is home to.
Not everyone is pedal to the metal on e-bikes.
Mark Grober of Anchorage gave public testimony expressing distress over the bill, calling e-bikes “very dangerous” if not handled properly and said they could be a hazard to other trail users.
However, the bill appeared to be largely supported by committee members, including Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, and Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican.
“I am absolutely behind this,” Allard said Thursday. “I think this is really great.”