Allegra tourismus


Get to know IMBA's first learnings on e-MTBs trail effects

Posted by Chris Posch on April 13, 2021
Chris Posch
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Picture: Christoph Bayer for Scott Sports

In recent years it became more and more important to understand how trail user’s habits and means of transportation influence trails condition and necessary maintenance work.

All trail users affect the trail surface and surrounding environment, and these effects are worsened by poor trail construction, with impacts ranging from vegetation loss to soil erosion and related water quality problems. However, there is no evidence that traditional mountain bicycling causes greater environmental impact than other recreational trail uses. In fact, current research suggests that mountain bicycling impacts are similar to hiking, and less damaging than equestrian and motorized users.

The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), took the lead with additional experts to carry out a scientifically controlled study to compare the environmental impacts from mountain bicycles, Class 1 electric mountain bicycles (eMTBs), and off-road motorcycles. This was the first study of its kind and followed up on previous relevant studies comparing mountain bikes and motorcycles. The aim of the study was to check soil displacement and erosion on bike-optimized trails in a specific bio-region (Pacific Northwest forest, U.S.).

eMTB_IMBA_Study_Trail-Erosion - Allegra Tourismus

a. Under the set of conditions, soil displacement and tread disturbance from Class 1 eMTBs and mountain bikes were not significantly different.

b. Both were much less than those associated with a gasoline-powered motorcycle.

c. Observations suggest that Class 1 eMTBs may lead to more displacement under certain trail conditions.

d. IMBA recognizes that eMTBs, particularly Class 1 eMTBs, are substantially different from other motorized uses, and may warrant a separate category and new management strategies.

e. The study is an important first step in formulating adequate management strategies, especially regarding the environmental and social impacts of eMTBs. The research will also benefit discussions among riders, land mangers, the bike industry, and other trail users.

The results of this initial study suggest that with conscientious management and attention to trail design, Class 1 eMTBs may have the potential to offer a beneficial use of public lands with acceptable impacts.


ALLEGRA's Chris Bernhardt was involved in the design and execution of the study, giving us particular insight into the results. We have two key conclusions:

a. This study was performed on sustainable trails, and other research indicates that poorly designed trails are more susceptible to erosion from all users. Considering that most European trail destinations lack sustainable trails it is important to educate maintenance crews in sustainable technique so the trails will better withstand the impacts of hikers, mountain bikers, and electric mountain bikers.

b. For trail impacts, eMTBs and MTBs are more or less the same.


One of the biggest transformations during the next few years will be caused by mountain bikes that are assisted by an electric engine.

The Swiss canton of Graubünden has recognized this evolution and wants to adapt its current offering to this new kind of mountain bike and its users. In cooperation with nine partners we launched a new project to answer the question of how Graubünden wants to work with E-MTBs.


Learn more about sustainable trail design and trail construction.
Join us at our study day in Sölden, Austria in October 2016.

Topics: trails, know-how-transfer, emtb, trail building school, traildesign, sustainable trailbuilding