Electric Mountain Biking in San Diego
Figuring out where to ride an electric mountain bike in San Diego can take a frustrating amount of research. Sometimes the signage is unclear, sometimes different parts of the trails have different regulations. At San Diego Fly Rides, we want to help electric mountain biking grow into a mainstream sport and recreational activity. We’ve done some of the grunt work for those interested in electric mountain biking in our community. Read on to learn all the ins and outs on where to ride an electric mountain bike in San Diego.
The good news for e-MTB users is we live in California. You know a lot of the reasons why that makes us lucky, but California is also one of only five states to take on electric bike legislation based on guidelines set by the PeopleForBikes foundation. PeopleForBikes have advocated for the increase in bike friendly roads, trails, and legislation since 1999, and they’re a great resource for learning more about cycling in general. Lately, PeopleForBike has focused on introducing electric bikes to the public safely and with e-bike users in mind. However, legal information for use on trails tends to be somewhat spread out. We’re aiming to let you know where exactly you can take your electric bike, what the best areas to e-bike are, and the best practices for electric bike etiquette so that all e-bike riders can use the trails for years to come!
California Electric Bike Laws
As mentioned above, California has enacted model electric bike laws. This ensures safety for the electric bike riders and for those around them. Basically, you can boil down California electric bike laws to one sentence: California treats and regulates electric bikes in the same manner as traditional bicycles. There’s no registration process, there is no special licensing, it’s just a bike. There are a few considerations riders need to be aware of, however–especially when electric mountain biking.
The first issue to consider is e-bike classes. California categorizes electric bicycles into two classes, aptly named Class 1 and Class 2. The big difference between Class 1 and Class 2 electric bikes is that the former goes 20mph and the latter goes 28mph (California also defines three different “types” of e-bikes, but for our purposes we’ll just focus on class). California considers Class 1 electric bikes the same as a regular bicycle. There is no age limit to ride, riders must wear helmets until they are 17, and, on roads, they can go anywhere a regular bike can go. Riders of Class 2 electric bicycles must be 16 years of age or older, must wear helmets, and cannot ride on roads or paths specifically designating Class 1 status only.
There are further considerations when mountain biking or riding trails with an electric bike. Electric bike access can vary trail by trail, so it’s important to confirm whether or not each area allows e-bikes. Unsure of whether or not your electric bike is allowed on a trail? Don’t ride there! If they don’t allow e-bikes there is a good chance you’ll be fined, and it creates a stigma against electric bikes. To confirm, ask around. The best way is to find out who runs the land you want to bike on and give them a call. Generally, if they allow biking on the trail and it doesn’t specifically say electric bikes are not allowed, you are good to go.
Where You Can and Should Ride in San Diego
You probably didn’t just come to this page for a lecture in e-bike laws, so let’s hit the trails! There are plenty of options for e-MTB riders in San Diego. Let’s check out a few.
This is my top choice for electric mountain bikes in San Diego. There is plenty of open space, trails varying in difficulty, and a great community of welcoming mountain bikers. There are a few trails closed to cyclists, so make sure to pay attention to signage.
The park is accessible from the 805, 5 and the 15 making it super easy to find no matter where you’re coming from. This site has great information on how to access different parts of the park. He also links you to an very helpful topographic map of the area’s routes.
There is a lot of exploring necessary to find the best trails. Don’t be fooled by the easiest to access trails, as there are many more trails to explore deeper into the park!
Black Mountain is a bit more intense than Los Penasquitos. It’s also a bit easier to get lost in, but it is one of the best mountain biking open spaces in the area. You can find super detailed route info here (by the way, big shout out to Mountain Bike Bill). I like Black Mountain because there is a solid amount of climbing, so you get to the most out of your e-MTB.
On weekdays this trail stays pretty open, making it ideal for those looking for a short, after-work ride. You can also make a full day of it by connecting a few of the trails into one long ride. Make sure to bring water. This area doesn’t provide much shade!
This is a beautiful park with some killer single track trails that are open to electric mountain bikes. It’s important to remember on these single track trails that pedestrians, animals, and traditional mountain bikers are also using them, so please ride with good etiquette (see below)!
Lake Poway offers a number of miles of excellent trails for riders between beginner and intermediate skill levels. The wide roads might not interest extremely experienced riders, but there are a few single track offshoots that make it a great area for seeing if you’re ready for the next level.
Lake Poway is easy to access (just off the 15). This easy accessibility makes it a popular spot for hikers as well, so please make sure you are yielding to others, and that you’re generally alert. We don’t want to lose access to this great beginner trail!
General Trail Etiquette
e-MTB users should always be especially considerate when riding on multi-use trails. Electric mountain biking is still very new, and many people (especially traditional mountain bikers) have a bias against the use of e-MTBs. This isn’t just because they’re jealous of your awesome electric bike. Mountain biking groups are in a constant battle, fighting trail closures and keeping good relationships with land owners. The idea that new technology could potentially make that more difficult is frustrating. Here’s how to practice good e-MTB etiquette.
Mountain bikers should always yield to hikers, equestrians, and others. Electric mountain bikers should also be yielding to traditional mountain bikers because of you will likely be going faster. Speaking of speed, make sure you are always in control of your bike. Going too fast is dangerous for you and others on the trail. Also, if you bought your e-MTB to cut new trails and go too fast, you might be in it for the wrong reasons. Ease up around blind corners and always let potential traffic know you are coming. If another mountain biker is struggling up a climb, make sure to give him or her plenty of room as you pass. People tend to wobble a bit on steep climbs. There is nothing worse than having to work through a tough climb while is someone getting in your way.
Also a general etiquette reminder (hopefully it’s obvious): classic “pack it in, pack it out” rules apply. Don’t litter! If you’re someone who enjoys the outdoor experience, don’t spoil it for others by leaving your mess behind.
Of course, there are always going to gray areas. As a general rule, if you feel like you shouldn’t be on a certain trail, just don’t go on it! It’s not worth a couple hundred dollar ticket and the potential argument with other mountain bikers. If you do decide you just have to try that trail, the best course of action is to contact the land owner before riding. Ask him/her what class of mountain bike is allowed on the trails. If he/she doesn’t know what you mean, just ask if e-Bikes are allowed.
One of the most confusing signs on mountain biking trails is the sign above. Of course, electric bikes technically do have motors. Generally, these signs are referring to cars, ATVs, motorcyles, scooters, and other gas motored vehicles. Remember, state law says that class 1 and 2 e-bikes are allowed anywhere regular bikes are unless SPECIFICALLY prohibited. To me, this is not specifically saying no electric bikes, so I’d continue. But, again, if you have concerns, then contact the landowner, park ranger, or ask around.
As long as you are using good etiquette, not riding in specifically prohibited areas, and leaving no trace you should have a long and happy career as an electric mountain biker. Check out our Best Electric Mountain Biking Spots blog for even more locations to ride your e-MTB in San Diego. Comment below with any questions! Happy riding!
Author: Scott Nickley
Scott Nickley is a writer, actor, cyclist, runner, and cafe loiterer living in Los Angeles. You can find his work on the Fly Rides website and find him in the flesh following all cycling laws in your nearest bike lane.