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September 29th, 2004 Mary Ann Albright | News Stories
 

Street Legal?

Pocket bikes are the latest two-wheeled wonders to confound regulators.

     
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IMAGE: TOM OLIVER
You've probably seen them. Full-grown adults zipping down the street or sidewalk on miniature motorcycles, their tushes a mere foot above the pavement. Fun? Looks like it. Legal? Unless you're a Shriner with a parade permit, no.

So-called pocket bikes are the latest twist on the road to alternative transportation. Cheaply imported from China, they're available on street corners and in auto-parts stores for as little as $300. Technically, they're toys, intended for private property and off-road tracks. But David House, spokesman for the state Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, says he saw three of them zipping down Salem streets earlier this month.

Last summer, motorboards (a.k.a. electric scooters and powerboards) were all the rage, earning a slot in Oregon's transportation code, specifying where and how fast they may go (15 mph on public roads). Mopeds (pedal-powered motorcycles) have been around since the '50s and are subject to similar restrictions.

Now there are low-budget pocket bikes. Because they are illegal on public roads, DMV can't impose speed restrictions or require safety helmets, even though the bikes can reach speeds of 40 mph. That makes regulators nervous, given that pocket bikes ride so low to the ground that they fall below other drivers' lines of sight and, in most models, put the bikers' heads at bumper level.

House doesn't know of any fatal pocket-bike crashes but says, "It's only a matter of time."

The Oregon Department of Transportation's crash-reporting data show a general increase in alternative vehicle accidents. Between 1999 and 2002, for example, there were, on average, less than two crashes involving motorized scooters or mopeds per year; last year that number jumped to 14.

For now, the only way to regulate pocket bikes is to keep them off public property, which isn't exactly a top priority for cops. "They're obviously not legal," House says, "but there's not enough police to chase them down."

House says he's been barraged with calls from police, politicians, citizens and bike shops asking for clarification of the street-legality of all different types of alternative transportation. And who can blame them?

Mopeds and motor scooters aren't allowed on bike paths or sidewalks, even though they are about the size of recumbent bicycles. Foot-propelled scooters can be locked up on a sidewalk; scooters with motors can't.

To help riders keep all the rules straight, House is creating a chart that will be posted on the DMV website within the next two weeks (www.odot.state.or.us/dmv). Until then, the cheat sheet below will tell you what's legal on the street.


A: In-line skates, skateboards, non-motorized scooters

B: Bicycles

C: Motorboards

D: Mopeds and motor scooters

E: Pocket bikes

Minimum Age

None

None

16

16

None

License and insurance required?

No

No

No

Yes

No

Safety helmet?

Under 16

Under 16

Yes

Yes

No

Cost

$30-$200

$100 and up

$99 and up

$750 and up

$300 and up

Sidewalk parking OK?

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Ride on sidewalk?

Yes*

Yes*

No

No

No

Ride on bike lanes and paths?

Yes

Yes

Yes

No**

No

*Except in downtown Portland. **When being pedaled, mopeds may use bike lanes.

 
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