Speedy, Tiny and Troublesome

News about Mopeds

Moderators: ItsLookingUp, pehuskey, Tab, mountainmoped, JD, John

Speedy, Tiny and Troublesome

Postby Micronaut » Mon Jul 04, 2005 6:16 pm

Speedy, Tiny and Troublesome
By Rachel Metz

SAN FRANCISCO -- Whizzing down the street just inches from the pavement, Vincent Walstra looks like a big kid getting away with his little brother's pint-size bike. Arms and legs straddling the shiny yellow two-wheeler, Walstra knows he looks silly, but he's having fun on his new toy -- a shrunken-down motorcycle commonly referred to as a "pocket bike."

Walstra's bike weighs 30 pounds, is about a foot high, maybe 2 feet long, and has a 47cc engine that lets him go up to 35 mph. That's perhaps a third of the size -- and a fraction of the speed -- of some standard motorcycles. Compared with a road bike like the 2004 Honda Rebel -- which is closer to 5 feet in length, has a 234cc engine and weighs over 300 pounds -- Walstra's pocket bike might as well be a rejected prop from the movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.

Popular in European racing circles for years, pocket bikes have recently exploded on the scene in California. From Wal-Mart and Kragen Auto Parts stores to eBay and bulletin board mecca craigslist, gas-powered and electric versions of the tiny bikes are being bought, sold and ridden all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

Though the top pocket bikes can cost up to about $3,000 and are made by Italian companies like Polini and Pasini, low-end Chinese bikes start at under $200 -- affordable for many teens, like Walstra, who want a cheap feel of what it's like to ride a motorcycle.

"It's just a toy, just to have fun on," said Walstra.

But while the bikes might be fun, some owners aren't having a blast. Craigslist is littered with posts by those stopped from riding by local police, and riders warn others about a perceived disconnect between themselves, city law enforcement and the state's Department of Motor Vehicles regarding the street legality -- or the lack thereof -- of the tiny vehicles. Some riders are also unclear about the necessity of having a motorcycle license to ride pocket bikes.

Alex Lin, 13, a pocket-bike rider from San Francisco, has been on the receiving end of this confusion. In April, Lin was stopped while riding his cousin's bike on the streets of Daly City, and said his uncle has been stopped there as well.

"They told me that you needed a real motorcycle license and that at first I was too young," Lin said. "After that they didn't let me ride it home. They said I had to walk it home."

Robert Ionko, a pocket-bike enthusiast and retailer, takes conflict regarding the legality of pocket bikes seriously. During an interview at his new San Carlos pocket-bike shop, Mini Motors, Ionko wouldn't rev up or tool around on a bike in his driveway in the midmorning sunshine. He didn't want to annoy his neighbors, he said.

Ionko sells bikes he imports from China, some of them small pocket bikes like Walstra's, some larger and heavier with more motorcycle accoutrements -- turn signals, lights, speedometers and more.

Though he opened his shop just a month ago and has done little advertising, people have been coming in and buying his bikes. "They've been selling like hot cakes," he said. Ionko won't sell pocket bikes to kids under 18 -- he makes them bring their parents in, who have to purchase the bike and sign a waiver form. Parents who buy from him are buying bikes for kids who have racing experience, he said.

"They don't just go from (a) bicycle to one of these," he said.

Like others, Ionko thinks the bikes are a current fad that will eventually simmer down. Still, he said, some people will continue to race on the weekends.

Ionko tells customers the bikes aren't street-legal, and though he's heard those with lights could be, the DMV won't let riders register them. Many pocket bikes also lack the 17-digit VIN, or vehicle identification numbers, that motor vehicle manufacturers stamp on each product. Ionko and others believe this may be an obstacle to registering them.

Terri Johnson, a manager with the state's DMV, said the VINs have nothing to do with pocket bikes' illegality on streets -- it's really about the bikes' failure to meet safety standards, she said.

"You can't modify it to make it street-legal, so that's just the bottom line,” she said. “They're not street-legal, and we're not registering them."

And if California Highway Patrol Officer Christian Oliver's observations are any test, some pocket-bike riders aren't trying to make them safer. Oliver has seen all types of people riding pocket bikes, but one commonality, he said, was that they're often not wearing helmets.

And as for riders' concerns about any miscommunication between the California Highway Patrol, local law enforcement and the DMV, "I think we're all on the same page," he said.

Agent Paul Scheff of the Palo Alto Police Department agreed. The mini bikes are popular in Palo Alto, where Walstra rides, Scheff said. He said he has run across them in and outside Palo Alto, and many parents and some kids have been asking him about the bikes and laws pertaining to them.

Scheff, who rides a motorcycle on patrol, said he tells these people that pocket bikes are illegal on public roads and public property. Those caught riding in the streets could face verbal warnings or citations, he said. The bike could even be impounded if the rider doesn't have a motorcycle license, he said.

The bikes can be ridden on private property if the rider has the property owner's permission, he said, and the responsibility falls on the bike owner to check on the riding rules in the area.

"Each city is different. It's one of those things you'd better check with the city first," he said.
Wayne from Maine
Distinguished Rider
Posts: 1078
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2005 2:41 am
Location: Northeast

Return to Mopeds in the Media

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests