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'Pocket bikes' below radar, not above law

By George Obradovich, May. 27, 2004
these people should have to pay registration, insurance and licensing for these pocket bikes?

they're cheap, fun and somewhat cool, but how many young people are going to die before we get some laws on the books to protect the innocent (or stupid).

what say you, MOrons?


Posted on Wed, May. 26, 2004

'Pocket bikes' below radar, not above law

By Nathaniel Hoffman, CONTRA COSTA TIMES

CONCORD - Joshua Brathwaite's new motorcycle is yellow, covered in stickers and it almost fits in his pocket.

A new breed of inexpensive "pocket bikes" -- miniature racing motorcycles popular at European race tracks for years -- have just hit the streets in California.

The police are still catching up.

"Every officer has a different version of what the law is," Brathwaite said.

Brathwaite has a suspended driver's license and thought the $600 mini-motorcycle would help him get around town. Instead it has earned him six or seven encounters with police in the last two weeks.

"Not all the officers are up to speed on these things yet," Concord traffic Sgt. Randy Fenn said.

Fenn said the shin-high bikes are considered "motor-driven cycles" and riders must have a motorcycle driver's license, license plates, insurance and a helmet.

But the Department of Motor Vehicles is not registering the pocket bikes because they do not have Vehicle Identification Numbers, mirrors or standard headlights.

"DMV registers them if they meet safety requirements and have a 17-digit VIN number, (but) most of them do not meet those guidelines," said DMV spokesman Armando Botello.

The DMV and the California Highway Patrol sat down last week to discuss these tiny new vehicles, and the CHP will issue a policy in a few weeks.

"Our hope is to make it an educational experience, not a ticket-writing experience," CHP spokesman Tom Marshall.

Mike Green, owner of The Scooter Guys in Pacheco, started selling mini-pockets and super-pockets in late December and, like Brathwaite, has not been able to sort out the vehicle code sections that apply.

"DMV was not prepared for these things," Green said.

Green thought they might be motorized scooters, but Marshall said the size of the engines makes them motorized cycles. Motorized scooters are regulated by a different set of laws passed in 1999 and don't have to be registered.

Green said police are telling his customers they have to get their bikes registered, and the DMV is saying they can't register them.

"It's kind of a catch-22 for the people who buy them," Green said.

Chris Ranuio, owner of the Stockton Motorplex, said 141 pocket bikers showed up at the races last Sunday -- including many novices in their 20s on Chinese clones of precision European bikes.

"Pocket bike (racing) classes just exploded for some reason," he said.

Ranuio will continue the pocket bike races once a month, He said they are best used on a track or in a rented parking lot and kept out of traffic.

But Brathwaite wants to ride on the street where he can turn heads.

"I get one, and now it's a law," Brathwaite complained. "Everywhere in Concord that I would be able to take this thing I'm gonna get jacked."

At least two Concord pocket bikers have had crashes already and one of the bikes had to be towed -- actually, lifted into the back of a tow truck, Fenn said.

"Some of these are so small that even with an adult sitting on them they're barely above the door on a standard car," Fenn said. "The danger is inherent."

But the loud flashy bikes are fun, too, and the regulations will make it impossible for Brathwaite to ride anywhere in town.

"If it makes you smile, usually they make a law about it," said Fred McClelland, a motorcycle mechanic at Dave's Auto Body near Detroit Avenue in Concord.

Brathwaite, eyeing McClelland's shiny black Electra Glide, echoed his biker philosophy on the need for new laws.

"If you want to break your neck, that's your problem."

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