You've probably seen them on the street: a rider atop a tiny motorized bike speeding along on what looks like a miniature motorcycle. The rider -- hunched over, knees pointing out at either side -- looks like a giant on the little machine, but it's going pretty fast, especially for something that small.
You've probably asked yourself, "Is that thing legal?" Or maybe you own (or are considering buying) one of these "pocket bikes" and want to learn more about laws related to their use.
Below you will find information on laws regulating pocket bikes -- including restrictions on where pocket bikes can be ridden -- and unique dangers that should be kept in mind by pocket bike owners and riders.
What are Pocket Bikes?
Pocket bikes -- also called "mini-motorcycles" or "pocket rockets" -- are small gas-powered bikes that look like miniature replicas of full-sized motorcycles. Despite their small size (about two feet high and weighing around 40 pounds), pocket bikes typically come equipped with 40cc engines, and can reach speeds up to 40 to 50 miles per hour.
Are Pocket Bikes Legal to Ride Where You Live?
Many states and municipalities have enacted laws that specifically ban the operation of pocket bikes and mini-motorcycles on public streets, roads, and trails. In some states, this is simply because (safety issues aside) pocket bikes typically do not come equipped with features like turn signals, mirrors, and horns -- equipment that is required in order for a vehicle to be considered "street legal" under some states' vehicle and traffic codes. What's more, since pocket bikes usually cannot be insured or registered, this fact alone makes them illegal to operate on public roads in many states.
For example, in California and Texas, operation of pocket bikes and mini-motorcycles is illegal on all public streets, sidewalks, and trails. Legal operation of pocket bikes in these states (and many others) is limited to private property only. In Texas, for instance, an individual operating a pocket bike on a public road may be cited for operating an unregistered vehicle; driving without insurance; driving without a license; and failure to meet certain equipment standards. These types of violations usually are punishable by fines but could result in suspensions and other penalties.
Most states that regulate the operation of pocket bikes also mandate age restrictions for riders. For example, in New Jersey, pocket bike riders must be at least 12 years old.
To find out whether it is legal to ride pocket bikes where you live -- either on private property or on public roads -- start by contacting your local law enforcement agency or department of motor vehicles and asking about rules regarding pocket bike riding.
Dangers of Pocket Bikes
As we've already seen, operation of pocket bikes is illegal when it comes to the public roadways of many states and cities. But the reality is that some people will still choose to ride pocket bikes on public streets, regardless of what the law says. And those pocket bike riders need to keep in mind that other drivers will have trouble seeing them on the road, especially due to the disparity between pocket bikes' small size and their high-speed capability. (Learn more about traffic accident liability and safe driving.)
Although they are smaller, pocket bikes present many of the same hazards as full-size motorcycles, including the possibility of serious head injuries to riders if an accident occurs. Whether on a public road or private property, pocket bike riders should always wear a motorcycle helmet that is approved by the Department of Transportation. (Learn more about motorcycle accidents and helmet laws.)
State and City-Specific Information on Pocket Bikes
Below you will find links to legal and safety information on pocket bikes, from a number of state and local government websites. We are currently updating this content, so check back soon if you don't find the information you're looking for.
- California DMV: Miniature Motorcycle Registration
- Connecticut General Assembly: An Act Concerning Restrictions on the Operation of Mini-Motorcycles
- Maine Secretary of State: Caution on 'Pocket Bikes'
- New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: Motorized Bikes and Pocket Bikes
- New York DMV: Press Release on Safety of Pocket Bikes
- Oregon DMV: Fact Sheet for Mini-Motorbikes / Scooters
- Seattle City Council: Pocket Bikes Are Not Legal on the Streets of Seattle
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Pocket Bikes Illegal on Public Streets