With gas prices in a constant state of flux, those who have limited budgets and a need for speed and freedom are opting for a different kind of transport: the motorized bicycle. Although electric bicycles — not scooters or motorcycles — are street-legal at the time of purchase, gas-powered ones are not, even if they have pedals and look just slightly different, with a small engine mounted on the frame, than human-powered regular bicycles.

Sergeant Ryan Weeks of the Ventura Police Department said that the number of complaints about motorized bikes has gone up over the last few months, with the main concern being the safety of these vehicles.

“The reason we were getting complaints … some motorized bikes go 30 miles an hour, and people were riding them like bicycles, flying through downtown in crowded areas,” he said.

Although it may look and feel like a regular bicycle, California’s Vehicle Code 406.A specifically addresses gas powered bikes, like the Kojak, and in order to be street legal, owners must follow certain laws. The laws include:

1.Registering with the DMV and displaying a special license plate (Vehicle Codes 5030-5035)

2.Have a motorcycle license (VC 12804.9)

3.Have the proper lights mounted for driving at night, a mirror and a horn (VC 24015)

4.Must wear a motorcycle helmet VC 27803)

5. Riders can’t use bicycle lanes (VC 21207.5), due to the high rate of speed gas powered can go versus human powered.

Enforcement is ramping up, at least compared to when there were only a few people who owned these bikes. So far, only 10 tickets have been written in Ventura, but an officer can pull over anyone riding a gas-powered bicycle who has not complied with the law. Since there has been an influx of complaints, officers are keeping a lookout for violators.

The good news is that with the few tickets that have been given out, fewer violators have been spotted.

“Officers are reporting seeing fewer of the gas-powered bikes since we started enforcing,” he said.

And that is to say, “buyer beware.” The problem began when retailers started selling the bikes, telling consumers they were street-legal, as is. An officer spoke with the various business owners who sell the bikes, as complaints came in, telling them to be upfront with their customers.

“We sent an officer to a couple of places, and one said they would take into consideration, another place said they were legal,” Weeks said.

However, Carol, manager of Treasure Chest Thrift Store on Main Street in Downtown Ventura, says she always informs her customers of the legalities of buying such bikes.

“I always tell them it is safety first,” she said, relaying she gives every new bike owner a manual of safety tips and rules.

Despite efforts by certain store owners to talk to their customers, carelessness is still prevalent. One bike rider was seriously injured because he was not following the laws, specifically, not wearing a helmet.

Two gas-powered bicyclists had been riding together, one about 20 yards ahead of the other, Weeks said. As a driver went by one bicyclist, he became distracted, wondering what he had just seen. He then made a left turn and hit the other bicyclist. Because the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet and was going at an abnormally high speed compared to regular bicyclists, he was seriously injured.

Although ticketing such individuals who are riding gas powered bikes illegally aren’t necessarily a priority, Weeks cautions bike owners to abide by the vehicle codes in place — and not just because it is illegal not to, but for the safety of everyone.    

michael@vcreporter.com