Motorized bicycles sometimes cross moped line, police say

2011-04-28T00:01:00Z 2011-04-28T00:33:55Z Motorized bicycles sometimes cross moped line, police sayBy TONY REID - H&R Staff Writer
April 28, 2011 12:01 am  • 

DECATUR - Motorized bicycles sound like a win-win.

As gas prices accelerate toward $4 a gallon, these regular pedal bicycles fitted with little gas engines can zip riders around effortlessly while achieving 100 miles per gallon. And, best of all, many of the bikes' fans believe, you don't need a license, insurance or registration to ride one.

The Decatur Police Department, however, begs to differ, and they're ready to write the traffic tickets to prove it if motorized bike riders hit the road without a driver's license, insurance and registration.

At issue is one question: When is a motorized bicycle a "low-speed gas bicycle" and when is it classified as a moped?

The police, quoting Illinois law, said a "low-speed gas bicycle" has fully operable pedals and a gasoline motor of less than 1 horsepower. Its top speed must be limited to 20 mph while carrying a person who weighs 170 pounds. If that is an accurate description of your motorized bicycle, you can ride it - on the road only - without a license, insurance and registration as long as you are 16 or older.

But the law defines a moped, with or without optional pedal power, as having a top speed of 30 mph and an engine no bigger than 50cc that does not require the rider to shift gears. Moped riders need a driver's license, insurance and registration to be legal.

Police officers pulling over the typical hopped-up motorized bike ridden around Decatur said they are always fitted with 49cc engines which, law enforcement claims, typically produce more than 2 horsepower and are capable of speeds above 20 mph. The police don't have a problem with that but said motorized bicycles with that kind of performance have crossed the line into the moped universe and are subject to moped rules.

And to be in strict accordance with the law, moped riders must also wear eye protection and their machines need a front light, rear lights and turn signals.

Patrol officer George Kestner said enforcing the rules will help keep the roads safer for everyone.

"We're finding a lot of (motorized bike) riders are suspended or revoked for previous DUIs, (driving under the influence)," Kestner said. "They are using them to get to and from work because they think they don't need a license."

A case in point would be the story of Chas Burns from Harristown and his 49cc motorized bicycle. Burns, 37, who has served prison time and whose license has been suspended after various traffic offenses, is the first to admit he hasn't always made good choices in life.

"I made some pretty bad mistakes and some pretty stupid decisions," he said. "But I am not that person anymore."

Part of his personal renaissance was acquiring some means of transportation so he had a chance of getting to a job and generally getting around. With all of the other forms of personal motorized transport barred because of his license situation, Burns built a motorized bike and thought he was good to go.

He got pulled over in Decatur in July after a police officer said he measured the bike's speed at more than 30 mph. Burns was ticketed for driving while license revoked, operating an uninsured vehicle, having no registration and not wearing goggles. Police seized the bike as evidence. Burns then attempted to fight the tickets on the grounds that his motorized bike was not a moped. He appeared to have won the day Aug. 11, when the Macon County State's Attorney's Office filed a motion to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the moped statute "does not apply to such a vehicle."

But after conversations with the police department, the charges were reinstated Aug. 20. Burns wound up going to court and being convicted in a bench trial April 8, at which he was given a conditional discharge for 12 months, ordered to perform 300 hours of community service, fined and ordered to pay court costs.

Burns still said his motorized bike was not powerful enough to be classified as a moped. "You can't gauge how much horsepower an engine has by its size," he added, insisting his engine had less than 1 horsepower. "They didn't test it, and they didn't' even say it was over 1 horsepower."

He said he only weighs 140 pounds and could make the bike go faster if he pedals as well as uses the engine on flat ground or downhill. Burns said he is now marooned without any form of transportation since the loss of his bike and feels he is the victim of an injustice.

"It's an intentional disregard of my legal right by law," (to ride motorized bikes) he said in a letter to the Herald & Review.

Other enthusiasts who have built motorized bikes also don't believe they qualify as mopeds. Kevin Osborne, who lives in Decatur, said the motors are designed for cruising up to 20 mph and do not make bicycles morph into mopeds. And he said the bikes can be ridden just like a regular bicycle when the motor is not running. "It's a motor-assisted bicycle, that's all it is," he said.

Osborne, 49, thinks Illinois should be doing more to encourage the use of motorized bicycles, which he said pollute far less than cars and offer people the chance to escape crippling gas prices. He said designated bicycle lanes to protect riders on public roads would also be a good thing.

"Instead of throwing up roadblocks to people riding motor-assisted bicycles, we should be praising them," he said.

Kestner says he can understand the advantages of motorized bicycles and agrees that they do offer extraordinary value in terms of mileage. "But riders have to do it lawfully or they are going to get tickets," he said.|421-7977

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(9) Comments

  1. cardlock
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    cardlock - May 26, 2015 9:01 am
    If it is motorized and on the street it should be licensed, the driver should be licensed and insurance required. I was hit by a so called motorized bicycle which had run a red light. Did over $4000 damage to my vehicle. Of course the driver had no insurance. These things are a menace.
  2. Area Man
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    Area Man - May 25, 2015 3:33 pm
    Stories like this confirm that the police are more about revenue collection than "protecting and serving" the communities they serve, not just in Ferguson but everywhere.
  3. Andrewlcox
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    Andrewlcox - March 03, 2015 6:13 am

    We are talking about 1 person trying to get to work after making some bad choices and now we punish him with more debt, time and regulations to keep him from trying to get ahead.

    I've seen these things around. Who cares, it should be a non issue because of the low participation rate of what 5 per 75,000 residents. Even 200 per 75,000 is .002 of Decatur's population. So much for letting people help themselves and be less of a burden on us.
  4. masterkyle
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    masterkyle - August 08, 2014 12:27 pm
    Taking someone to court for the same thing twice is double jeopardy and clearing shows both and policeman overstepping their boundries
  5. Jfry8869
    Report Abuse
    Jfry8869 - May 06, 2014 11:48 am
    The same thing happens to me in wood ford county il spring bay they dropped all charges and let me go and I am still getting harraest every day by locals and cops. I don't understand I'm not doing anything wrong. They need to leave me alone.
  6. domyno
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    domyno - August 09, 2013 3:25 am
    this is a clear cut case of harassment by the police. you can peddle faster than 30 mph. I think everyone should wear a crash suit with a state approved Safety sticker that you have to renew every year, at a cost of $100 dollars. and a $500.00 fine if you don't have one.
  7. domyno
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    domyno - August 09, 2013 3:15 am
    I think the police should not be so stricken, were talking 30 mph. you can peddle faster than that. This is a clear cut case of harassment.
    Report Abuse
    RKHNASCAR - July 10, 2013 4:26 pm
  9. habeeb
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    habeeb - May 19, 2012 9:16 pm
    It is crucial to follow local state laws regarding motor bikes. You can also take safety precautions such as wear gloves, helmet, leather jacket, proper shoes, always keep on the right lane and install a flash light on the road to be better seen. More safety tips when riding motorized bicycles can be found
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