My love affair with motorbikes began with the illicit sort: when I was about seven years old, my oldest brother would sit me in front of him on his mini-bike and take me for laps in the clearing in the woods behind our house known as The Valley, a clearing where the county had buried a giant surface run-off pipe. These communal spaces have all but disappeared from the suburban landscape.
When it comes to the streets, motorized vehicles are more strictly enforced. California is pretty explicit in its vehicle code about what kinds of vehicles require registration and which kinds of vehicles are verboten altogether. At least, I never saw in California (nor in Maryland) the variety of oddball "scooters" and go-karts peddled here in Minnesota. I reckon the big appeal of these Taiwanese imports is that they exist pretty much outside the regulatory universe, appealing to those individuals who are unable to obtain insurance coverage or have lost their licenses. Paradoxically, these vehicles appear to be much more dangerous to operate. Capable of reaching speeds between 9 and 20 miles per hours,they are dangerously underpowered. It can be argued that bicycles are likewise underpowered, but they can actually move more quickly than these micro-scooters. Moreover, their tiny wheel size prevents them from achieving much of the stabilizing gyroscopic effect upon which bicycles and motorcycles depend for stability. Finally, bicyclists have the option of riding on the sidewalk, from which these micros are banned.
The sale of these micros may be legal in Minnesota, but where exactly is it legal to operate them? They are banned from bike paths (I recently spyed two Latino youth pushing them along the bike path as a police car pulled away) because they are motorized, and from the highways because they lack the standard operating equipment motorized vehicles are required to have, e.g. brake lights, head lights, and the ability to keep up with traffic. It appears to be that it is possible rather than legal to ride them wherever one can get away with it.
One thing I really like about Minnesota is that they appear to be much more cavalier than either California or Maryland about this kind of thing. For instance, I routinely ride my Trail 90 on the bike paths at the U. and park in the bike racks. Admittedly, I used to fear that someone would notice and tell me to stop or, worse, write me a ticket. Instead, motorcycle cops (without a doubt the most likely people to issue tickets) ignore me altogether.
In Maryland and DC, I noticed that young adults would often flout the helmet law if they were riding <50cc scooters. Still, these scooters had license plates -- meaning that the vehicles had to meet some basic safety requirements. In St. Paul, kids can be seen (and heard) buzzing around the neighborhood on these things when it is completely dark outside. They buzz down the streets, up onto the sidewalk when cars approach, terrorizing pedestrians (looking out after their own safety) and motorists (looking out for the kids on these unregulated vehicles). I miss those semi-public spaces where kids could endanger themselves, and envy the motorized fun the kids seem to be having. At any rate, I expect the neighborhood micros to disappear just as soon as either the kids reach driving age or the first broken bone results. If the machines last that long.Posted by webs0080 at May 14, 2004 7:44 AM