what R you lookin' at?
this was in today's HOuston Chronicle
i as well ask SQUID KILLER, know Jim White
i as well ask SQUID KILLER, know Jim White
Controversy on two wheels
Miniature motorcycles raise questions of safety on the streets
By KRISTIN FINAN
It's tough not to stare
All across the city, little motorcycles -- some no more than 16 inches high and weighing only 50 pounds — can be found with riders four or five times their size.
"It kind of looks like a circus attraction," said Ruben Rios, an employee at Pep Boys at 7990 Bellfort, which sells several types of miniature sport bikes. "You see a big guy riding this tiny, tiny bike."
The sport bikes, called pocket bikes, are electric- or gas-powered vehicles that can go as fast as 50 mph. Because of their speed and availability, models can be found anywhere from automotive suppliers to used-car dealers to your local Randalls grocery stores. And buyers are overlooking the $200 to $700-plus price tags. "We can't stock enough of those," said Rios about the American Products Company red sport bike, which goes up to 30 mph and sells for $399. "There are days where we've sold 10 a day."
But the recent trend has raised questions for local and state law enforcement agencies, which remind parents that the vehicles are intended for adult use.
"In the past six weeks, calls have tripled or quadrupled in volume from people trying to figure out whether or not they can buy these things. We're getting calls from law enforcement asking about them," said Jim White, training specialist for the Texas Department of Public Safety Motorcycle Safety Unit. "I can see the writing on the wall. Somebody's going to have to address it."
On a recent evening, Jeri Chalmers, who manages Jeris Clothesline and More, revved up one of the sport bikes she sells in front of the store at 433 North Loop West. She said that after she noticed the bikes around town last fall, she decided to sell them herself.
"I watched the trend of these little motorcycles, so my friend and I said, 'Why don't we try a few and see what happens?' " Chalmers said. "We did that starting in August, and we just made a killing."
Chalmers said that because manufacturers continue to release new models that mimic actual motorcycles, demand for the bikes — which she sells for around $500 — remains high.
Eager to demonstrate the vehicles' speed, she sat awkwardly on a 16-inch-high bike made by CoolSport, twisted the right handlebar and took off down the sidewalk. After speeding around the block in 37 seconds, she stopped in the parking lot.
"I've gotten it up to 40, 45," Chalmers said. "They say that if you tinker with the motors, you can actually get them above 55 miles an hour."
As she spoke, Marvin Santamaria inspected a black Ninja-style sport bike that he intends to buy to race his friends. His wife, Magaly, just shook her head.
"They're very fast," Magaly Santamaria said. "It's very dangerous."
Although the faster sport bikes have been available for nearly a year, a slower, electric version that Razor USA released in May is increasing their visibility by selling at places such as Randalls and Wal-Mart for about $200.
Katherine Mahoney, vice president of marketing for Razor USA, said the electric "Pocket Rocket" is safer than the gas versions because it does not exceed 15 mph and still allows teens to have fun.
"It gives some sense of power and freedom," Mahoney said. "I wouldn't recommend it for under 12, but for a 12- to 14-year-old, they don't drive, so it really plays into what turns boys on."
But according to White, any vehicle that mimics a motorcycle is inappropriate for young teens.
"If kids aren't old enough to operate a motor vehicle until they're 15 or 16, they're not old enough to operate a machine that comes very close to being a motor vehicle, regardless of what the manufacturers might call it," White said.
Chalmers said that because of the bikes' size, many people come in believing they are appropriate toys for young children.
"You get a kid on it, and he goes as fast as he can go and he's going to crash," she said. "The only thing between him and the concrete is nothing."
But because laws are basically nonexistent for the miniature sport bikes, White said, regulating them is difficult.
They are not made with vehicle identification numbers — a requirement for any motorized vehicle on a public street — so they do not qualify as street-legal vehicles, he said.
This means they may be ridden only on private property or in places where the rider has received permission. But because this law is often ignored, White said, several cities and towns are working on ordinances to ban the vehicles altogether.
"In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, several of the smaller towns are passing city ordinances to completely prohibit them from use in the city limits," White said.
A Houston Police Department spokeswoman said she is unaware of any such proposal in the Houston area and has not heard any major complaints about the vehicles.
But according to White, the state DPS anticipates continued questions regarding the miniature sport bikes and expects laws addressing them to be an issue in the next legislative session.
"The Legislature is going to get pressure from somewhere to do something about motor-assisted vehicles," White said. "People need to realize that not everything with a motor is street-legal. At some point, something will have to be done."