Pocket Bikes in the NYT
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  1. #1

    Pocket Bikes in the NYT

    The New York Times wrote up the pocket bike phenomenon this weekend.

    Online article here:

    Personally, I think they're ridiculous, but I know there are a lot of enthusiasts here.

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  3. #2
    Moderator Array flowrider's Avatar
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    You have to sign up for the NYT. Can you post the transcript?
    Flowbie- Mellowing with age...

    Stolen from Atom:
    Being a road crayon sucks....put your gear between you and the pavement.

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by flowrider
    You have to sign up for the NYT. Can you post the transcript?
    Sure, it's a free sign-up.. but I'll post it here:
    A Big Load of Zip and Noise for Just 50 Pounds of Bike

    Published: July 10, 2005
    SPEEDY, high-styled and low-slung, the minimotorcycles known as pocket rockets are hot sellers. But along with these bikes, most of them imports, have come complaints about safety and quality that have caught the attention of many police departments and lawmakers around the nation.

    Typically priced at $200 to $500 and with engines whose intense whine would endear them to the Wild One, the machines are miniature versions of brawnier bikes that cost many thousands of dollars. That is a combination that many consumers find irresistible.

    "They make you think, 'Where were these when I was a kid?' " said Greg McLendon, 38, a maintenance worker in Las Vegas who has bought pocket rockets for his sons, Tyler, 11, and Austin, 8. He allows them to ride only on a private commercial track under adult supervision.

    Pocket rockets are gaining a reputation as the skateboards of the new millennium, but they have their critics, including many police officers, who consider them a hazard, regardless of whether they are ridden legally. "These things are some of the most fun you can have, but the sales are running ahead of parks and tracks where they can be ridden legally," said David Edwards, editor of Cycle World magazine in Newport Beach, Calif. "It isn't realistic to let people buy these and expect them to just ride in their driveways."

    Why would riders feel restricted? Because pocket rockets fail to meet the minimum safety standards to be driven on many American roadways. Although state laws vary, the minis usually fall short of lighting and other safety standards. And the off-road options are limited: pocket rockets, with their small tires and low chassis, are not all-terrain vehicles fit for trails or the woods.

    The American market for the minimotorcycles is small, considering that roughly one million full-size motorcycles are sold annually. Precise figures are not available, but the industry estimates that some 25,000 pocket rockets, mostly Chinese imports, have been bought in the United States since the late 1990's.

    The bikes, usually powered by gasoline engines similar to those in lawnmowers, have a top speed of about 35 miles an hour, but they can be modified to go faster. The most popular ones weigh as little as 50 pounds, though larger ones can weigh closer to 100.

    Quality can be spotty. "You really need to be mechanical if you're going to own one," said Sherman Smith, owner of the Multi Gear Bike and Sport shop in Riverview, Fla. "Most of the nuts and bolts practically vibrate right off the chassis during a ride." He still sells them, he said, because his profit margins from repairing them are so good. He buys various brands on the Internet from California-based importers. "But the brands are basically just different decals that someone puts on them," he said.

    The pocket-rocket makers themselves, of course, beg to differ. The Suzhou Ufree Sports Vehicle Manufacture Company, in Jiangsu, China, does offer to manufacture bikes that importers can sell under their own brand names, but says the quality of all bikes it makes is consistently excellent. The Yongkang City Bosuer Vehicle Company, based in Zhejiang province, promotes its "perfect quality assurance system" on its Web site and adds that "winning customers with reputation is our basic strategy."

    Although some familiar names are available in the pocket-rocket market, they may not be what they seem. Ufree makes a bike called the Mini Harley. The wholesale price is just $142.50. But a Harley-Davidson spokesman in Milwaukee, Bob Klein, said his company had not licensed the product.

    Some models have at least a tenuous connection to their bigger brethren. For example, an electric-powered Honda minibike is being sold at some auto parts stores in the United States for $180. Lee Edmunds, a spokesman for American Honda Motor's motorcycle division in Torrance, Calif., said his company licensed them a few years ago to a foreign manufacturer he didn't identify. "It's really more of a toy," he said, "not in the same league as the gasoline-powered pocket rockets." Honda doesn't intend to enter the faster gas-powered-rocket field, he said, largely because of safety concerns.

    On roads, the faster pocket rockets are difficult for motorists to see, and they usually lack headlights and turn signals. Steve Kohler, a California Highway Patrol spokesman, said that in his state, "they aren't allowed on any public right-of-way, including sidewalks." A spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, Ernesto Duarte, said: "The pocket rockets don't belong out on the road with S.U.V.'s and 18-wheelers. And they shouldn't be on the sidewalk with pedestrians and baby carriages." Still, the minibikes are tempting many buyers. "They're eye candy," said Mr. Smith, owner of the Florida bike shop. "I have even sold them to police officers. I tell them, 'You're going to have to give yourselves tickets.' "

    An ordinance passed in September by the New York City Council prohibits not only riding the minimotorcycles on public thoroughfares, but also selling them. "We had a lot of complaints from residents about these vehicles shooting in and out of traffic and zooming down sidewalks," said John C. Liu, a Queens Democrat who is chairman of the Council's transportation committee. "We had a teenager in Queens who was killed last year in a traffic accident while riding a pocket rocket. That convinced a lot of people that we needed to ban them."

    The New York City law carries a penalty of $500 for driving the bikes in public and $1,000 for selling, leasing or renting them. (That law also covers motorized scooters that are driven standing up, although the police say they are not as dangerous because they are easier for motorists to see.)

    BUT law enforcement officials say it's difficult to enforce bans against riding, let alone selling, pocket rockets. For one thing, even if few stores carry them, the tiny motorcycles are readily available on the Internet and at flea markets. And many consumers become aware that the bikes are not street-legal only after buying them. "We get a lot of complaints from people who bought them and then find out there aren't many places to ride them," said Mr. Duarte of the Florida Highway Patrol.

    One national auto parts chain, Pep Boys, sells pocket bikes in most of its stores, where signs advise customers to check with their state's department of motor vehicles about applicable laws. Bill Furtkevic, senior director of marketing, said, "Nevertheless, Pep Boys is not in a position to either educate customers about all local laws and regulations regarding their use of these products or to ensure that its customers in fact conform to all legal and safety standards." In places where sales of pocket rockets are outlawed, like New York, Pep Boys doesn't stock them. Another city that prohibits their sale is Pep Boys' hometown, Philadelphia.

    Las Vegas, though, is more welcoming to the minimotorcycles. Joe Wickert, who holds a novel title as the city's director of extreme sports, said there had been a shortage of riding sites, reminding him of "where skateboarding was a few years ago."

    Mr. Wickert began organizing competitions for pocket-rocket riders in closed parking lots two years ago. "We had to find a way to legitimize the sport," he said, "because these people had nowhere else to turn."

    Last year, when the number of participants in the weekly events grew to about 100, Mr. Wickert struck a deal with a private go-cart track, the XPlex Racetrack, for exclusive use by pocket rockets on Monday nights. Riders pay fees to enter various competitions for prizes that include safety gear. "Helmets are mandatory," Mr. Wickert said. "Children under 12 must wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, elbow pads and a chest protector. We have kids as young as 4 years old riding and also people in their 60's."

    Wrecks are routine, but most are minor. "My kids have probably turned over a dozen times or more," said Mr. McLendon, the Las Vegas maintenance man. "I know it sounds dangerous, falling at 30 miles per hour on a curve. But there isn't far to fall because the bikes are so low to the ground."

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