D.C.’s burgeoning pocket-bike fad—which over the past year has had adults whirring about on motorcycles the size of breadboxes (“Biker Toyz,” 5/21/04)—may soon be a surreal memory. On June 1, the D.C. Council passed two pieces of emergency legislation to regulate scooters, mopeds, and off-road vehicles such as pocket bikes.
The first bill asserts that “motorized bicycles,” two- or three-wheeled vehicles with engines of less than 50cc and speeds under 35 mph, should be considered motorcycles when driven on public roads.
Battery-powered wheelchairs and “electric personal assistive mobility devices” (think Segways) are exempt from the law. Pocket bikes, with engines around 45cc and speeds nearing 25 mph, are not.
“The police department are the main people lobbying for this,” says Ward 4 Councilmember Adrian Fenty, who introduced the bill after hearing that drug runners like to conduct business on little motorbikes. “The way we have the law structured, we’re just aiding and abetting the drug trade.”
Under Fenty’s bill, pocket-bike owners must go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to receive a VIN, provide proof of insurance, and pay a $10 registration fee. Then they report to the inspection station.
The second bill, authored by Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin Chavous, is harsher: It banishes ATVs and minibikes entirely from public space. In a bit of overkill, the bill also establishes new penalties for pulling daredevil stunts on the same vehicles within the same space they’re prohibited from.
“Five hundred dollars the first time for wheelies on the front or back wheels,” says Eric Rogers, Chavous’ chief of staff. “One thousand dollars the second time.”
The new legislation has already forced one businessman to ditch his load of pocket bikes. “I sold the last one when they was talking about the bills,” says Reggie Miller, who used to showcase shrunken red sport bikes and bantam black choppers on the front lawn of his G&M Dollar Plus and Variety Store, near Eastern Market.
Miller places the blame for his reduced stock squarely at the feet of gentrifiers. “They don’t like me selling around the neighborhood,” he complains. “[Pocket bikes have] been in the projects since they came out, and it wasn’t a problem. It wasn’t a problem until it started happening around Capitol Hill.” —John Metcalfe