Mini-Moto – Miniture MotorcyclesThe Buzz is All AboutMini-MotorcyclesBy Michael TaylorPocket bikes are miniature motorcycles — powered, forthe mostpart, by oil- and gas-burning engines similar to those used inchain saws, weed whackers or other small motorized tools — and they look just like the real thing.The snazziest models cost thousands and are made in Italy, butthe ones that are selling by the container load run from $200 to$500. They come from China, among other places, and are gettingsnapped up by eager teenagers and, in some cases,not-so-teenagers.At Broadtek LLC, a South San Francisco firm that imports them,the cardboard cartons containing the small bikes are stacked tothe ceiling of a tall warehouse and are quickly going out thedoor to eager customers.In Walnut Creek, Eric Rahin, owner of Sonic Scooterz, says he’sselling them in droves — “from college students to people intheir late 50s. It’s basically a toy to have some fun with.”Manufacturers say the bikes are supposed to be used only onclosed race tracks, private roads or any other place where thereare no public traffic laws and, more important, no big cars ortrucks to run into you. Many buyers follow that advice.But now you see some of these new pocket bikes zinging in and outof parking lots, up and down residential streets and,occasionally into the side of a car. And therein lies the rub.”It’s very difficult for a driver (of a car) to see one on thosebikes, because of their low height,” said San Francisco policeLt. Kitt Crenshaw. “We’ve had several accidents in the last fewweeks, and people went to the hospital.”The pocket bikes have a top speed of about 35 mph, but can besouped up to go faster. They evolved from tiny but highlysophisticated racing bikes that campaign on European race tracksand are sometimes used as training vehicles for Grand Prixmotorcycle racers.The bikes are faithful imitations of popular normal-size streetmotorcycles, which, for marketing reasons, are faithfulimitations of pure race bikes, down to the disk brakes,handlebars, chain drives, twist-grip throttles and electronicignition.The little bikes weigh about 50 pounds, stand about a foot and ahalf high and can easily be put in the trunk of a car. They havetiny engines — 47cc or 49cc displacement, less than 1/20th thesize of a big motorcycle. And they are enticing.”It’s a fun little thing to ride,” said Matt Damon, a21-year-oldsalesman in a Martinez pet store. “It’s a whole lot cheaper thana $6,000 or $7,000 big bike. For years now, I’ve been ridingdifferent types of motorcycles, but it’s more like the smallbikes are a fun thing, instead of just transportation. And it’seasier to maintain and burns less gas.”But Damon did admit, “I took it for a ride down the street andgot pulled over. The officer was kind of nice about it. But I gota ticket.”Police departments in the Bay Area and elsewhere in Californiahave been cracking down on the little two-wheelers, saying theyare a major accident waiting to happen. No police agency couldcome up with information about any deaths caused by pocket bikecrashes, but police want them off the public roads before theinevitable happens.”Their numbers are starting to increase,” said Milpitas policeOfficer Jay Johnson, who was assigned by his department to lookinto the phenomenon and ultimately write about it for the weeklyMilpitas Post. “Most of the complaints we’re getting is thatdrivers can’t see them or there’ll be a group of them racing, orthey’re running stop signs.”For a while, though, until Johnson began studying up on thesubject, and the California Highway Patrol sent out a memoclarifying just what is and what is not legal about the bikes,confusion seemed to be paramount.In fact, it shouldn’t be. On many bikes, there’s a decal rightthere on the gas tank that says these things do not conform to”federal motor vehicle safety standards.”After a lengthy consult with the state Vehicle Code and theDepartment of Motor Vehicles, the CHP explained that the bikes donot meet a number of standards required for all vehiclesregistered in California — the most telling example being thestipulation that “headlamp height (be) between 22 and 54inches.”Technical problems aside, it’s the safety issue that concernsauthorities.”We’re really concerned about these things mixing withtraffic,”said CHP spokesman Steve Kohler. “If you think about it,something that small is difficult to see, when it’s mixed in withcars, trucks and buses. Drivers don’t even see full-sizemotorcycles. There’s no way they’re going to see these things.”Or, as David Edwards, editor in chief of Cycle World Magazine anda man who puts about 20,000 miles a year on motorcycles, said:”When you get out in city traffic, you’ll be at more risk than ona full-size motorcycle. But they only hold (a little) gas, so youwon’t go too far. And they’re noisy as hell, so at least peoplewill hear you coming if not see you coming.”- Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff WriterIf you liked what Steel Horse News has to say pass it on Clickhere to email this to a friend.Amazon.com WidgetsCopyrightÂ© Steel Horse MotorcycleNews.Â May 15, 2012.