Miniature motorcycles are very popular with teenagers and young adults. Commonly known as “pocket bikes” or “pocket rockets,” these small motorcycles weigh between 45 and 90 pounds. People think that because they’re both small and fast, they can be ridden anywhere – on sidewalks, in bicycle lanes, and on the street. Some gas powered models can go as fast as 45 mph! The bikes are usually sold without typical motorcycle safety features like brake lights, rear reflectors, mirrors, turn signals, horns, or approved tires. They don’t meet current federal safety standards for street-legal vehicles and they’re operated by unlicensed and often underage riders. At least five deaths have been reported so far.
Originally developed in Italy, where European models are raced for sport, the tiny motorcycles’ popularity in the United States is rapidly increasing. Major manufacturers include Fisher-Price, Razor, and Toy Quest. Small Business Trends estimated that up to 2 million “pocket bikes” have been sold in the United States in the last two years.
Consumer groups list “pocket bikes” as among the top 10 most dangerous toys. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that 2,345 injured riders of “pocket bikes” and larger minibikes were treated in emergency rooms in 2003. According to the December 2004 issue of Consumer Reports, many “pocket bikes” may have inadequate brake throttles that tend to be sluggish, which makes it harder to slow down. Many handle poorly – tight turns are almost impossible at slow speeds – and are hard to hold on a straight course. Further, “pocket bikes” pose other hazards for riders of any age, as well as those around them. They are often used without safety gear such as helmets and padding, and their speed makes them unsuitable for riding on sidewalks, where they may endanger pedestrians.
State and local governments are beginning to pass laws regarding the use of “pocket bikes.” In some areas, the bikes have been banned altogether. The federal government is yet to pass any laws regarding the use of pocket bikes.