Midget motorcycles gain popularity
FALLON – With the piercing drone of a finely tuned weed whacker, a gang of diminutive motorcycles is cruising the streets of Fallon … and their numbers are growing.
Pocket bikes, a modern day twist on the classic mini-bike, are emerging as a popular hobby and mode of transportation in Fallon amid uncertainty by local law enforcement over their use.
Shawn Morris, Ted Poutree and Anthony Artino, all Navy men, ride the larger versions of pocket bikes, known simply as mini-bikes. The groups said there are about half a dozen pocket bike riders in Fallon.
Poutree said he initially bought the bike to use for a short commute to NAS Fallon. When he learned the bikes were illegal on the base, he and his friends began riding around town.
“It started out as a joke at first,” Artino said. “We went on eBay, and the next thing you know, we were riding them.”
This is not your father’s mini-bike. Pocket bikes are miniature versions of motorcycles which are powered by small electric or two-stroke gasoline engines. The bikes share the modern technology of motorcycles, including disc brakes, headlights, hydraulic suspension and even turn signals on higher-end models.
The bikes are capable of 30 mph, though higher speeds can be attained through after-market performance parts on four-stroke gasoline models. Many of the bikes have 49 cubic centimeter engines, just under the 50 cc limit at which a bike is considered a motorcycle.
A rider can take a bike nearly 50 miles on a tankful of gas, Morris said. It costs 59 cents to fill up the tank.
None of the group wears helmets or eye protection, since it is not required by law. They obey traffic laws, don’t ride at night and use turn signals or hand signals, Morris said. Though they have not been approached by law enforcement officers yet, he said it’s only a matter of time before the bikes’ use on public roads is banned.
“It’s fun,” Morris said. “It’s something that people get out and do. It seems like they outlaw anything that’s fun.”
The Carson City Sheriff’s Department began writing citations Sept. 11 to juveniles and their parents for traffic violations such as driving without a license or rearview mirror. Pocket bikes, motorized scooters and go-carts are illegal to drive on Carson City streets and sidewalks.
Nevada statutes define a motorcycle as every motor vehicle equipped with a seat or saddle for the use of the driver and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, including a power cycle but excluding a tractor or moped.
The mini-motorcycles have puzzled local law enforcement, who have yet to form a policy on their use. Fallon Police Chief Russ Brooks said officers are working with the Churchill County Sheriff’s Department to set guidelines for pocket bikes.
“We’d like to find some way to allow these kids a way of transportation, but we want it to be safe,” Brooks said. “We want to put something in one voice. We need some time to look at this.”
Sheriff Rich Ingram said the Department of Motor Vehicles and Nevada Highway Patrol have declared them illegal for street use. A goal is to form a fair policy within existing traffic laws.
“The jury is still out on these little pocket bikes,” Ingram said. “They’ve hit the streets and they’re out there quite a bit now.”