Motorized Bicycle Law Reforms Proposed

The topic of motorized bicycles (henceforth referred to as MBs) always seems to be controversial.

Regardless, the current set of definitions and laws seem to have been drafted in such a way that has led to some interpretations with, in my opinion, absurd results.

There are a set of proposals that seek to amend/clarify MBs positions at, and while I don’t necessarily support the specific proposals, but i do think some “reform” of the MB law is definitely needed!

Here are some thoughts off the top of my head about possible reforms:
  1. Incorporate definitions congruent with Federal / CPSC definitions of “low-speed electric bicycles” (750W), the current Arizona definition oddly doesn’t mention electric power rating.
  2. I can’t imagine the cc limit would ever get raised
  3. The mph business should be changed to an *equipment* limitation and not an operating limitation; see other state’s laws on the topic e.g. CA language CVC 406b, something to the effect of the motor “is capable of propelling the device at a maximum speed of not more than xx miles per hour on level ground”. There should be no prohibition on operating speed (the usual speed laws, that apply to everybody, of course apply to MBs, as they do to bicyclists and no explicit reference is needed or desirable)
  4. somehow cities/localities should try be prevented from trying to (mis)apply local “play vehicle” ordinances to MBs
  5. While we’re at it, a good clarification would be to state explicitly that the definition of moped that the speed mentioned is an equipment definition; some have argued this is an operational restriction, though I would disagree.  I.e. 28-101(31) “Moped” means a bicycle that is equipped with a helper motor if the vehicle has a maximum piston displacement of fifty cubic centimeters or less, a brake horsepower of one and one-half or less CAPABLE OF PROPELLING AT a maximum speed of twenty-five miles per hour or less on a flat surface with less than a one per cent grade.

Apparently some places (the prime example i know of is Tucson), the police/city currently consider MBs operated at 20 or above to be mopeds (or possibly motorcycles); and that this leads to a cascade of potential criminal charges and large fines including 1) driving without a drivers license (if applicable), 2) violation of financial responsibility / no insurance, and 3) driving without registration.

It’s my theory/understanding that it’s impossible to get a MB registered with AZ(?), and furthermore, it’s impossible to purchase liability insurance for a MB. If this is the case — i would think you could get some more libertarian-minded legislators (there are plenty of them) interested in what seems to be a government-built Catch-22.

Insurance / Financial Responsibility

Is required for “motor vehicles” by 28-4135: “Motor vehicle financial responsibility requirement…  A motor vehicle that is operated on a highway in this state…”. The def’n of motor vehicle is given in 28-101(33), which as you might expect, depends on the def’n of vehicle, (28-101(57).
As things turn out, in AZ, bicycles are plainly not vehicles, and as such are not motor vehicles either.  Both mopeds (28-101(31)  ” ‘Moped’ means a bicycle that is equipped…”  and motorized bicycles ( 28-2516C  ” ‘motorized ….bicycle’ means a bicycle equipped…” ) are defined as types of bicycles, and as such neither of them are vehicles. Presumably because they can be human-powered.

Therefore no insurance is required for bicycles (no surprise there),  motorized bicycles, or –it would appear– mopeds. Insurance IS required, however, for motor driven cycles (usually called “motor scooters”; e.g. vespa), and motorcycles. Note that this conflicts with what  Arizona MVD says in FAQ  “42) What are the differences….? Mopeds – vehicle insurance is required”. ????

List of relevant background here. This situation might be traced to a “defect” in Arizona law; it is customary in other codes, e.g. in the UVC to define a moped as a kind of motor-driven cycle, rather than as a type of bicycle. That would clearly mean mopeds were by definition motor vehicles, and then would clearly be covered under Arizona’s  financial responsibility law.

Driver’s license

Bicycles require no operating license, see bicycle-license. I found it interesting to note that nowhere, in statute, does it say a license is or isn’t required.

Motorized bicycles state explicitly in their defining statute  28-2516A5 state “A driver license is not required to operate”.

Mopeds:   28-2513 “7. Any class of driver license is valid for operating a moped” (so I guess that moots the point about is a drivers license is required by virtue of whether or not a moped is a motor vehicle?)

Motor-driven and motorcycles clearly require a class M endorsed driver’s license. In the first place, they are both motor vehicles, and thus require a license per the general motor vehicle license requirement, 28-3151 ” a person shall not drive a motor vehicle … without a valid driver license and proper endorsement”. The business about endorsements is covered in 28-3101 and 28-3103A

Some Deep Background

Much of the impetus for the 2006 law, both state and Tuscon’s was due to the efforts of Spooky Tooth Cycles; a retailer of motorized bicycles. There is a trove of, albeit anecdotal, info on their forum. I also looked up the House and Senate Transportation committee meetings; they were pretty uneventful, according to the minutes… the video is available, but I didn’t watch it.

3 thoughts on “Motorized Bicycle Law Reforms Proposed”

  1. I am in my 3rd year building motorized bicycles for a living and riding them for my own transportation needs so I consider myself a pretty well informed source on them.

    Ed and I differ somewhat on what should be allowed for a bicycle with motor assist and what is required to operate them, but we both agree the rules are vague.

    I do feel some prudent limits need be in place to keep idiots from killing themselves, I also feel that anyone than can responsibly ride a bicycle on the road should be able to keep up with even the best athletes with as much motor assist as that may take.

    In short, the ability to ride along side a doped up Lance Armstrong on his 5 pound racing bike sitting up comfortably on my 50 pound solid bicycle.

    Motor assisted bicycles are not for recreation, they are primarily used for feasible low cost independent personal transportation needs.

    Limiting assist size by ‘Capable Power’ is not the way to go. It is so ambiguous, difficult to establish without specialized equipment, and it does not take into account the size and weight of either the bike or the rider.

    For example any athlete could compete with Lance with just a 48cc 1.95HP assist on the same bike but the regular non-athletic people that need an assist don’t ride $10,000 bicycles and not able to pedal around the block without getting winded but still need to get to and from work in a timely fashion on a tight budget and that is where motor assisted bicycles come in.

    The power required to move a large 250+ pound man on a large heavy Beach Cruiser style bicycle at even 20MPH is much greater than that of a fit athlete on a race bike.

    My contention for a motor size limit is yes, there needs to be a number to keep the idiots that might want to try to put a Harley motor on a bicycle in check the bottom line is in the motor assist world the 66cc 2-stroke 2.75HP engine is the defacto standard best power plant for efficiency and cost.

    30MPH max speed is a reasonable, safe and actually practical speed for those that have a 10-20 mile round trip work commute or even just a cheap green and fun way for those little neighborhood store runs.

    Please support this, there are a lot of able workers in this state that need help and if practical less cars on the road or taking up parking spaces.

  2. so i got a response to my question (both pasted below) submitted via the Contact ADOT form:

    Can you see *any* redeeming value in the answer? I can’t but maybe i’m missing something.
    It seems to me that NHTSA guidelines, whatever they may be, are all well and good, but have nothing to do with the question. And then loaded on top of all that, he/she makes bizarre statements like a “(motorized bicycle) therefore cannot be driven legally on a public roadway”. huh? and this one ” A motorized bicycle operates under the same requirements as a non-motorized bicycle and prohibited from traveling like authorized motor vehicles within travel lanes” double huh?
    (one guess was the adot repsondant was speaking off the top is his/her head; also possibly was mixing the notion of “limited access highways” (where bicycles are either banned outright, or restricted to the shoulder) and all other roadways (where bikes are always permitted unless explicitly banned by a jurisdiction — which AFAIK is never done).

    I wonder in the back of my mind whether there could be some sort of “incorporation by reference” into ARS; analogous to MUTCD in ARS.

    Question: According to your FAQ ”42) What are the differences….? Motorized Bicycle – vehicle insurance is not required… Mopeds – vehicle insurance is required” Can you tell me specifically what the statutory basis for this distinction is? I ask because i can’t find any difference — that is to say both are defined as types of bicycles. And both do have motors. Either both are motor vehicles; or neither are motor vehicles — or so it would seem to me. 2/13/2013 12:45:29 PM

    ADOT Response: Mr. Beighe, Thank you for contacting the Arizona Department of Transportation. In response to your inquiry, the difference is outlined on the same web page that you noted. A motorized electric or gas powered bicycle or tricycle does not meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines for a vehicle and therefore cannot be driven legally on a public roadway. Since it is not legal for street usage and should not be driven on a public roadway, there is no state registration or insurance requirement. It does not have the physical capacity by law to be classified and registered as a street legal vehicle. The engine design limits the capacity to a maximum speed of 20 m.p.h., with most operating at a maximum of 10 to 15 m.p.h. Also it is not designed with front/rear lighting or braking equipment that meets the minimum NHTSA standards. A motorized bicycle operates under the same requirements as a non-motorized bicycle and prohibited from traveling like authorized motor vehicles within travel lanes. A moped has the capacity of being street legal and operated on a public roadway with a maximum speed of 25 m.p.h. or slightly higher m.p.h. for some models. A moped does have front/rear lighting and braking equipment that meets the NHTSA requirement in order to be operated legally on a public roadway. A moped must have state registration and carry insurance in order to be operated on a public roadway. Basically if any type of vehicle is street legal to operate on a public roadway with all the required NHTSA equipment, it will also be required to have current street registration and insurance. 2/14/2013 4:16:08 PM

    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: “”
    Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2013 4:16 PM
    Subject: Contact ADOT Response ~ Request ID: 1304446394

    Dear Ed Beighe,
    Thank you for your input.
    Click here to view the ADOT response to your inquiry.Also use this link if the response was not helpful or the ADOT representative requested additional information.
    The Passcode for this Ticket is 1519554031
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