Mini Bikes – Problem or Possibility?

Q: I invested in a mini bike and cops keep telling me that I can’t ride it in the bike lane, but it doesn’t go fast enough to be street legal. What do I do? This is the only way I have to get around.

A: I can think of a few options, but if you’re devoted to the idea of riding your mini bike on the road, I don’t think you’ll like what I suggest. The cops are right; you can’t ride a motorized vehicle in the bike lane. Mopeds are not allowed on bike paths or recreational trails either. You mentioned that the cops keep telling you that you can’t ride in the bike lane. I hope they’re telling you that because you keep asking them, and not because you keep trying to ride in the bike lane. Driving an unlicensed vehicle on a public road is a recipe for impoundment.

I’ll answer your question, but first, some terms. The law doesn’t use the words “mini bike”; instead it lists several categories of two-wheeled motorized vehicles. Without seeing what you’re riding, I’ll guess that you have one of two things; either a moped or motor-driven cycle. The primary difference between them is power. A moped has an engine size of 50 cc or less, produces no more than two horsepower and has a top speed of less than 30 MPH. A motor-driven cycle is essentially a motorcycle that produces no more than five horsepower. A motor-driven cycle also requires a license endorsement, just like a motorcycle.

Since your mini-bike isn’t fast enough to travel at the speed limit, I’ll presume that you have a moped. Historically, mopeds were small motorbikes that had a pedal option, thus the portmanteau combining motor and pedal into moped. The law, though, doesn’t require pedals. (It used to, but the pedal requirement was dropped in 2009.)


There are two parts of the law that you have to comply with to legally ride a moped on a public road; the first part is for the driver and the second for the vehicle. The driver part is simple: A moped operator must be at least 16 years old and have a valid driver license.

The vehicle part can be simple or complicated, depending on the moped. Before you can drive a vehicle on a public road, it has to meet federal safety standards. If you buy a moped that is intended for use on public roads, it should meet those standards. The problem arises when you buy a moped that is intended for off-road use only. You could, at least theoretically, make improvements to an off-road moped to meet the safety requirements and then get it inspected and licensed. In reality though, it would probably be cheaper, and would certainly be easier, to sell the off-road moped and buy a street-legal one.

To make a moped that was originally intended for off-road use comply with safety laws, it requires that the following items are on the moped, and that the parts that are used are intended for on-road applications: Mirrors, brakes, controls, head light, tail light, brake light, license plate light, tires, horn, and muffler. Your moped may have some of those parts already, but if manufacturer wasn’t required to use street-legal parts, you can bet they probably didn’t. As you can imagine from that list, you’d have to be pretty emotionally attached to your moped to spend that kind of time and money on upgrades.

If you did make the upgrades, you’d need to take it to a licensed Washington State motorcycle repair shop or dealership for an inspection. The inspection could cost as much as $100. If you pass the inspection, you can take the paperwork you got from the inspector and bring it to DOL to register the moped.

Given your situation, it looks like your options are: replace your mini-bike with a street-legal model, do a lot of upgrades to your current mini-bike, or sell it and use the money to buy a bicycle and a bus pass. Short of owning a car, that combination might be the best option for getting you where you want to go.

Finally, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out this: Just because you can legally ride a moped with no training or endorsement beyond a basic driver license, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Riding a motorcycle, or even a moped, requires skills that you don’t learn from driving a car. And without a cage to protect you, the consequences are big enough that it’s worth investing in some training.


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