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Old 09-21-2008, 02:38 PM
mouchyn mouchyn is offline
Motorized Bicycle Newbie
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 2
Default Trouble in College Station, TX

I come in peace.

I ride a Specialized RockHopper Comp FS with a 38cc 2-cycle frame-mounted engine.

Motor-assisted bicyclists in the area are having trouble with the local law enforcement. Local PDs, TxDOT officials, DPS officials, and the Brazos County Attorney's Office all classify gas-engine-assisted bicycles as mopeds. Mopeds must be registered, inspected, and insured. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to legally register a homemade motorized bicycle or find someone willing to write an insurance policy.

I'm here to rally support for the cause.

[moderator edit, copied from the "other" forum, links removed]

Ok, this is going to be a long post about my experience the last two months using my motor bicycle as my primary transportation in College Station.

After nearly two months of daily riding, I was issued citations for non-valid inspection, registration, and insurance while riding in a bike lane on campus at Texas A&M University. The University Police department officer couldn't tell me what my bike would be classified as. He could only tell me that he knew it was illegal. There has been an explosion in motor-bicycle popularity in our college town and officers have a directive to seek out and cite the motor bicyclists in the area. This set me on a path of making my bike legal.

After many conversations with various officials at TxDOT, Texas DPS office in Waco (central DPS office), University Police Department, Brazos County Attorney's Office, and a lawyer...I have discovered that my motor bicycle is officially classified as a "moped" in the State of Texas. That means the citations i received are valid and will likely not be dismissed.

On to the legal definitions:

Transportation Code
Texas Transportation Code (known herin as TTC)
(2) "Bicycle" means a device that a person may ride and
that is propelled by human power and has two tandem wheels at least
one of which is more than 14 inches in diameter.

(8) "Moped" means a motor-driven cycle that cannot
attain a speed in one mile of more than 30 miles per hour and the
engine of which:
(A) cannot produce more than two-brake
horsepower; and
(B) if an internal combustion engine, has a
piston displacement of 50 cubic centimeters or less and connects to
a power drive system that does not require the operator to shift
(9) "Motorcycle" means a motor vehicle, other than a
tractor, that is equipped with a rider's saddle and designed to have
when propelled not more than three wheels on the ground.
(10) "Motor-driven cycle" means a motorcycle equipped
with a motor that has an engine piston displacement of 250 cubic
centimeters or less. The term does not include an electric bicycle.

551.351. DEFINITION. In this subchapter,
"motor-assisted scooter" means a self-propelled device with:
(1) at least two wheels in contact with the ground
during operation;
(2) a braking system capable of stopping the device
under typical operating conditions;
(3) a gas or electric motor not exceeding 40 cubic
(4) a deck designed to allow a person to stand or sit
while operating the device; and
(5) the ability to be propelled by human power alone.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 1242, 3, eff. June 18, 2005.


I am no lawyer, so my interpretation of the above definitions can only be accepted as "opinion."

It's not hard to see how Texas State officials classify a motor-powered mountain bicycle as a moped. It IS a motor-driven cycle with a rider's saddle, a combustion engine smaller than 50cc (in my case), and a single-gear drive system attached to the engine. It is my experience that the motor bicycle does not achieve regular speeds of 30mph or more on flat ground -- no matter how much running space you have. I usually top out around 27 or 28 according to my Cateye computer and a few casual side-by-side automobile speedometer tests.

When I built the motor bicycle, I had TTC 551.351 in mind. It seemed to me that my motor bicycle met all the criteria of a "motor-assisted scooter." I was told by a Texas A&M University Police department sergeant and the Brazos County Attorney for transportation affairs, Spencer Giles, that the seat and/or pedals of a bicycle do not qualify as a "deck designed to allow a person to stand or sit while operating the device." While this interpretation of the law is questionable, that one piece of 551.351 is the only clause keeping gas-powered motor bicyclists from being registration, inspection, and insurance exempt in Texas.

That begs the question: What qualifies as a "deck?"

There are no specifications for size, shape, or location of a scooter "deck" in the TTC.

TxDot and the DPS told me (over the phone) that the stand-up "blade scooters" with gas engines are what that 551.351 definition describes. Basically a 2-wheel skateboard with handlebars, brakes, and a gas engine smaller than 40cc. I have seen these things zipping around campus without so much as a second look from passing University Police. That tells me the UPD officers are at least familiarized with the TTC enough to know that the death-machine blade-scooters are legal and unregistered motor-bicycles are not.

Fine. You win, Texas. How can I register my motor bicycle as a moped and get it inspected? Turns out, you can't. Texas will only register approved/certified mopeds, according to the TxDOT vehicle registration FAQ: Vehicle Titles and Registration FAQs . I follow that rabbit hole in to wonderland and find the information required to make MY motor bicycle a TxDOT-approved moped. I would need to form a corporation, register as a "manufacturer" with the City of College Station (so they get their piece of the tax pie, too), document/designate a make and model for my bike, generate a VIN (VIN requirements set by TxDOT), submit an affidavit to the state swearing, under oath, that the make and model listed meets all the requirements of a "moped" in the State of Texas. Talk about a hassle.

This brings me to the insurance issue. Insurance is, obviously, required for registration and inspection. After another 10 or 12 phone calls I discovered that 99.9999999% of insurance companies will not write policies for mopeds of "unknown origin and reliability." Even your newly founded manufacturing corporation and TxDOT cerification is not enough to convince insurance companies to write a policy. You would need to find an independent insurance company/agent bold enough (if any exist) to write a policy for a homemade moped with unmarked chinese parts.

Long story short, legal DIY gas-engine-powered bicycles are a pipe dream in Texas. Riders seeking motor-assisted bicycle transportation are currently limited to electric bicycles. Researching the legislation on electric bicycles also left me frustrated and confused.

TTC 541.201
(24) "Electric bicycle" means a bicycle that:
(A) is designed to be propelled by an electric
motor, exclusively or in combination with the application of human
(B) cannot attain a speed of more than 20 miles
per hour without the application of human power; and
(C) does not exceed a weight of 100 pounds.

Since I have become accustomed to riding with two-cycle power, top speed without human power is fairly important to me. Most people would agree that intermediate cyclists in decent physical condition can pedal a bicycle faster than 20mph for extended periods of time. It seems strange that the electric bicycle is limited to 20mph without human power while a 40cc gas-powered motor-assisted scooter is legal up to 35mph. That said, I'm sure there is a little wiggle-room in the rated, non-human-powered speed limit for an electric bicycle. Since electric bicycles are all legal at first glance, an officer would need to measure (with radar) the speed of the bicycle on flat ground for a reasonable distance without any human pedaling to have reason to cite a rider for an illegal electric bicycle. This could, potentially, be visually defeated by making sure you casually/deceptively pedal every few seconds. I think police around here would be, more or less, ignorant to electric bicycles simply because they are quieter and more bicycle-like. The exhaust noise of my two-cycle engine at full throttle is what got the the law enforcement's attention -- not the fact that i was zipping along at 28mph without pedaling.

I am left with a few different options:

1. Find out if it is possible for a clever lawyer to convince a (random) judge that the seat and/or pedals of a bicycle can reasonably be considered a "deck designed to allow a person to stand or sit while operating the device." A local judicial ruling could be enough to get the State to consider recognizing and regulating gas-engine-assisted bicycles as a new vehicle type (much like the electric bicycle). If I remember my government classes correctly, it is the judicial system's job to interpret the laws--not some dude at TxDOT or the DPS office...

2. Somehow design a vehicle that works like a motor-bicycle, but incorporates what the State considers a "deck," which would undeniably classify the vehicle as a "motor-assisted scooter" instead of a "moped." I am currently brainstorming ideas using a recumbent configuration. More to follow on that.

3. Build an electric bicycle capable of cruising at 28-30mph without pedaling. I have not researched electric bicycle design yet, but I worry about the weight, range, and maintenance of a battery bank. I was inspired by a forum member's idea to use a gas-engine as a generator. However, strapping a gas-engine generator totally blows the stealthiness of the electric drive train, thus attracting attention from law enforcement.

[/moderator edit]

For those interested, there is tons more on this issue at the "other" motorized bicycle forum. My username is the same. Check it out.

Last edited by mouchyn; 09-22-2008 at 10:08 AM.
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