Despite the many rules restricting their use, motorized bikes and scooters have become increasingly popular at UCSB and in the surrounding community.
Motorized scooters became legal for street use in 2000 with the passage of California Senate Bill 441. Since then they have become increasingly popular at UCSB and in Isla Vista. Motorized bikes and scooters have a unique classification – sometimes they can operate as bicycles and other times as motorized vehicles. This causes confusion over where it is legal to operate them. The UC Police Dept. and I.V. Foot Patrol have seen an increase in their use, but have not increased the number of tickets issued.
“I give a couple of tickets a month,” IVFP Officer Mitch Molitor said. “Vendors or private dealers usually don’t explain the laws to the buyer because they just want to close the sale. People usually just don’t know.”
The confusion is caused by the dual classification of these vehicles. When the motor of a scooter or bike is running, it is considered a motor vehicle and must obey all traffic laws pertaining to regular automobiles; however, when the motor is off, the vehicle is considered a bicycle.
“The tricky thing about motorized bikes is that you can’t think they’re a bike or a motorcycle. If I follow someone long enough, I’ll find them doing something wrong, though I haven’t issued any tickets for [motorized bikes],” Molitor said.
Motorized bikes and scooters are prohibited on bike paths and sidewalks on campus while the motor is engaged. It is illegal to ride motorized scooters on sidewalks, or any highway with a speed limit over 25 miles per hour, unless it is a four-lane highway or the person is riding a bicycle. Riders must stay to the far right side of the road, wear a helmet and use a light at night. Riders must be at least 16 years old but do not need a driver’s license. It is also illegal to modify a motorized bike to increase its speed capabilities.
“There are no prohibitions against the scooters themselves, only where they can be ridden,” Bill Bean, assistant UCPD police chief said. “These rules are found in the vehicle code and we do ticket violators.”
The increased demand for the motorized bikes and scooters has Isla Vista Bicycle Boutique selling motorized bikes for about $165 and Alternative Motors sells both motorized bikes and scooters. Scooters cost between $200 and $500 and the bikes cost between $500 and $5,000. Both provide only electric motors to power the bikes they sell.
“We deal only in environmentally-friendly products,” Tom Wolfe, owner of Alternative Motors said. “You can find the gas-powered ones at lawnmower shops; they are basically a weed-whacker motor attached to a scooter.”