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What Is a Motorized Bike?

An image showing a motorized bike?

An Introduction To Motorized Bicycles

So you’re looking to find out more about motorized bicycles, and you’ve come to the right place. 

In this short article, I’ll cover all there is to know about motorized bikes, including; what is a motorized bicycle, what are the benefits of using a motorized bike, and are motorized bikes legal? Plus lots more.

If you’re thinking of building your own motorized bike or have found a new motorized bicycle for sale, keep reading. 

It’s important to make sure motorized bikes are safe and compliant with local laws before committing to a purchase!

Table of Contents
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    What is a Motorized Bicycle?

    A motorized bike is a bicycle that has a motor attached that powers the wheels, either independently or to assist while the rider is pedalling.

    There are many different local laws concerning what constitutes a motorized bike, and the regulations for use vary widely in different areas.

    Some municipalities allow you to use any sized engine to attach to your bicycle. In contrast, others may consider a bike with a motor larger than 50ccs to be a motorbike, scooter, or moped.

    Motorized bikes that are built rather than bought as a completed product typically do not come with a speedometer, lights, and other features that may be standard on a manufactured machine.

    DIY motorized bikes are among the most popular options as many countries and states have relaxed regulations on self-made motorized bicycles.

    What is a Motorized Bike Used For?

    A motorized bike can assist in situations where a normal bicycle may struggle, such as when you need to carry extra cargo, climb steep hills, or make your commute more manageable.

    Motorized bikes can save you time, money and energy, and they are perfect for situations such as: 

    • Riding up steep hills 
    • Saving money on your commute by not driving or taking public transportation 
    • Helping save energy when you need to travel long distances 
    • Cutting through rush hour traffic and congestion 

    History of Motorized Bikes

    The history of motorized bicycles began in the late 19th century[1] when steam engines were attached to tricycles and quads by experimenters looking to power manual vehicles.

    At the time, technology was limited, steam-powered bikes and other attempts to propel bicycles were largely ineffective and unsuccessful ventures. 

    The introduction of the gas-powered internal combustion engine just before the turn of the 20th century provided a breakthrough – the first practical way to power foot-pedalled bikes.

    history of motorized bicycles

    French motorcycle manufacturer Felix Millet built one of the first gas motors for a bicycle in 1892.[2] The “Millet motorcycle” was designed with pedals and had an engine with a crankshaft in the back wheel. 

    Phelon & Rayner was one of the first motorized bike companies in England, operating from 1901-1903.

    Their motorized bicycle utilized a 260 cc, 1.75 horsepower gas engine that could easily be mounted onto a 28-inch bike frame.[3]

    By the middle of the 1900s, companies began producing more elaborate vehicles with motorized functions, such as mopeds and scooters. At the same time, simple do-it-yourself motors for bicycles continued to gain popularity with bike owners throughout England, the U.S., and around the world.

    Modern technology has brought more efficient motors and mounts, sleeker designs, and a focus on environmental conservation.

    Kits now come with lighter engines, powerful batteries, and design elements that make motorized bicycles as popular as ever today as they have been over the last century.

    E-bikes (electric bicycles), a subtype of motorized bicycle, have gained huge popularity over the last ten years. Subsequently, the e-bike worldwide market is estimated to be worth $23bn as of 2020.

    There are also companies selling fully-built motorized bikes, which are becoming increasingly popular in large cities worldwide. 

    Who Should Use a Motorized Bike?

    Motorized bikes are perfect for those commuting via bicycle or regularly carrying extra cargo or passengers (such as children).

    Motorized cycles are also great if you live in an area with a lot of steep hills. You’ll be able to breeze up an incline without losing speed or exerting too much energy.

    People with disabilities that prevent them from riding a conventional pedal bike can benefit from a motorised bicycle’s assistance. 

    In some municipalities, you may need to register your motorized bike to use it on public roadways. I cover a few of the basic laws regarding motorized bicycles below.

    You should also check your local regulations to find out where you can legally operate a motorized bicycle and ensure that you are old enough to do so.[4] 

    Recommended Reads

    What Competitions/Events are Motorized Bikes Used In?

    Motorized bikes are predominantly used as a safe, affordable, efficient mode of transportation rather than a competitive vehicle. That being said, there are motorized bicycle races and rallies.

    motorized bicycle race

    Local groups of motorized bike enthusiasts may hold regular meet-ups and rides as well. If you’d like to learn more, you can often find information about motorized bike events at local bike shops or posted in online communities! 

    Benefits of Motorized Bikes 

    Pros Cons
    Able to keep up with traffic in urban environments Can be dangerous when travelling at higher speeds
    Less physically demanding than a conventional push bike Requires fuel to power engine
    Reduces strain on rider when carrying heavy cargo or additional riders DIY motorized bikes can have mechanical problems if not built properly
    Provide assistance on hill climbs Offer less protection for riders than cars
    Cheaper than many e-bikes
    Motors and components can be modified to increase performance

    Risks Associated With Motorized Bikes

    Just like any other type of bicycle, motorized bikes come with risks, particularly when sharing the road with other vehicles.

    While your risk injury due to a collision with traffic on a busy road or because of a simple fall, taking the proper precautions can help you to avoid injury when riding a motorized bicycle.

    Motorized bikes can cause more injury when accidents occur because they can travel faster than pedal-powered bicycles. Therefore, be sure to wear protective gear whenever you ride your motorized bike. 

    Also if you plan on building your own motorized bike, take care that you follow instructions carefully. If you struggle at any point, it may be a good idea to get professional advice from a mechanic. 

    I cover popular protective equipment for motorized bikes below.

    Motorized Bicycle Laws & Rules

    Finding information regarding the rules and laws of motorized bicycle use can be a long tedious process. 

    I’ve picked through several online sources to save you time. The information below is regarding motorized bikes that use internal combustion engines.

    If you’re wondering about e-bike laws, read this.

    This information is not legal advice, and you should make sure you do your own research before riding a motorized bike in new areas. 

    Currently in Asutralia motorized bicycle laws vary in different states and areas.

    • Tasmania and the northern territory allow the use of motorized bikes as long as their engines do not exceed 200 watts.
    • Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia have issued a ban on motorized bicycles.

    In Canada, each individual providence has its own rules regarding the use of motorized bicycles. 

    That being said, motorized bikes with an engine of 100cc or less are treated indifferently to a conventional bicycle in the eyes of the law. 

    To be able to ride a gas powered motorized bicycle in france (otherwise referred to as velomotos or bicyclette motorisées) you must be 14 years old. 

    Anyone who wishes to ride a motorized bike must also hold a valid drivers license, and have completed a theory test, alongside five hours of lessons to gain their BSR certificate.

    In the UK, cyclists whising to ride a motorized bike will have a significantly easier time if they build their own DIY motorized bike. 

    Motorized bicycles sold as brand new must be compliant with DVLA and MSVA regulations. Owners then have to hold an EC MSVA as well as jumping through a number of other hoops. 

    All in all in the UK if you want to ride a motorized bike, build one yourself. As long as it meets MSVA standards and doesn’t exceed speeds of 16mph you won’t have to worry about as many regulations.

    In the states National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rules state that as long as a motorized bicycle can’t exceed speeds of 20mph and doesn’t have its own Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) it classifies as an off-road vehicle. 

    Wether or not off-road vehicles can be operated on public roads depends on your local state laws.

    Motorized Bicycle Security

    By adding a motor and additional components to your bike, you’re increasing its overall value and therefore increasing the chances of it being targeted by thieves.

    Many DIY motorized bike engines and components are supplied with generic nuts and bolts. Whilst these will hold your components in place, they won’t prevent unauthorised removal.

    If you’re investing a reasonable sum of money in your motorized bike, I’d advise buying some anti-tamper nuts & bolts.

    Due to the additional assistance they can provide, motorized bikes are a great option for bikepacking. Just make sure you have enough fuel, otherwise the ride home will be clunky!

    By using special security nuts you won’t have to worry when locking your bike in public areas. 

    One thing you should pay attention to, however, is the bike lock you use alongside your motorized bicycle. A poor quality lock will leave your bike vulnerable to theft. 

    I’d advise using two different locks and make sure to use a lock from a reputable brand. If you need some help choosing a suitable lock, check out my review of the best bike locks.

    Otherwise, if you’re on a tighter budget several of the best cheap bike locks provide Sold Secure Diamond security.

    Environmental Impact of Using Motorized Bikes

    Some motorized bikes use internal combustion engines, which use fossil fuels to run.

    However, motorized bikes have a much better fuel economy than other vehicles, so the petrol/diesel needed per week to power a motorized bike is a fraction of what is used to power a car.

    The majority of motorized bikes are now powered by electricity (e-bikes), making them cheaper to run and less polluting. Using a motorized bike rather than a car for your commute is a fantastic option if you care about reducing your carbon footprint.

    Do Motorized Bikes Require Special Areas to be Ridden? 

    Motorized bikes can usually be operated where other bicycles can be ridden; despite this, local laws vary.

    You will need to check to see if there are regulations in your area concerning the use of motorized bikes; some off-road trails, for instance, don’t allow motorized bikes.

    Other times, you may be limited to a certain range of power or speed on particular roads or trails.

    Motorised bikes can be great fun to ride on tracks and trails, but as stated above, check your local regulations before heading out!

    What to Wear When Riding a Motorized Bike

    Like a pedal-powered bicycle, you will want to wear some protective gear when using a motorized bicycle.

    A helmet is essential and may be required by law in some areas. Make sure you do your own research.

    Gloves, closed-toe shoes, a long sleeve shirt, and long trousers are helpful to avoid scrapes and injuries should you fall. Elbow and knee pads may also be a good idea if you are concerned about falls.

    It would be best if you chose the safety equipment you use based on the speeds you’ll reach when riding your Motorized bicycle. A more powerful engine will need to be matched with increased protection.

    Many motorised bike riders choose to wear a full-face helmet a leather jacket, similar to what you’d wear when riding a motorbike.

    What Accessories are Recommended for Using a Motorized Bike?

    Adding a motor to your bike increases the number of components and accessories you can choose from to help improve the look and efficiency of your ride.

    Many countries and states require a speedometer to be fitted to motorized vehicles. The table above provides a brief summary of rules and laws, but do your own research.

    motorized town bike with basket and pannier
    Baskets, panniers and fenders are all good examples of accessories you can use with a motorized bike.

    You can use any number of typical bike accessories, such as mirrors, grips, locks, pedals, and water bottle holders, as well as accessories created specifically for motorized bikes. 

    Rain protection, engine covers, security bolts & screws are just a few of the accessories available for motorized bicycles.

    You may also choose to install a basket or trailer to your motorized bike. This will allow you to carry more cargo whilst riding.

    Motorized Bicycle FAQs

    To operate and start the engine of a motorized bicycle you’ll normally need to pedal to a speed of around 5mph. 

    Once you’re going fast enough, you’ll be able to start the engine which will do the majority of the work for you.

    However if you run out of fuel, or find yourself climbing steep hills, you can continue to pedal just as you would with a conventional bike. 

    Bear in mind, that motorized bikes are significantly heavier than pedal powered bikes, so will demand more effort if the engine is not running. 

    Different countries and states have their own rules regarding the legalities of motorized bikes. 

    A motorized bicycle which is road legal in one state or country may require a permit or the rider may have to pass a driving test to ride it in other areas.

    Whilst it’s not legal advice, his article contains more detailed guidance on motorized bike laws. 

    You should always make sure to carry out your own research and if in doubt, seek legal advice. 

    If you’re new to motorized bikes don’t panic! Operating these bikes is almost as simple as riding a conventional pedal bike. 

    The majority of motor assisted bicycles will require the rider to pedal until a speed of roughly 5mph is reached.

    Whilst building up this initial speed, pull your clutch lever and once you’ve gained enough momentum the engine will start up when you release the clutch. 

    From here, twist or press your  throttle to adjust speed and use your brakes as you normally would. 

    Practice this procedure a few times in a quiet parking lot or an area without much traffic and you’ll get the hang of it in no time!

    Conclusion - What Is a Motorized Bicycle?

    If you’ve read through this post, thanks for reading! You should now understand what a motorized bicycle is and the benefits that they can provide.

    In case you missed it, a motorised bicycle is a conventional bicycle with the addition of a motor that either provides pedal assistance or direct throttle. 

    If I managed to miss something, or if you still have unanswered bike-related questions, leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you right away. 

    If you’re going to purchase a new motorized bike, or are planning to add a motor to your bicycle, make sure you consider purchasing a higher security bike lock.

    As always, lock it or lose it. 

    Ciao for now!

    Sources:

    [1] https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/25196/early-history-bicycles-and-motorbikes

    [2] https://motorcycletimeline.com/1890-1899/

    [3] https://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/1307867/Motorized_bicycle

    [4] https://www.gov.uk/ride-motorcycle-moped/bike-categories-ages-and-licence-requirements

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    Hello! My name’s James, I’m an avid cyclist and the lead editor of BikeLockWiki.

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