Cole Rodenbeek’s bike is powered by a 49 cc engine. The engine can propel the bike up to 20 miles per hour. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos


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Aaron Wendt has added a 49 cc engine to his bike. The motorized bikes aren’t legal on Salina streets. (photo by Tom Dorsey / Salina Journal)

Motorizing bicycles saves fuel but runs afoul of traffic law

By DAVID CLOUSTON/Salina Journal

Cole Rodenbeek says he and some friends who ride their bicycles to work are being eco-friendly and trying to save money on their daily commute to work.

But Salina police say he and his friends are breaking the law.

It’s the motors on the bikes the Salinans ride that have drawn law officers’ attention.

Now Rodenbeek says Kansas needs to tweak its laws, like Arizona did, to treat motorized bicycles the same as traditional pedal-powered bicycles.

About two years ago, Rodenbeek, 27, 217 W. Jewell, who earns his living as a welder, came across an Arizona-based company that sells motors and kits to use to mount them on ordinary bicycles.

He was intrigued by the idea. “It was inexpensive and fuel-efficient like crazy,” he said.

Soon, Rodenbeek was searching scrap heaps and junk yards for fat-tire, cruiser-style Schwinn, Huffy and similar-brand bike frames. Those kinds of bicycle frames are the most easily adaptable.

“I wish, if I had more time, I could get more bikes together,” Rodenbeek said.

The idea caught on with more of his friends, and they’ve put together about a dozen motorized bikes this year.

Equipped with 49 cubic centimeter motors that get as much as 175 miles to the gallon of gas, their bikes can cruise at 20 mph along the street or faster downhill.

“There’s a lot of guys riding around town. It’s just a bummer — everybody wants to be eco-friendly but we’re now not being allowed to,” Rodenbeek said.

Recently, one of the riders was stopped by a patrol officer and given a ticket for riding an unregistered vehicle on a city street. The fine in Salina Municipal Court for driving an unregistered vehicle is $50 and court costs are $50, a court representative said.

Bikes need tags

Officers aren’t against saving fuel. But the law says that any vehicle driven on a street has to be registered and have a license tag, said Lt. Russ Lamer, traffic unit commander.

A motorized bicycle doesn’t have a vehicle identification number, so it can’t be registered, Lamer said. The same holds true for golf carts, which also are illegal to operate on Salina streets, he said. Mopeds have VINs, so they can be registered.

The same issue arose six years ago in Salina concerning some types of motorized scooters. The scooters in question were equipped with headlights, taillights, turn signals and mirrors — but they did not have vehicle identification numbers or titles.

Bicycles powered by electric motors also would not be legal to drive on city streets, Lamer said.

The only devices legally permitted to operate on the street without a tag are pedal-powered bicycles, locomotives and train cars, and electric wheelchairs.

“If it’s propelled by human power, rails or is an electric wheelchair. Everything else has to have a tag,” Lamer said.

Lamer said there’s a safety issue involved with riding a bicycle with a motor on a city street, and that’s its speed.

Pedal-powered bicycles can legally be ridden on the street, but if the rider is moving at a speed slower than traffic, the rider is required to ride as close as practical to the curb, Lamer said. He said speed is also what makes motorized bicycles different.

“Legally you can ride a bicycle on the street, but not motoring in with cars at 30 miles an hour like a motorcycle,” Lamer said.

Modeling Arizona’s law

Arizona passed a law a few years ago that says riders who attach motors no larger than 49 cubic centimeters to their bicycles don’t need a driver’s license, insurance or registration and can travel in bicycle lanes, but can’t drive faster than 20 miles an hour.

Rodenbeek said he’d like to see a similar law passed in Kansas.

“I’m hoping that if we get this out there, someone will help us,” he said.

He said that with the conversion kit in hand, it only takes about a half-hour for someone to motorize a bike. Modification kits generally cost from $200 to $250.

“There’s no reason for me to be driving my truck, which gets about 8 miles a gallon, when all I’ve got to do is go to work and come back,” he said.

Aaron Wendt, one of Rodenbeek’s friends, who works for an auto electrical wiring business, has been riding his motorized bicycle to work. He thinks the law prohibiting motorized bikes on city streets is unfair.

“Everybody’s trying to go green now, and we’re trying our best,” he said.

n Reporter David Clouston can be reached at 822-1403 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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