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Are scooters bikes or motorcycles?

District law accommodates bicycles and automobiles together on urban streets, but scooters sit in a gray area. Some are classified as motorcycles and others motorized bicycles, which enjoy greater flexibility. To encourage this alternate mode of transportation, regulations should treat scooters more like bicycles than motorcycles.

Photo by the author.

In February, I purchased what I thought was a scooter. And then I thought it was a motorcycle. And then, a scooter. Now, I can say with certainty that my Vespa LX 50 is classified in the District of Columbia as a motorcycle.

According to a guide from the DC government, a scooter is a motorcycle if it has any of 5 characteristics: wheels under 16 inches in diameter, an engine greater than 50 cc, the ability to travel in excess of 35 mph on level ground, more than 1½ brake horsepower, or a manual transmission. If a scooter has none of those, it's a motorized bicycle.

So why does this matter? Motorized bicycle owners are not required to pass a motorcycle skills test or wear a helmet and can ride in bike lanes. Most importantly, motorized bicycles can park in a bicycle rack or on a street curb "so as not to impede pedestrian traffic," while motorcycles must park in the street.

These parking restrictions cause problems for scooter owners because scooters are easily movable and they must be locked to something (a post or sign) or else they can easily be stolen, unlike a motorcycle. Because there is nothing to lock a scooter to when parked on the street, most scooter owners park on sidewalks, in violation of DC law. They frequently get tickets for doing so.

Because of the complexity of the rules, some scooter owners are unaware that they actually drive a "motorcycle" and cannot park on a sidewalk. Believing themselves to be unfairly ticketed, they resort to tactics like this owner, who posted the DC chart on a sign reading "PLEASE DON'T TICKET":

Photo by the author.

Scooter theft is a real concern. While there are no publicly available statistics about its incidence in DC (an inquiry to both the DC DMV and MPD went unanswered), seemingly every owner I've met has either had a scooter stolen in the past or knows someone who has.

It's time for city officials to understand the consequences of these regulations and to grant scooter owners the right to secure their property, or at least not write a ticket them for doing so.

Jeremy Barr is a graduate journalism student at the University of Maryland. He previously worked in non-profit communications and has interned in politics on several occasions. In the last year and a half, he has lived in Adams Morgan, Logan Circle and Mount Vernon Square. Email him at 


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I'm a new scooter owner too and I've learned, though it's not a real solution, that many scooter owners affix their license tags via Velcro and remove tags when parked on the sidewalk.

by Leigh Bailey on Jul 3, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

As a DC/MD scooter, motorcycle, bicycle rider for the past 11 years I can tell you the scooter/motorcycle issue comes up every few years. Jim Graham said his office would look into fixing the issue back in 2005 when two of my lobbyist friends got tickets for not having registrations on their 50cc scooters, and here we are 7 years later with selective enforcement and headaches for all. Until then Velcro that tag or use wing nuts, because not locking your scooter will make it disappear. FYI Montgomery County has a >50cc no reg needed.

by Drock on Jul 3, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

1. This article needs more of a policy suggestion/proposal than the halfhearted single sentence at the end. What do you propose the city do? Should 50cc scooters be classified as motorized bicycles? Should there be a new category for scooters?

2. The girlfriend owns a 150cc Vespa ET4 and parks it out of the way on the sidewalk all the time, so she can lock it up. She has had it for a year and a half in DC and hasn't gotten a ticket yet. So I'm not sure how much the cops really care about people parking their scooters on the sidewalk, and I'm not sure even they understand the distinction.

by MLD on Jul 3, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

In the first paragraph, the article says "To encourage this alternate mode of transportation, regulations should treat scooters more like bicycles than motorcycles."

Why would we want to encourage scooters? Sure, scooters are cheaper and use less gas, but those are things that benefit the scooter owner, not the rest of us. A scooter emits more local air pollution than a car. It causes just as much traffic congestion as a car. And it's more of a hazard for pedestrians (I've never seen a car driving on a sidewalk in DC, but I see scooters driving on sidewalks a lot.)

by Rob on Jul 3, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

I understand the author's concerns with scooter theft, but I can't say I've had much better luck with unambiguous motorcycles--I've owned 2 in DC and both were stolen while not locked to something else.

Maybe we can get around the scooter problem by just providing anchor points for motorized vehicle locks.

by MMDC on Jul 3, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

Rob. The same could be said of bicycles sans the pollution part. That said smaller vehicles including scooters don't require a full lane or parking space and in theory can use a lot less infrastructure; e.g. bike lanes and converted car parking spaces that let multiple bikes park.

by Kevin Diffily on Jul 3, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

Reading this article, I'm guessing that Jeremy did not purchase his Vespa from the only motorcycle/scooter dealer in DC (Modern Classics), because they would tell him first thing that in DC a scooter is a motorcycle. The DC DMV guide to what is a motorcycle is pretty clear about this.

A better headline and theme for this article is that DC needs to do more to accommodate the legal parking of scooters in DC, regardless of how they're licensed.

As lack of decent/safe scooter parking is something that DC has done little to address, because you need to lock up a scooter in DC, and with lack of secure scooter parking, many scooterists have no option but to park somewhere they can secure to a signpost or parking meter (which is usually on the sidewalk).

by dcvoterboy on Jul 3, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

LOL. Welcome to my world. DC doesn't do a very good job with motorcycles either. Only after several years did DMV relent and stop issuing "windshield" stickers for motorcycles. Apparently it never occurred to them that there was a whole class of vehicles out there that don't have windshields. The stickers also we're weatherproof. Just recently the "park parallel" provision was taken off the books for motorcycles.

FWIW, I don't think scooters belong on the sidewalk, period, regardless of your parking difficulties. Find a nice quiet place in an alley where you can throw a chain around something solid, like a light pole. That's what I do with my 500-pound BMW. No one's bothered it yet. And use a nondescript cover, i.e., one that doesn't say "Vespa" (or in my case "BMW") on it. And another thing, why don't y'all wave? Motorcycles wave at each other, nearly without exceptionm except those stuck-up Harley riders. ;-) I've given up waving at scooters. They never wave back.

by Paul on Jul 3, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

I agree that one should never be allowed to drive a scooter on a sidewalk. (@Paul)

The safety concerns for scooters are really paramount for me, not that I want to create parking hassles and other regulatory burdens for scooter owners. I regularly see scooter drivers run red lights, ride between traffic lanes, etc., but with much greater mass and acceleration than bikes (i.e., much greater potential to cause injury)

And I don't know the pollution facts, but anecdotally they seem to create a lot of emissions for such a small machine.

by tim h on Jul 3, 2012 3:00 pm • linkreport

I'm with you guys on this right up to the part where scooters ride in bike lanes. That I'm not so good with.

by Crickey7 on Jul 3, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

Yes, I don't care what you call it, a scooter or motorcycle does not belong in the bike lanes.

by MrTinDC on Jul 3, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

@Kevin Diffily: Yes, there are some other advantages of scooters that I didn't mention. But the pollution disadvantages are huge, and the safety differences might be big, too (though harder to measure), so they likely outweigh the parking advantages. On the whole, one can easily argue that we should be pursuing policies designed to discourage scooters, not encourage them.

Just to put some numbers out there: in terms of VOC emissions, a 4-stroke scooter emits about 4 times as much pollution per mile as a car, and a 2-stroke scooter emits more than 20 times as much pollution per mile. For carbon monoxide, the difference is smaller, but a scooter still emits about 3 times as much pollution per mile as a car. Those are big differences.

by Rob on Jul 3, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

If you are scared of your scooter being stolen, park next to a sign/tree/fence and use a chain to lock the scooter to the immovable object.

If you are still too scared of it being stolen, just suck it up and get a real motorcycle or stick to biking/walking.

Now that I know what the definition of a scooter is, I will call the DC non-emergency # and report it as a motorcycle illegally parked on the sidewalk. I hope they don't tow it.

by Dave on Jul 3, 2012 4:40 pm • linkreport

Have been riding my 50cc scooter for years now. I'm a DC resident. I don't have tags and park it all over the place. Put your kickstand lock on and use a kryptonite bike chain. Never once have I been stopped/ticketed/stolen. Don't carry your ID, if you get pulled over, say you live in VA where all of the above are legal. I do lane split (which is legal on an MC) but don't ride in bike lanes because that's lame.

For those who are going to belly ache about the above, suck it. Get yourself a scooter, get 100 mpg and enjoy all the above benefits. Regardless of the laws in DC, because VA and MD have different laws there will never be enforcement.

by CornFieldTransplant on Jul 3, 2012 7:22 pm • linkreport

@CornFieldTransplant: I'm not going to "suck it". Lying is crappy and immoral.

by mch on Jul 3, 2012 8:34 pm • linkreport

@dcvoterboy You are correct. It was Wellesley at Modern Classics who informed me that my Vespa is classified as a motorcycle. I studied the chart carefully on my own but was apparently measuring my tires incorrectly. I measured the entire tire, which was about 16 inches (and thus passed the requirement for a motorized bicycle), rather than the wheel rims.

@ tim h I have never seen a scooter run a red light, and would never do so. If I did, I would expect to be pulled over. I've always operated under the assumption that scooters are subject to the same driving laws as cars...unlike bicycles.

I also have rarely ever seen scooters drive on sidewalks....though the man who is perhaps D.C.'s most well-known scooter drive, Tucker Carlson, readily admits to doing so in this article:

by Jeremy Barr on Jul 3, 2012 11:24 pm • linkreport

DC needs to do more to accommodate the legal parking of scooters in DC, regardless of how they're licensed.

Shout that from the rooftops.

We discussed the issue of scooters/bikes at a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting (and electric bikes, which is a whole other can of worms). For parking we decided that we really didn't care if they parked at bike racks. We just need a lot more bike racks. But we don't think they should be riding in the bike lane.

by David C on Jul 4, 2012 12:09 am • linkreport

Be careful if you are a DC scooter owner, while they are treated like bicycles for the parking/operation you do need plates. If you dont have plates then you can be arrested for operating an unregistered vehicle. If on the other hand you are a MD resident, the MD MVA does not issue plates for anything under 50cc. I get stopped about once a month and have to show my MD license. The 4th District seems to be heaviest in its enforcement

Warning PDF

Use of the bike lanes is an excellent perk for scooters, I just am considerate about it and dont attempt to pass bicyclists when Im using them.

by ons-star on Jul 4, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

@CornFieldTransplant Lane splitting is illegal in DC [and everywhere else in the US except California]

@ons-star riding your scooter [motorcycle under DC law] in the bike lane isn't a 'perk', it's illegal.

regardless of registration requirements, are all these scooter riders [who are actually riding motorcycles, under DC law] also operating them without a motorcycle endorsements on their licenses? I believe this is an arrestable offense in DC, though so is operating an unregistered vehicle, which many folks seem to be OK doing.

by ontarioroader on Jul 4, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

dcvoterboy. There is a scooter sales outlet called Best Scooters I think, on Rhode Island Ave. NE, a couple blocks from the DC-Maryland line. They've been there for many years, at least 6 years that I know of. (Unless you meant "the only Vespa dealer".)

by Richard Layman on Jul 4, 2012 8:43 pm • linkreport

@Paul - They still issue reciprocal parking permit stickers using the same windshield format for cars. I asked for the same sticker they use for DC motorcycles and said they can't do it.

An even greater concern should be the large number of helmetless riders/passengers riding mopeds (i.e., "motorcycles" according to DC law) at high speeds through the District.

by Randolpho on Jul 4, 2012 8:56 pm • linkreport

I think it'd make sense for DC to put motorcycle/moped locking posts at the end of many blocks in the most dense neighborhoods. Not only would this prevent cars from illegally parking and blocking sight-lines at corners it would provide some measures to limit theft.
the DMV knows the address of where the bikes are registered - so it should be fairly easy to decide which blocks need locking posts the most.

by andy(2) on Jul 5, 2012 8:41 am • linkreport

I've had scooters, bicycles, and motorcycles. I have friends that have motorcycles but keep scooters for going to work because they can park on the sidewalk. Everyone I know with scooters velcro their license plate on and take it off when they park. Makes it harder for the meter maids to give tickets if there is no plate.

Motorcycles get stolen a lot too. I've known at least a dozen that have had their motorcycle stolen. Theft is not a justification for sidewalk parking.

I think there should be more motorcycle/scooter parking zones throughout the city. That is the solution. And equip them with lockable devices. Motorcyclists as well as scooters want to be able to lock their bikes up.

Classifying scooters as motorized bicycles is bad because if you are on a scooter, you need to be required to have a motorcycle license. The way you ride a scooter in traffic has more in common with a motorcycle than a bicycle and not being licensed/trained is a bad idea.

Scooters and motorycles should be encouraged. They relieve congestion and bridge a critical gap between cars and bicycles. Providing proper parking is key to this.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

The only major survey conducted on motorcycle crashes found than most crashes occurred at <30mph. So don't think just because you have a scooter you have less chance of death or injury. Physics doesn't change by vehicle classification. Also, I see scooterists engaging in more questionably unsafe behaviors than most motorcyclists. Carelessly filtering between cars is one. Stopping squarely behind a car, inches off the rear bumper is also a big no-no. You have nowhere to go when the car behind you can't stop. You're a sitting duck. I also see most scooter riders are woefully deficient in terms of riding gear--most are in street clothes and ordinary shoes. Clothing that will disintegrate the instant you hit the pavement. Ordinary shoes fly off, leaving the feet exposed. Road rash and broken bones (especially the small bones of the hands and feet) can result from even the most innocuous spill. Don't feel immune to the physical laws just because you sit behind some bodywork.

I say this as a motorcyclist who uses his motorcycle as his "daily driver" and Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor of ten years.

by Phil on Jul 5, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport


I agree. Also, having ridden scooters, they are much, much less stable than motorcycles. When you hit a pothole or bump, they bounce around all over the place. This is due to the small wheels and light weight. I agree on the lack of gear. I scooterists wearing nothing more than a skirt or shorts and tshirt most of the time. I can't think of once where I saw a scooterist wearing an armored jacket.

As far as stopping inches off the bumper of a car and careless filtering, that supports my argument that scooterists should be required to go through the same training and licensing as motorcycles.

The issue that GGW brings up is regarding parking and encouraging motorized transport on something that takes up less room than a car. Why not solve the problem directly by providing secure parking? Reclassifying scooters as bicycles and minimizing the already minimal regulations surrounding scooters is not the answer.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

How do private parking garages treat scooters? I asked at my building and they said you have to pay the same as a car for monthly or daily parking. This makes no sense since they provide free bicycle parking and that you can probably park 4 or 5 scooters in a single car/pickup/SUV space.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jul 5, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport


I agree. Loosening the already minimal standards is not the answer. I teach in the rider safety course in VA, and several sites around the state offer instruction on scooters, but none of them in Northern Va do to my knowledge. Since the risks are higher, motorcycles and scooters demand a higher skill level on the part of their operators than cars. One of things we focus on in the course is the level of risk acceptance. People have a vague notion that riding a motorcycle is "scary"--but we help them realize where the risks really lie, and the kinds of skills that need to be developed to lower those risks. Scooter riders are more than welcome to come take our course--they will have to master use of the clutch and the different braking controls, but the concepts are the same. If they pass, the students will receive a license riding-test waiver that's good in Va and DC.

by Phil on Jul 5, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

If you have a scooter in DC you have to have a motorcycle cert to ride one. Getting a motorcycle cert is not hard. So yes, people who have them already are required to go through the same training and licensing as motorcycles. If that is not being enforced, then your issue is with MPD.

Splitting lanes on a motorcycle or scooter is foolish, you have little reaction time and either is harder to maneuver than a bicycle. And I don't often see people doing it in the city.

As for the full leathers argument, I only see this kind of hand-wringing about it in the USA and not in countries across the world where all kinds of people ride scooters in cities. I can easily ride my bicycle at 18-20MPH on city streets, and on a scooter I'm not going much faster (city speed limit is 25). I don't think people expect me to wear a crash-proof getup (beyond a helmet) on my bicycle so what's the difference when I'm in the same exact traffic?

by MLD on Jul 5, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

@Ward 1 Guy,

Most parking garages don't allow motorcycles/scooters. This should be changed as well. And since motorcycles/scooters don't take up as much space, parking should be cheaper than a car.

The city has some metered motorcycle parking areas throughout the city. We need more. And the fees for the meters should be cheaper than a car since the bikes take up less space. You can fit 4 motorcycles in a car space, so the cost for parking a bike should be 1/4th that of a car.

By providing proper parking, more people will be inclined to ride a motorcycle downtown. Provide a steel ring that one can attach a lock to as well. With more people on motorcycles and out of cars, this reduces congestion for everyone.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport


To answer your question about what's the difference between gear and no gear? If you have armored gear, you don't get road rash. If you're wearing shorts and a tshirt, you do. Personally, I don't like road rash so I wear gear. It doesn't matter how you get to 25mph, whether it be a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle. When you hit the ground, it's gonna feel the same.

Bicyclists don't wear armored leathers because due its more physical nature, leathers would be uncomfortable. Given a choice of 25mph on a scooter/motorcycle with armored gear and 25mph on a bicycle in spandex or a tshirt, I will take my armor, thank you.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 12:46 pm • linkreport

My only problem with the suggestion is the way it is often presented is "wear leathers or you will die," this is how I see it presented by Phil. Many people find leathers impractical/uncomfortable for scooting around town in the same way you say about bicycle riders. So they choose not to wear them, in the same way that I choose not to wear my cycling spandex when I'm riding my bike down to meet friends at the bar.

Blanket statements like Phil's are unhelpful:

I also see most scooter riders are woefully deficient in terms of riding gear--most are in street clothes and ordinary shoes. Clothing that will disintegrate the instant you hit the pavement. Ordinary shoes fly off, leaving the feet exposed. Road rash and broken bones (especially the small bones of the hands and feet) can result from even the most innocuous spill. Don't feel immune to the physical laws just because you sit behind some bodywork.

by MLD on Jul 5, 2012 1:06 pm • linkreport


I would suggest you're the one making "blanket statements." I said nothing about wearing "full leathers" or that you would "die" if you didn't. Appropriate dress can prevent or minimize injury, discomfort, multiple visits to doctors, time off work for recovery, etc. I would recommend a jacket (there are air mesh models that flow air very well), decent gloves, jeans, sturdy shoes or boots that cover the ankles and won't fly off. Another thing to consider is that bicycles don't weigh 200-500 pounds, carry flammable fluids, and it's no biggie if your bicycle falls on you. In short, I encourage people to wear the gear appropriate for job.

by Phil on Jul 5, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport


That's a valid point. Fortunately, in the world of motorcycle gear, there is more than just leathers. Leather protects the best, but sometimes riding conditions justify less gear, IMO. Motorcycle gear manufacturers have responded with a wide variety of gear.

Personally, my gear choice goes something like this:

Extended periods of highway riding (55mph+), tempertature below 70 = full armored 2 piece leathers.

Extended periods of highway ridiing (55mph+), temperatures above 70 = full armored 2 piece kevlar mesh.

In town riding = armored jeans and armored jacket (leather jacket below 70, mesh jacket above 70).

In town riding, temp below 40 = full leathers (just because the leathers keep me warmer in the winter).

Apart from these variables, I always wear full face helmet, boots, and armored gloves.

In 45,000 miles of riding experience, I've only been in one accident, I hit a slick spot on a back road in WV. No other cars around, I low-sided at about 45mph. I had full leathers on, even though my bike had almost $5000 in damage, I walked away and got a beer without even a scratch. (Fortunately the damage to the bike was all cosmetic and I was able to ride it back to where I was staying.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Bob Fairlane on Jul 5, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

@MLD and Phil,

I agree with Phil in that scooter riders tend to wear less gear. I can't think of the last time I saw a scooter rider with anything more than ordinary street wear. A lot don't even wear helmets.

Add into that the fact that scooters are less stable and don't incorporate the latest technologies, therefore are inherently less safe.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

I'm a long-time vintage scooter rider (since re-located to California). I swear to sunny Jesus that if I ever see another scooter rider riding in a bike lane I will bludgeon them to within an inch of their life. And then I'll burn their scooter.

Why? Last July in DC, on 14th St, I was riding my vintage 225cc Vespa (yes it's faster than yours, yes it's cooler than yours, yes it's faster light to light than most anyone's motorcycle) home from a show. I signal with my left arm that I'm turning right. I look over my right shoulder to check for cyclists since there was a bicycle lane. I go to make my turn when I don't see one.

And then BAM. Some idiot on an illegal 50cc Chinese POS comes flying down the bicycle lane at 35mph and clips me.

Result? My one-off, 90 mph custom 1979 Vespa is wrecked and I end up with a fractured pelvis. Guy on scooter? Leaves.

Look I ride like a jackass. I ride better than you but also like a hooligan, but there are some things I don't do - that's ride on the sidewalk (though I will park on them and remove my plate) and ride in cycle lanes. Anyone who does is a shitbird.

Oh yeah, new Twist and Go scooters are the suck.

by Michael on Jul 5, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

(yes it's faster than yours, yes it's cooler than yours, yes it's faster light to light than most anyone's motorcycle)


Seriously that sucks about your loss though.

by brookland_rez on Jul 5, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

I've owned a Vespa PX 150 (150 CCs) and have owned several other Vespas in the District since 2000. 50CC scooter owners need to man up, and get their scooters insured and registered. End of story. Insurance is cheap (as low as $50 a year), registration's easy, and the road test in DC is crazy easy.

Theft isn't a problem if your scooter's insured. Stolen? Insurance gets you a new one. More importantly, insurance is key if you get into an accident (judging by the scrapes on the sides of most parked scoots in DC, this is most of you), or if a scooter hits a pedestrian.

What I've noticed is that unlicensed scooterists have a tendency to break a lot of laws. Splitting lanes, not riding in a staggered single file, not wearing a helmet, failing to yield to pedestrians, riding on the sidewalk, etc. Frankly, I see this is a common issue with most bicyclists. There's simply no motivation to follow the law when everyone's breaking it.

Just like scooters, bikes should be registered and insured as well. DC's becoming a more bike reliant city, meaning more accidents and thefts as time goes on. In Europe, where bikes and scooters are commonplace, most cities require 100% registration for both. It tends to cut down on accidents, theft and scofflaw riders.

With the funds from registrations, the city could fund more bike lanes and set up more scooter/motorcycle parking on the street, where they belong. They can also ramp up enforcement, which would get everyone into line.

by EP Sato on Jul 5, 2012 7:10 pm • linkreport

This article is very timely for me personally, as I've been thinking about getting a scooter since it's too hot to bike to work. But I've been confused by the fact that DC laws are very clear (must be licensed, no parking on sidewalks) and yet unlicensed, sidewalk-parked scooters are everywhere. I was reluctant to pay $1,500 and up for something I might not be able to park on the sidewalk, and my internet research has revealed that on rare occasion, the cops will impound a scooter without proper tags, and will arrest riders without motorcycle endorsements on their licenses, so I am still on the fence.

I have no doubt that liberalization of scooter laws would benefit me. But if you think scooters are a public good overall, you haven't spent time in an Asian megacity like Jakarta, and seen how bad traffic can get when a choking snarl of cars is augmented by a choking, smog-spewing, noisy snarl of scooters squeezed into every inch of space between lanes.

In general, I think it's likely that most scooters would replace mass transit and bicycles, rather than people trading down from cars. So no, that's not a public good.

by I'm a Prospective Scooter Owner on Jul 5, 2012 10:03 pm • linkreport

Just like scooters, bikes should be registered and insured as well. DC's becoming a more bike reliant city, meaning more accidents and thefts as time goes on. In Europe, where bikes and scooters are commonplace, most cities require 100% registration for both. It tends to cut down on accidents, theft and scofflaw riders.

It cuts down on thefts only if the police actually does something with the registration information - which hasn't been the case over here. It really takes a national effort - which is what the Dutch do. It does no good for DC to be aggressive about registration if bike thieves just sell the bikes in Baltimore or Philly. Registration is a tiny part of a massive national effort to reduce bike theft. Nonetheless nearly 700,000 bikes are stolen every year in the Netherlands.

But how does registration - which in Holland involves a bar code and a hidden security dhip on your bike - cut down on accidents or scofflaw cycling? I don't follow that at all.

by David C on Jul 5, 2012 10:36 pm • linkreport

The Netherlands has a "bike registry" - in that when a bike is sold information is taken down and there is a chip in the bike as well I believe. This is so it can be recovered when it is stolen - I'm not sure how it would affect "scofflaw cycling." Is there a charge for it? I don't believe so.

Also we have bike registries here in the USA, they are basically pointless because the cops don't bother to deal with bike theft at all.

Is there licensing for bicycles in the Netherlands? I do not believe so but I bet Jasper would know!

Bottom line: we already have 100% scooter registration, if you have a scooter in DC it is supposed to be registered! If people aren't doing it then your issue is with MPD not "we need this policy (that already exists), oh and bikes should be burdened with this as well."

What I've noticed is that unlicensed scooterists have a tendency to break a lot of laws. Splitting lanes, not riding in a staggered single file, not wearing a helmet, failing to yield to pedestrians, riding on the sidewalk, etc. Frankly, I see this is a common issue with most bicyclists. There's simply no motivation to follow the law when everyone's breaking it.

What I've noticed is that everyone on the road has a tendency to break a lot of laws. Right on red without stopping, not yielding to pedestrians, driving too fast, etc. And perhaps we should start enforcement with the people whose vehicles can cause the most damage? I think that puts bicyclists as the least of our concerns.

Again, there's always hand-wringing about this and that little group (people on scooters, people on bicycles) breaking the law and endangering people. Yet dozens of pedestrians are killed in this metro area every year by cars, and you could probably count the number killed by scooters/bicycles each year on one hand. So why do people in these minority groups shoot themselves in the foot by arguing that the "scofflaw" members among them are the problem?

by MLD on Jul 6, 2012 8:17 am • linkreport


Scooters are legal in the bike lanes according to the DC DMV

18 DCMR §§ 1201.17 and 1209.

by one-star on Jul 6, 2012 8:29 am • linkreport


The DC definition of "scooter/motorized bicycle" makes what most people consider a scooter to legally be a motorcycle.

Your two wheeled vehicle is a motorcycle if it has/does ANY of the following:
- wheels under 16 inches in diameter
- an engine greater than 50 cc
- the ability to travel in excess of 35 mph on level ground
- more than 1½ brake horsepower
- a manual transmission

Because of #3 and #4 most things you would consider a "scooter" (vespa-style sit up 50cc bikes) are motorcycles under DC law. So they cannot ride in bike lanes.

by MLD on Jul 6, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

I disagree with you completely on this. Scooters, mopeds, and all other motorized bicycles should be treated as motorcycles. The driver should be licensed and required to wear a helmet and the vehicle should be registered, parked on the street and be required to follow all traffic rules that apply to automobiles. Being a motorized vehicle means that it accelerates more quickly, goes faster and takes longer to stop than a bicycle. The current classification creates an environment wear owners feel they can ignore the rules of the road. I have seen scooters both run red lights and lane split.

The sidewalks are small enough in DC, scooters shouldn't be allowed to park on them. I would agree other that have said more designated motorcycle/scooter parking should be added throughout the city should be considered. Afraid of theft? Try disc locks, insurance and lojack.

Ignorance of the specification for a motorized bicycle versus a motorcycle is no excuse for violating the law.

Also, for those of you that affix your tags with velcro, I am perfectly fine with your scooter having a large orange "Tow Immediately" sticker affixed and being towed and would like to see parking enforcement do more of it.

BTW, I am a DC Resident and motocyclist who parks his motorcycle on the street 24/7.

by Dan on Jul 6, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

A Honda Ruckus meets all of those criterion
As does the Metropolitan and the Vino
I cant speak to the 2 stroke cheap Chinese imports though--you get more torque and a higher RPM off a 2 stroke engine but they burn out much sooner

See you in the bike lanes

by one-star on Jul 6, 2012 11:16 pm • linkreport


Those bikes have more than 1.5HP, go faster than 35 (barely) AND have wheels under 16 inches.

That means they are motorcycles. Any one of those criteria means it's a motorcycle.

That means you can't ride them in the bike lanes.

by MLD on Jul 7, 2012 2:05 pm • linkreport

Why all the ink? Scooters are motorcycles in DC. Get it registered, get licensed, insured and geared up and enjoy your ride. Obey the law; scoot safely. Done and done. Stay off the bike paths. It's not for us scooter-ers. I live in Virginia and commute to work daily into DC via bicycle. Then I scooter in once a week, usually Fridays when the cities empties of half it's flex-time workers. Ideal for scooting in and out.

But this business about parking? Er, it depends. Carry a big kryponite lock, for your own scooter's security. But parking on the sidewalk? Er, well, sure, I've never done it but I still feel shame because it is one of the perks I envisioned in owning a scooter. I park free at work, but after hours, parking's in no-man's land areas downtown on the street; between cars, at the end of the block, in those neat bulging curb things where no car can park. Parking's a public welfare sort of issue, isn't it? For that you have to beat up your local representatives to force the change. Face it, we're in an energy crunch and the scooter set has seen the signs of the times. Let's get on board to advocate for the kinds of changes we want to see. Don't just gripe. Agitate and vote.

by Scooter commuter on Jul 7, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

I live in a different state where there are different classifications and regulations for motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles so this article (and the debate) is interesting. My 49cc 2103 Honda Metropolitan scooter is considered a moped here but still sits in a gray area when it comes to where I'm allowed to ride. The law only says riders must have a Class C or higher driver license to drive a moped or motorized bicycle on a public street. I stay out of the bike lanes and drive on the street because I'm going too fast in the bike lane and will be more visible on the road (drivers of cars tend to not look in bike lanes for traffic).

I imagine when scooters (mopeds) are involved in collision accidents - things are even grayer. I guess it would be treated as if the person on a scooter is on a bicycle? Does anyone have any insight?

by DPC on Jul 9, 2012 7:11 pm • linkreport

I was surprised today, after just registering my Vespa LX 50 this week, to find a $100 ticket after parking on K street near Wisconsin Ave, at a very vacant designated bike rack which was not obstructing a sidewalk. What a shock. It was locked up with a very heavy chain in an area I consider vulnerable to theft. I wish almost, that I hadn't registered it!

by Gina on Jul 16, 2014 12:18 am • linkreport

Gina, the same thing happened to me this past Mon. I have been parking my Kymco Like 200i in the same spot since mid April. I hook it up to a bike rack, but my chain is long enough so bikes can be locked up to next to it. I came out of work and saw the $100 ticket that was for "P047 - park on sidewalk or area reserved for pedestrians."

I really want to fight the ticket, but don't even know if it will be worth it since it is such a grey area to begin with and I see other scooters within a few blks, from where I parked mine, park on the sidewalk all the time!

by Meghan on Jul 29, 2014 7:30 pm • linkreport

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