- The Washington Times - Monday, August 9, 2004

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The first sign is a screech that rises in intensity to what sounds like a super-size chain saw. Then tiny motorcycles appear, weaving through traffic with their riders crouched perilously close to the pavement.

What just buzzed by was the latest summer rage: “pocket bikes.”

The little machines provide thrills for people who don’t want to shell out big bucks for full-size motorcycles but find that mo-peds and scooters make them yawn. Pocket bikes typically sell for $300 to $600.

But police nationwide say the racers — mostly Chinese imports whose tiny, two-stroke gasoline or electric engines typically can go up to 35 mph — cause trouble because riders are often reckless and don’t obey the law.

“Fortunately, it hasn’t reached the point where people are getting hurt. Not yet,” said Philadelphia police Cpl. Jim Pauley.

In Philadelphia, the little bikes can be driven on private property but are banned on streets and sidewalks. When riders are stopped, their bikes can be confiscated and destroyed if they can’t provide proof of ownership.

That’s if they can be caught.

Riding through North Philadelphia atop his pocket bike, Cesecil Oliver, 26, swerved in and out of traffic and down alleys, the tiny speedster barely visible underneath his 6-foot-1-inch frame.

“I’m going to give them a run for their money if they try to catch me,” said Mr. Oliver, whose souped-up model can exceed 45 mph. “You can get through tight spots. You can move faster. … I’m going to swerve through anything.”

Police say they try not to chase the bikes unless it’s absolutely necessary, because a pursuit could endanger a rider on such a small vehicle. A teenager on a pocket bike was killed last month in New York when police tried to pull him over, authorities said.

“There is no policy that says chase, don’t chase,” said Detective Walter Burns with the New York Police Department. “In midtown Manhattan at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you might not want to chase.”

“We’re not going to be chasing those little bikes through the streets with lights and sirens,” Cpl. Pauley said.

New York police ticket riders if their bikes are not insured or not licensed, Mr. Burns said. To qualify as a legal motor vehicle in New York state, bikes must have mirrors and lights and be registered.

Edwin Schermety, 46, who owns Piloto Auto Sales in North Philadelphia, said he sells about 10 of the tiny bikes a week, surpassing car sales.

“When they say, ‘They’re illegal, don’t sell them,’ that’s when we don’t sell them,” he said.

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