Bicycle or Moped?

Question

Jim asked: Please look at the www.OrganicTransit.com website. They have a new enclosed bike that I’m extremely interested in buying for shipment to my permanent home in Zephyrhills. I’m 62 and think it’s time to switch to a three-wheeler to avoid balance issues. The bike will cost $7,500 so I must be sure I will not be having legal headaches as I use it for all transportation needs. I prefer to take advantage of sidewalks in dangerous traffic areas. I have a Florida driver’s license.

Answer

This is the definition of “bicycle” in the statutes.

s. 316.003Definitions

(2) Bicycle – Every vehicle propelled solely by human power, and every motorized bicycle propelled by a combination of human power and an electric helper motor capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of not more than 20 miles per hour on level ground upon which any person may ride, having two tandem wheels, and including any device generally recognized as a bicycle though equipped with two front or two rear wheels. The term does not include such a vehicle with a seat height of no more than 25 inches from the ground when the seat is adjusted to its highest position or a scooter or similar device. No person under the age of 16 may operate or ride upon a motorized bicycle.

It seems the manufacturer has been careful to meet the Federal definition, but cautions that various states have different definitions and includes the disclaimer that the buyer is responsible for insuring the vehicle meets state requirements.

There is one inaccuracy on the site. In the chart, they say the minimum age for operation in FL is 10. See above. There may be other inaccuracies, so you must be sure of what you are buying.

A point you may want to clarify is the maximum speed of the vehicle. The statute says 20 mph max with electric motor and human power. The web site indicates the vehicle “ can travel up to 20 mph on electric power only and up to 30 mph when combined with pedaling”, which is different from the statute.  If it is possible, the inclusion of a speed limiter may solve that problem.

This is a summary of the Motorized Bicycle issue as it relates to driver’s license. Many thanks to attorneys Hussein and Webber in Jacksonville for this information.

Chapter 322, Florida Statutes requires the operator of a “motor vehicle” on a highway of the state to have a valid license. As defined in Chapter 322, “Motor vehicle” is anything that is self-propelled, but does not include bicycles and qualifying “motorized bicycles.” As defined in Section 316.003, “Motorized bicycle” means that the bicycle is not capable of self-propulsion, but is propelled instead by a combination of human power and an electric helper motor at a speed of not more than 20 miles per hour on level ground.

In interpreting this provision, Florida appellate courts have taken the view that the law means exactly what it says. If it is a vehicle powered by gasoline, it requires a license. If the vehicle is powered exclusively by battery, it requires a license. If the propulsion for the vehicle does not derive from a simultaneous combination human and electric power, then it requires a license. Only those vehicles falling within the narrow exception provided in 316.003 are exempt from the requirement of a driver’s license.

You can see the full article here:

http://www.husseinandwebber.com/case-work/criminal-defense-articles/drivers-license-requirements-motorized-bicycles/

Since you have a valid driver’s license, the question is the type of vehicle this might be under DMV registration.

If the vehicle is not a “bicycle”, it may be that the vehicle would meet the definition of  “moped”, which would require a driver’s license and registration, but not a title, and be legal on the roads.  The traffic law requirements are similar to a bicycle.

See this post for more on mopeds:

http://flbikelaw.org/2011/06/mopeds-3/

You can either make your own determination using the definition of bicycle or moped in the statutes or preferably, go directly to the DMV and insure the vehicle meets the standards to be classified as a bicycle or moped.

You should note also that operating the vehicle under power other than entirely human power while on a sidewalk or bike path is not lawful.

http://flbikelaw.org/2014/02/bicycles-on-the-sidewalk-2/

Even if you have the full clearance from the statutes and the DMV about your vehicle meeting the bicycle definition, we cannot insure you will not have legal hassles. One reader who drives an enclosed “velobike” having two wheels and being fully human powered has been cited 8 times for not keeping right and was successful in having all of the citations dismissed using the information on this site.

In addition to your vehicle classification, the usual misunderstandings we encounter with law enforcement are the questions of impeding traffic and not keeping far enough to the right. To prepare for such incidents, we recommend having documentation about the vehicle classification and being thoroughly familiar with the laws shown on this site, particularly those related to impeding traffic and lane sharing.

If you determine that this is a legal vehicle, before using it on the roadway or sidewalk, you may want to take the information and vehicle to the local police department and inform them that they will be seeing you and ask them to alert their officers about the laws and your rights.

14 comments on “Bicycle or Moped?
  1. fred_dot_u says:

    I would suggest that Geo’s interpretation of the statute may be incorrect, specifically this portion:
    “propelled by a combination of human power and an electric helper motor capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of not more than 20 miles per hour on level ground”

    The segments should be taken individually, not as a whole, that is to say, “an electric helper motor capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of not more than 20 miles per hour on level ground” means that the motor alone should not propel the vehicle faster than 20 mph on level ground.

    Many overpowered e-assist systems will easily reach speeds in excess of 20 mph on level ground, without human power added. The legal ones will not exceed 20 mph under motor power only, but most or all can exceed 20 mph with human assistance.

    The ELF is not an overpowered e-assist and is aerodynamically inefficient, but economical as a commuter vehicle.

    During my experience as an e-assist cyclist, I researched the statutes of various states and often discovered court cases specific to this topic. One would hope that the original poster does not have to experience a citation, but it is likely that the ELF falls into the Florida statutes for an e-assist bicycle, in my opinion.

    I would not suggest to ask law enforcement of an opinion of this question, however, I would consider to ask an attorney well versed in traffic statutes or legal interpretation. The grammar of a statute can make the difference, especially in this example. I would not suggest to consult the DMV in this situation either.

    My velomobile is three wheels, but I agree that this site is helpful in getting my citations dismissed.

    It is unlikely that the ELF can be registered as a moped. The DMV requires manufacturers’ to provide appropriate documentation to the state in order for a product to be registered by an owner as a moped. I researched this aspect of assisted vehicles as well and found it an impossibility in Florida. I would not be surprised to discover that the requirements placed on a manufacturer to create a moped would be burdensome and expensive.

    If Jim is going to purchase an ELF, he should avail himself of a Cycling Savvy bicycling safety course to learn safe on-road operation. Operation of an ELF in e-assist mode is not permitted on sidewalks or bike trails, but is permitted on bike lanes, although the ELF is not a good candidate for operation in a bike lane due to its width.

    Jim, there is a recumbent forum known as Bent Rider Online:
    http://www.bentrideronline.com/messageboard/index.php
    containing at least one and possibly more than one owner of the ELF, as well as many e-assist owners. I’m a regular there and would be happy to discuss your interest in your vehicle selection.

  2. Geo says:

    Fred,
    I see what you are saying. ” …. propelled by a combination of human power and an electric helper motor (which is) capable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of not more than 20 miles per hour.” Maybe that is the case. Lacking the “which is” in the statute, I don’t claim to know which is correct.
    The statement by the attorney, “If the propulsion for the vehicle does not derive from a simultaneous combination human and electric power, then it requires a license”,
    apparently is derived from case law and seems to imply that the combination of the motor and human power must always be in place if a driver’s license is not required. Is that true for vehicle type?
    Making that distinction is beyond the scope of this site since we don’t give legal advice. We simply quote the statutes, try to explain the bicycling implications and let the readers make their own decisions. My caution to Jim is to insure he knows which is correct and takes the necessary steps to be certain before spending $7500.

  3. fred_dot_u says:

    The combination of motor and human power must always be in place, but it is not a requirement that both be in operation simultaneously to qualify as not requiring a drivers license. The vehicle aspect gets more confusing if one expands the human power portion only slightly. In Florida, a four-wheeled human powered vehicle is not a bicycle and is legal to operate, as human powered vehicles are permitted to use the road per the wording of the statute, but put an e-assist on the four-wheeler and it is not lawful. Four wheels = not a bicycle (max 3) and four wheels+e-assist = not legal vehicle for FL roads.

    I’ve long recognized that this site does not provide legal advice, a wise direction, of course. That’s also why I suggested that Jim consult with a traffic-savvy attorney regarding the grammar. I think he’ll discover that it’s legal, especially with the lower performance of the ELF.

    I’m more concerned that Jim wants to ride on the sidewalks, which is far more dangerous for him and for others, hence my suggestion to find a Cycling Savvy course. I hope he does that.

    • Specialx says:

      Saying the word simultaneous(ly) is implied when using the word combination is a lesson in futility.

      I can state one very easy argument against that…

      A traffic light has a combination of a red light, yellow light and a green light.
      Trying to imply that the word combination means simultaneously is where you can see that, that argument would be rendered useless.

      P.S. The word combination is a noun and simultaneous is an adjective… Different word types (nouns and adjectives) are not interchangeable in the English language.
      (Since there is no “legal term” describing “combination” within that section(s) of the chapter, they MUST use “common english”. – non legalese usage)

      • fred_dot_u says:

        I like that observation. Certainly a traffic light is a combination of three colors and certainly they are not operated simultaneously, under normal conditions. This bodes well for Jim if pressed into a court argument.

  4. Specialx says:

    I sent an email to that law office to find out what court cases that they’re using to support the argument that the words combination and simultaneously mean the same thing.

    As I keep up to date on all court cases regarding electric bicycles and I have never seen any come up in the past five years I am curious as to where they got their information”

  5. fred_dot_u says:

    One aspect I neglected to mention is the reference to federal “regulations” which has been determined in the past to mean recommendations to manufacturers, not traffic statutes. One can state that a particular e-assist meets federal standards. That statement is meaningless, because it refers to manufacturing, not operation. Some states use the federal guidelines and create statutes to match, some do not. Each state is its own challenge to interpret!

  6. Specialx says:

    I have contacted that law office.
    They could only offer their opinions.
    They have no court cases (or none that they wanted to “share” with me) at any level that argue the facts/terminology of the words “simultaneous” and combination within the statute.

    They are expressing an “opinion”.
    They are INFERRING that the word “simultaneous(ly)” is implied.
    AGAIN there are NO court cases at the local OR appellate level that I can find that “support” the inclusion or implication of the word “simultaneous(ly)” within the statute. (316.003)
    There MAY be, but I couldn’t find any.
    If anyone can find one, I would be very appreciative.

    I know this site doesn’t normally involve “legal implications”, BUT….

    If anyone who is involved in this site, is a law enforcement officer, they can write a letter to the state’s AG office asking for their opinion of the statute in question.
    (By state law, the general population {i.e. Non-LEOs} can NOT ask the “opin” of the AG’s office).

  7. fred_dot_u says:

    This is a perfect example of where semantics determines the decision. Laws should not be so vague as to be determined in this manner. My side of the argument in a case such as this is that the word “and” combines human power and electric helper motor. The text after that determines the maximum permissible power allowed for the motor. If that is not an accurate assessment, the statute becomes meaningless, in my opinion.

    It’s absurd to consider that the vehicle is a bicycle without the motor and that adding the motor, which will not reach 20 mph unassisted makes the vehicle not a bicycle, under the wording of the statute. I can exceed 20 mph in my velomobile without an electric assist, does that make my vehicle not-a-bicycle? Forty one traffic stops say it is a bicycle, so it must be.

    The unfortunate result of all this is that Jim may not want to chance a ticket from an uninformed uniformed law enforcement officer, while I would argue until I was blue in the face that I’m not violating a statute.

    A traffic judge would be a good help as a reference. How does one contact directly in an unofficial manner such a person? I know how one contacts one in an official manner and do not recommend that method.

  8. david says:

    Take it for what it is,a gas powered bicycle that IS illegal to drive on bike path or sidewalk it’s just not a motor vehicle and a license is not required and is not criminal.
    The rs68 makes it as a moped and a d.l. Will be required

  9. fred_dot_u says:

    There may be some miscommunications involved, David. The Organic Transit ELF is not a fuel powered bicycle. It is an electric assist bicycle. As such it is not permitted to operate on bike paths or sidewalks under power assist but is permitted to operate in those locations while operating pedal-only.

    If it had a fuel powered motor or engine, it would be a motor vehicle and subject to registration and licensing appropriate to the vehicle as specified by the manufacturer and state statutes. I don’t understand the reference to rs68.

  10. Geo says:

    David,
    Fred is correct. It is not the classification of the vehicle, registration or license that determines whether it can be used on a sidewalk or bike path. It is the means of propulsion at the time. Any vehicle that is powered only by human power at the time can be used on a bike path or sidewalk. A moped or motorized bicycle or other vehicle may be driven on the sidewalk or bike path if it is entirely powered by human power while there. See this post:
    http://flbikelaw.org/2014/02/bicycles-on-the-sidewalk-2/

  11. david says:

    I totally understand you can not operate on side walk or path unless pedal but a violation of that wouldn’t be criminal only illegal the cubic centimeters has to be 50cc or over to be a motorcycle and to be a motor vehicle it had to have certain frame assembly and safety features to consider it a moped. It is as fs .states a gas powered or motorized,being electric or gas,is illegal to “operate” on sidewalk or path.not requiring a valid dl on the fact that it’s not a motor vehicle, it’s a motorized vehicle if anything other than a motorized bicycle and that is not a motor vehicle

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Bicycle or Moped?"

Leave a Reply