Pocket bikes run off the road

Those pesky low-riding pocket bikes — also known as mini-motorcycles — could come to a screeching halt on the streets of Philadelphia.

A City Council committee voted last Wednesday to ban the sale of mini-motorcycles. Hearings on the proposed ban will begin within the next few weeks.

Seventh District Councilman Rick Mariano — who represents portions of the Northeast, Port Richmond and Juniata — spearheaded a campaign to ban the two-wheel terrors after hearing horror stories from concerned citizens and families of victims.

"These bikes clearly have become a danger to the people who use them and a nuisance to the residents of our city, and we need to do all we can to eliminate them from our streets," said Council President Anna Verna. "They do not belong in our city."

This summer, a North Philly teen died in a pocket-bike crash and, in South Philly, a 15-year-old suffered head trauma when he collided with a car at Broad and Snyder.

And just last week in Southwest Philly, a 25-year-old male was arrested after he allegedly struck a man on a sidewalk and then continued for a couple blocks before almost running down a police officer.

Just like gas-powered scooters and four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, pocket bikes are illegal on public streets. However, enforcement alone has not been fully effective in conquering the sometimes-dangerous neighborhood nuisance.

City attorneys for First District Councilman Frank DiCicco suggested Mariano’s bill could be ruled unconstitutional in the end, DiCicco said. So to safeguard against that, the local councilman has introduced legislation that would not outlaw the bikes but instead make it more difficult for consumers and merchants to buy and sell them.

Verna and Councilman-at-Large Jim Kenney cosponsored the bill that requires those selling pocket bikes to obtain a yearly permit. DiCicco believes a permit will cut down on ad-hoc vendors who sell out of trucks or set up shop on the side of the road.

Under the bill, merchants must give written notification to the purchaser that it is illegal to ride the bikes on the streets, sidewalks and other public property.

The legislation also would hold parents responsible if they purchase bikes for minors by imposing a $300 fine on them for any infraction their youngster incurs while operating the vehicle.

"It is a motor vehicle driven illegally on the streets of Philadelphia and it has to stop," DiCicco said.

Pep Boys, one of the largest purveyors of motorized scooters in the city, stopped selling pocket bikes Sept. 19, said company spokesperson Bill Furtkevic.

The retailer pulled pocket bikes from 11 stores, including two locations in South Philly — 2298 Ritner St. and 1000 S. Columbus Blvd. — said Furtkevic. Suburban Pep Boys stores still carry the bikes, he added.

In Philadelphia, Pep Boys will continue to sell "street-legal transportation items" in stores licensed to sell them — and one of those stores is the Columbus Boulevard location, said Furtkevic.

Some of those legal modes of transportation include all-terrain vehicles, 49cc and larger dirt bikes, stand up scooters, GoKarts, the Q personal transporter and three-wheeled mobility devices, the spokesperson said.

In an August interview, Furtkevic noted that pocket-bike business had been brisk all summer.

But Pep Boys isn’t the only merchant that has turned away mini-bike business. Another vendor that used to sell the bikes under an outdoor canopy at 19th Street and Passyunk Avenue is no longer there.

With pocket bikes becoming harder to find and the Council ban looming, some believe the vehicles’ heyday is over.

The 17th Police District had minor problems with the bikes in the summer, but they have all but disappeared, said Capt. Jerrold Bates. The Third and Fourth districts never experienced a real problem with the bikes to begin with, and the First District logged mostly noise nuisance complaints, according to police.

These days, the bikes are all but nonexistent in the 17th District, Bates said. Police have not recovered any since August, nor has the district received any complaints about noise from them, he added.

"Knock on wood, it was a brief fad that seems to have ended," said Bates, adding that he supports Council’s ban of the two-wheelers.

In the summer, police began cracking down on the bikes after receiving complaints from motorists about the riders. Officers issued citations and confiscated the vehicles.

While police are allowed to confiscate mini-motorcycles and their noisy counterparts, they are prohibited from chasing after them, Bates said. Chasing after the bikes puts the public, police and bike rider at risk, the captain explained.