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The US has long been a nation of bike riders, but that’s changing, thanks to the advent of urban bikes, new laws and a growing interest in using them.
Here’s everything you need to know.
READ MORE: What is a “bike”?
A “bike” is an electric vehicle that’s a combination of a bicycle, a motorbike or a scooter.
It can be either a two-wheeled vehicle (such as a scooters), or a three-wheeling vehicle (like a motorcycle or a skateboard).
“I don’t think we’re used to having these terms being used, because it was used so much earlier in the country,” says Rob Schmitz, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of America, which works to promote the safe and responsible use of bicycles.
“The idea of ‘motorized bicycle’ has always been something that was a novelty, a term that didn’t really exist in the early years.
And that was just a very different way to look at it.”
The US government created the federal bicycle program in 1956, and since then, there have been some changes in how we’re going about our riding, he says.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has expanded its definition of what constitutes a motor vehicle, including new safety rules for bicycles.
But while motorized bicycles have gotten a lot more attention, the term “bike”—as used by the federal government—has only really gained traction in recent years.
It’s a relatively new term, and has only come into being in the last few years.
“There’s a lot of confusion,” says Chris O’Brien, director of communications for the National Bicycle Transportation Coalition.
“People are really confused by what the definition of a bike is.
And there’s a huge amount of misinformation out there, because people think that the definition is going to be different in every state.”
So what’s a “Bike”?
There are two types of bikes: those that have been in the United States for decades and are owned by a private company, and those that were designed and manufactured in the 1980s or 1990s, or even earlier.
“If you look at a lot to do with the federal definition of ‘bike,’ it’s very clear,” says Schmitk.
“They’re not necessarily motorized bikes, but they’re all these two-wheeler vehicles.
They’re all the same shape, they’re the same height, they’ve all got the same basic components, but the difference between these two types is that they’ve got wheels, so you have to have a rider in order to ride them.””
There are a number of definitions that are used in the federal definitions,” he adds.
“But generally, the federal bike definition is a motorized bike, a two or three-wheeled vehicle, with a minimum range of 200 miles.
And those are the only ones that are defined as bicycles.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration defines a bicycle as: “a bicycle propelled by an electric motor which has no more than four wheels and that is designed to carry one rider or two or more people on a single axle, but does not include any device which is designed primarily for the use of one or more persons.”
“But they’re still bikes,” says O’Briens.
“It’s still a motorised bike.”
Motorcycles are a popular choice for people who want to ride a “bicycle”, but there are a lot fewer bikes than scooters, he adds, and they’re often not even registered.
“The National Transportation Safety Board defines scooters as a motor-driven vehicle, or a motorcycle, which has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of at least 27,500 pounds or less, unless it is specifically registered as a bicycle,” says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is responsible for overseeing the registration of vehicles in the U.S.
Motorcycles can be owned by private companies, like private hire companies, and even for-profit companies like Uber and Lyft.
But there’s also a lot less regulation around them than scooter, motorbike, and pedal-powered bikes, which are regulated under federal motor vehicle safety laws, Schmitl says.
“There’s no national law for motor vehicles, and there’s no federal law for motorcycles,” he says, adding that there are currently only five states that have bike laws: California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
There’s also more confusion about which states have bike-friendly laws than there are around motor vehicles.
In the United Kingdom, there are no “rules” or “federal laws” around scooters or bicycles, and “there’s no official definition of bikes or scooters,” says Kevin Haggarty, director at the British Cycling Association.
“You can’t really put a number on it,” he explains.
“A lot of it’s just common