lunes, 27 de agosto de 2012

Is a Bicycle With a Motor Still a Bicycle?

Motorized bicycles, called ciclomotores, for sale in central Bogotá.
They're noisy, highly polluting, fast and dangerous - just about everything a bicycle is not. So, can they be called bicycles?

Take a bike, add a motor, and you get a motorbike.
The proliferation of bicycles equipped with 50-cc motors, called ciclomotores, is causing controversy here, and for good reason. These light motorbikes cause lots of pollution, since their loud and dirty two-stroke engines have no emission controls. They're also faster and heavier than normal bikes. And they're just plain unpleasant to be around, especially when you're stuck behind one choking on its fumes.

But their users insist on calling them bicycles, and taking advantage of the privileges of using a bicycle, such as riding in bike lanes, in the National University, and sometimes even on La Ciclovia.

Today, as salesman told me that these ciclomotores start at 850,000 pesos (about $500), or that he could equip my own bike with a motor for 550,000 pesos. They can do 40 kilometers per hour and cover 90 kms on their half-gallon gas tank. There were selling "quite well," he said happily, and gave me his card.

A motorized bicycle on the campus of the National University,
where this guy wouldn't have been able to enter on a
regular motorcycle.
Perhaps these vehicles can play a role in the city, at least for people who can't pedal a bike for some reason. But they should be equipped with basic emissions and noise controls. And, most of all, they should be with other motorized vehicles, since that's what they are.

These things violate all of bicycling's positives: they're dirty, noisy and generally unpleasant and don't do their riders' health any good, since I've almost never seen anybody pedal one. But, they're much cheaper than regular motorcycles and battery-powered bicycles.

A proud motorized bicycle rider.
He zoomed away with a trail of fumes.
City officials say that these things fall into a legal vaccuum, since the laws covering motorcycles are written to apply to vehicles with machines larger than 50 ccs. That's why they can't be legally excluded from bike lanes, sidewalks, or La Ciclovia, which is supposed to be all about health and exercise. Fortunately, however, I have seen the Ciclovia's 'guardianes' applying good sense by telling these motorized monsters to either shut off their motors or leave La Ciclovia. Naturally, adverse as they are to pedaling, they leave La Ciclovia.

Ironically, Bogotá has recently tried to phase out two-stroke engines, which are highly polluting. Unfortunately, the city backed off of this policy in the face of protests by motorcyclists, and now these ciclomotores are making the problem worse.

Do I look like a bicyclist?
Safety's another issue. Imagine pedaling along in a bike lane, feeling protected from vehicle traffic, only to have a motorized bicycle roar past you at 40 kmh and leave you gasping its fumes?

Adding insult to injury, I'm worried that these monsters will discourage riders of real bikes, by making life in Bogotá's bike lanes dangerous and unpleasant.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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