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What counts as a motorcycle?

Not all powered vehicles on two or three wheels count as motorcycles under the law. In fact, many states have clear definitions of what constitutes a motorcycle. In California, for instance, a motorcycle is defined as “a vehicle whose motor displaces more than 150 cubic centimeters and has a seat or saddle for the use of the rider. It is designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground and weighs less than 1,500 pounds,” according to the California Highway Patrol. States may have additional, clearly-defined legal descriptions of other motor-driven cycles, such as mopeds and motorized bicycles. Owners of vehicles such as dirt bikes, mopeds, and electric bicycles should take the time to learn their state’s laws governing their mode of transportation to learn if and how those vehicles are to be registered, and whether minimum liability coverage is required in their state.

Motorcycles have the same rights and privileges as any other vehicle on the roadway, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and meet all state requirements for a street legal motorcycle. Drivers generally must have special endorsements on their driver’s licenses to operate a motorcycle. Off-road motorcycles do not typically count as street legal motorcycles under the law because they are meant to be used off of public streets and highways. However, in some states, such as Washington, motorcycles that were manufactured for off-road use can be made street legal by making additions such as approved head lamps, tail lamps, stop lamps, reflectors, brakes, mirrors, horns, and other required add-ons, according to the Washington State Department of Licensing. Off-road motorcycles often have different registration requirements than on-road motorcycles.

Many types of small, powered vehicles, such as pocket bikes, mini-choppers, and mini-motorcycles are not considered street legal in many states. For instance, in Oregon, these vehicles, as well as go-karts, ATV’s, and similar vehicles, cannot be driven on public roads, according to the Oregon DMV.

Check for Exemptions

Your particular powered vehicle may be exempt from state requirements for titling, registering, and even insuring vehicles. For instance, in Oregon, mopeds must be titled and registered, but motor-assisted scooters, electric-assisted bicycles, and personal mobility devices are exempt from the requirement to title and register the vehicle, the Oregon DMV notes. In California, an approved electric-motored bicycle is exempt from requirements for financial responsibility, driver’s licensing, registration, and license plates, and is not considered a motor vehicle, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Other states have similar exemptions for electric-powered bicycles.