Massachusetts Motorized Bicycle and “Motorized Scooter” Law — a Mess

Massachusetts law about motorized bicycles is a confused and disorganized mess. I’ll delineate the problems and make recommendations here.

  • the law makes no distinction between electrically-assisted bicycles and ones with gasoline engines;
  • definitions overlap;
  • there are provisions which contradict the general provisions of traffic law, including a prohibition against merging to the left side of the roadway to overtake (thus prohibiting overtaking under many conditions, or requiring overtaking on the right) and a prohibition on riding at night — on motorized vehicles which must have lighting supplied as standard equipment. Every other type of vehicle from a bicycle to a large truck or bus may be used at night, with appropriate lighting equipment.

I found the definitions below in Chapter 90, section 1 of the General Laws. The definition of “motorized scooter” encompasses electrically-assisted bicycles, but it dumps them into the same category as gasoline-powered ones — a big mistake, because an electrically-assisted bicycle does not create a nuisance with noise and pollution when used on paths. The definition of “motorized scooter” overlaps with those of “motorized bicycle” and “motorcycle” even though they claim to be exclusive of one another.

“Motorized bicycle”, a pedal bicycle which has a helper motor, or a non-pedal bicycle which has a motor, with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and which is capable of a maximum speed of no more than thirty miles per hour.

“Motorized scooter”, any 2 wheeled tandem or 3 wheeled device, that has handlebars, designed to be stood or sat upon by the operator, powered by an electric or gas powered motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion. The definition of “motorized scooter” shall not include a motorcycle or motorized bicycle or a 3 wheeled motorized wheelchair.

The following was enacted as Chapter 396 of the Acts of 2004 and is in Chapter 90, section 1E of the General Laws. Boldface is mine.

Section 1E. A motorized scooter shall not be operated on any way by a person not possessing a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, nor at a speed in excess of 20 miles per hour. A person operating a motorized scooter upon a way shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting scooters or bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to all traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the regulations contained in this section, except that: (1) a scooter operator shall keep to the right side of the road at all times, including when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way; and (2) the scooter shall be equipped with operational stop and turn signals so that the operator can keep both hands on the handlebars at all times. No person shall operate a motor scooter upon any way at any time after sunset or before sunrise.

A person operating a motorized scooter shall wear protective headgear conforming with such minimum standards of construction and performance as the registrar may prescribe. No person operating a motorized scooter shall permit any other person to ride as a passenger on the scooter.

Some added definitions on taking another look (also minor edits elsewhere not changing meaning):

“Motor vehicles”, all vehicles constructed and designed for propulsion by power other than muscular power including such vehicles when pulled or towed by another motor vehicle…[exceptions for construction equipment, trackless trolleys etc.]… The definition of “Motor vehicles” shall not include motorized bicycles. In doubtful cases, the registrar may determine whether or not any particular vehicle is a motor vehicle as herein defined. If he determines that it should be so classified, he may require that it be registered under this chapter, but such determination shall not be admissible as evidence in any action at law arising out of the use or operation of such vehicle previous to such determination.

“Motorcycle”, any motor vehicle having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, including any bicycle with a motor or driving wheel attached, except a tractor or a motor vehicle designed for the carrying of golf clubs and not more than four persons, an industrial three-wheel truck, a motor vehicle on which the operator and passenger ride within an enclosed cab, or a motorized bicycle.

Parsing this: A machine with a gasoline motor, with or without pedals, is a motorized bicycle if it has cylinder displacement below 50 cc, maximum speed of 30 mph and an automatic transmission, a motorcycle if above and it has a seat. A motorized scooter is defined as a “device”, not a vehicle, and cannot be a motorized bicycle, and so it must be either a standup scooter (no pedals), or electrically powered, or its engine must be larger than 50 cc., or it has a manual transmission or can go over 30 mph, in which case it is also a motorcycle, and so a motor vehicle, and it is unclear which rules apply. Are you confused yet?

Problems with the motorized scooter section:

    • There is no definition of electrically-assisted bicycle separate from that of a bicycle with a gasoline engine. Definitions of electrically-assisted bicycles generally include a power limitation and a limitation to 20 mph on speed which can be reached under motor power.
    • The Massachusetts law requires a driver’s license for what is essentially a bicycle.
    • The rule requiring keeping to the right side of the road at all times, even when overtaking, is wildly incorrect and dangerous.
    • The law places electric and gasoline-powered vehicles in the same category, allowing both on shared-use paths. Gasoline-powered ones produce fumes and noise inconsistent with the purpose of paths.
    • Prohibiting passengers also is unreasonable, particularly as many electrically-assisted “longtail” bicycles are designed to carry a child passenger.
    • Turn signals make sense on a vehicle with a throttle control on the handlebar, but are unnecessary on an electrically-assisted bicycle where motor power is applied as an enhancement to pedal power: bicyclists use hand signals. A stop signal can be appropriate if the vehicle can be propelled without pedaling. (Some electrically assisted bicycles can/others cannot. A bicyclist’s stopping pedaling serves as a stop signal.)
    • The prohibition on riding between sunset and sunrise is outrageous and does not apply to any other type of vehicle. Any powered vehicle easily incorporates lighting and reflectors.
    • There is no description of the standard which applies for a helmet: such descriptions exist for bicycles, motorized bicycles and motorcycles.

    My recollection is that this bizarre law was rushed through the legislature in response to a fad a few years ago for “mini motorcycles” — vehicles which look like motorcycles but are much smaller — which were being ridden by teenagers. Citing the teenagers for driving without a license, and applying the equipment provisions of law for motorized bicycles, would have addressed this problem in a reasonable way.

    In Chapter 90, Section 1C, we also have

    Section 1C. Motorized bicycles and motorized scooters shall comply with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.

    This would require lighting on any motorized vehicle, and so if lighting is required, what is the sense of banning riding at night?

    A vulnerable road user’s bill introduced in the 2013-2014 session does not cover operators of motorized bicycles, “motorized scooters” (including electrically-assisted bicycles) or motorcycles, though they are as vulnerable as bicyclists, and motorcyclists have a far higher injury and fatality rate.

    House version:

    SECTION 1. Section 1 of chapter 90 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after line [], the following sentence:- ““Vulnerable user” means a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, or non-motorized scooter.”.

    Senate version: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/Senate/S1639

    And latest Senate version as of August 29, 2014:

    “Vulnerable user” means a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, wheelchair, non-motorized scooter, or any non-motorized vehicle, or a person riding a horse.”

    My suggestions for the next session: repeal the motorized scooter section. Add a section for electrically-assisted bicycles, defining power and speed limitation and lighting equipment requirements. Include operators of electrically-assisted bicycles, motorized bicycles and motorcycles in the vulnerable user’s bill.

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45 Responses to Massachusetts Motorized Bicycle and “Motorized Scooter” Law — a Mess

  1. jsallen says:

    See: http://www.massrmv.com/rmv/regs/luv.htm for a definition of “Low Powered Vehicles.” They are allowed only on roads with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour or below, effectively making them useless outside urban areas. The definition does NOT appear in the normal definitions section of the statutes: https://malegislature.gov/…/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Section1 — but is in a separate section, https://malegislature.gov/…/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Section1H . There’s a whole series of amendments to the definitions section in sections 1B-1I and most of them have to do with restricting use further than it is restricted for bicycles. We grandfathered in. One problem with bicycling advocacy these days is that manufacturers, dealers and users of motorized slow and low-powered vehicles are seen as part of the problem rather than as allies in maintaining road rights. The manufacturers and dealers are more than willing to compromise users’ rights in order to sell more product. Sound familiar?

  2. porter says:

    interestingly, the RMV does make a distinction between ‘motorized’ and electric bicycles (see http://www.massrmv.com/rmv/forms/21897.pdf) based upon federal definition of “low speed electric bicycle”: 2 or 3 wheels, fully operable pedals, less than 750Watt electric motor, and no more than 20mph while solely under motor power. So as you say, seems like the thing to would be to clarify things by adding the definition of low speed electric bicycle to chapter 90 section 1, using the same criteria as 15 US Code 2085 (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title15/html/USCODE-2011-title15-chap47-sec2085.htm)

  3. B Cayer says:

    E-Bikes are becoming more and more popular with the boomer set. I feel sorry for the people of Massachusetts that have to comply with these archaic and ridiculous laws. I just purchased a set of E-bikes for my wife and we enjoy being able to get out and ride again. We just learned of these overbearing regulations in that state and changed our plans to bring them up to the Cape next week. We will probably look in a different direction when planning our vacation for next year. For all you brow-beaten E-bikers in Massachusetts good luck getting this mess straightened out. Perhaps when the bean counters up there figure out that they may lose tourist dollars they will make these laws more sensible.

  4. jsallen says:

    I wouldn’t be so concerned. The other side of the mess is that nothing gets enforced. Such legal confusion about e-bikes is endemic, nationwide and you are likely to find it almost anywhere. As long as it looks like a bicycle and you are traveling at bicycle speeds, few people will notice or care, including police. I think that the likelihood of any problem, as long as you ride at a typical bicyclist’s speed when on rail trails, is very low. I recently talked with David Watson, former Executive Director of Massbike, and he isn’t sure whether my literal interpretation of the law would hold. A couple years ago I was in Provincetown and came up behind a pedicab. When it started up a rise, I heard a distinct low humming sound. Electric, slow and nearly as wide as a car, and there are probably a dozen in Provincetown, and they were all over town and there didn’t appear to be any attempt to shut them down.

  5. B Cayer says:

    Thanks for posting jsallen.
    We have been alternating between taking the bikes and not taking them since we learned of this issue. Your reply finally caused us to decide to take them.

  6. jsallen says:

    Have a nice vacation! Please send another comment after your trip and let us know where you ride the e-bikes and how it worked out.

  7. K Dean says:

    I just wanted to point out the goofy scooter law was rushed through in most states to accommodate the fad which involved those stand up scooters with the noisy 2-cycle weed-eater engines operated mostly by teenagers, not the mini motorcycles which have been deemed illegal to operate on the road most everywhere. One state pushed to legalize the stand up scooters as alternative energy vehicles that would have a lower carbon footprint and suddenly it was on, sweeping the nation. As the fad died down with the kids manufactures added fold away seats in an attempt to market to adults, after which the smelly internal combustion engines started giving way to electric power, first with lead acid batteries and now lithium ion. So as the stand up scooters evolved the original laws remain, with many folks confusing them with laws regarding regular 2 wheel motor scooters which have also evolved in ways so that manufactures can squeeze them into lower, less regulated class of vehicles such as moped/motorized bicycle and e-bike, in an attempt to appeal to a larger consumer base. Example of scooters which the law was rushed through by the states; http://www.google.com/search?q=stand+up+scooter&client=safari&hl=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAmoVChMIlbbvhe-WyQIVAUljCh2BlgGc&biw=1024&bih=672#hl=en&tbm=isch&q=stand+up+scooter+gas&imgrc=d8SUABSwsQ9HeM%3A

  8. Look…..this should be simple. If whatever you have is motorized and used on any public roadways….it is a motor vehicle and therefore subject to all the regulations pertaining to such within the area of operation. This needs to include registrations, any & all required safety equipment ( lights, brakes, license plates, horns, approved helmets, insurance, and a driver’s license appropriate for that vehicle). The operator should be held to all of the
    “rules of the road” that pertain to all operators of motor vehicles ( staying within the posted speed limit and lane designations, yielding to pedestrians, signaling turns, etc.)
    It should be that simple

  9. jsallen says:

    Well, certainly obeying the rules of the road is central, but the equipment, licensing and registration issues aren’t quite that simple. They depend on the type of vehicle, its speed capability, noise and pollution generation. It is reasonable in my opinion to allow electrically-assisted bicycles with a top assist speed of 20 mph on paths and not require licensing or registration. Gasoline-powered motorized bicycles are allowed in bike lanes but not paths.

  10. How do you ride an electric bike to those paths???? If you use public highways then it’s a motor vehicle. But to clarify my comments they were largely based upon the gasoline powered scooters-most of which can exceed 20 mph and often exceed the posted speed limits on city street. I should also explain that I ride a 750cc motorcycle but do not expect to have certain privileges because it is less powerful that a 1200cc Harley.
    And there were requirements for me to use my motorcycle……..rider training to earn my motorcycle license, insurance, registration, plates, and annual inspections.
    It’s past time that scooter operators meet the same requirements. They are operating a motor vehicle on public highways.
    Again…..to me it’s that simple.

  11. studioj says:

    Massachusetts is simply trying, in the most misguided way, to tax the wheel. MA legislators have been angling on taxing the wheel for decades. They think they are entitled to more of your money simply because you roll instead of saunter. So they create all manner of fake delineations for vehicles… does it make noise or not, does it emit anything but spit and sweat, does it have more than 49cc, does it go more than 20, 25, 30 or 40MPH (they can’t make up their minds on this point… perhaps it was the ill-fated attempt at going metric back in the 70s that confused them), does it have lights… yet this isn’t the real hazard on the roadway… we have all been confronted by the spandex wrapped hoards of cyclists riding in endless lines, 3 abreast, peddling at 40MPH in a school zone, blinding xenon LED lamps flashing what could be a secret Morse code signal, shouting back and forth to each other about which water bottle travels best with disregard for any road signs or signals and occasionally hauking a big luggie in the general direction of an unfortunate vehicle or pedestrian… as the weather warms we’re much more likely to encounter these road hazards than some poor bloke on a scooter. The laws must be changed…

  12. jsallen says:

    I accept comments from people with all sorts of opinions, and once in a while someone posts a comment like yours. I’m letting yours in just so other people can be reminded that such people as you exist, and because with all due respect, and not much is due, the issue with the “mini motorcycles” was not taxation. They didn’t meet design standards for safety, and they were a fad with kids too young to get a driver’s license. The Legislature made an attempt, unfortunately inept, to address this issue. As to your rant about spandex-warped hordes (not hoards) of bicyclists, let’s see, which minority group is it vaguely socially acceptable to stereotype today? African-Americans. No go except with code words. Latinos, Muslims? Ah, no need to upset neighbors, just let the Donald do the talking. LGBT people? Too uncomfortable after Orlando. Ah! bicyclists, the “real hazard of the roadway,” pedaling at a hugely unsafe speed, rarely more than 20 miles per hour and with all kinds of nasty habits, every last one of us.

    You are a coward too, hiding your name.

  13. P Ross says:

    I’ve a suspended license. I need assistance for my work commute . Do l need a license for an under 20 c.c. bike or scooter? If so, damn! I. Worn out from my 17 mile daily bike ride.

  14. jsallen says:

    Unfortunately, the Legislature has not addressed electrically-assisted bicycles, and a license is required even for a bicycle with an electrical assist motor. All of the restrictions which I cited in the article apply. I can understand your being worn out, especially with the hot weather we’ve been having. My sense based on what I know from other people who use electrically-assisted bikes is that they go unrecognized and nobody bothers their users. (This is the flip side of the absurd legislation: nobody takes the rules seriously, because they aren’t enforced, and so there is no pressure for reasonable legislation.) Electrically-assisted bicycles are quiet and so, though technically illegal on shared-use paths, nobody will bother you there either unless you get into a collision — so be careful (well, everywhere) and don’t use the full speed potential of electrical assistance if you ride on a path. Anything with a gasoline-powered motor is likely to be more of a problem. But you are in a special situation with a suspended license, that if you do have an encounter with the police, they are likely to write you up for more than if you had a clean record. Your best bet all in all is to get an electrically-assisted bicycle and, I’m sorry to say, run the risk of consequences if you get into a crash or — unlikely if you are careful — if the police stop you. I strongly suggest that you take a Smart cycling or Cycling Savvy course so you will know the best techniques for safe riding. A class is announced on the Waltham Jumpstart your bicycling meetup. Also have a read through my Bicycling Street Smarts.

  15. John says:

    You should definitely get a electric assisted bicycle something that will do most if not all the work for you. From what ive read you do not need a license for one as long as its 500watt or under and goes no more then 20 on flat surface (exempt on hills). You do need a license for a scooter. Follow all bicycle laws and you will have zero issues there electric bicycles that look just like normal bicycles nobody is going to even bar a eye just be safe. Good luck

  16. jsallen says:

    I agree that the electrically-assisted bicycle is a good solution for P Ross. I know people who have been using electrically-assisted bicycles, and they haven’t been bothered, but I don’t find anything in Massachusetts law to support your claims about the law. You may just be looking at national guidelines — but only Massachusetts law applies here. Can you point me to a chapter and section of Massachusetts law which supports your statements? I recently reviewed the law and it hasn’t changed since I wrote the blog post.

  17. Pete says:

    I just bought a 50 cc scooter.do I need a licence,and do I need to register an insure it.is live in mass.thank u.

  18. jsallen says:

    This qualifies as a motorized bicycle. If the engine displacement is 50 cc or less, you need a license but not a registration. See Chapter 90, section 1 and the laws I cited in my post.

  19. Marianne Phillips says:

    I have a question that I’m hoping you can answer or point me in the right direction. My son’s father bought & registered a scooter recently as his sole means of transportation (yes he has a driver’s license). It goes max speed of 28 mph and is in the 49cc bracket. It’s one of the ones where you sit on like a chair, the seat lifts up for storage, has a headlight, blinkers in the back, and side view mirrors. It is a two passenger scooter. He has 2 dot certified helmets (he has the full face mask ones to avoid swallowing bugs and rain on his glasses). My question is what are the rules and regulations for passengers. He’s hoping to pick up our 10 year old son from school on it. As nervous as I am about that idea I am willing to let him but I don’t want either of us to get in trouble. I know that I can’t keep my son in a bubble all of his life. I also know that there are 10 year old boys riding horses and rounding up cattle, riding in the back of pickup trucks while mudding, and driving tractors, 4 wheelers and such in other parts of the country. BUT I realize in MA that many of those things could cause issues with the general public because it’s not as common in this area. I’m already facing A LOT of crap from the grandparents because of my decision to allow this. What I need to know is if there are any legal issues that could arise?

  20. Allen Lopez says:

    Good read thank you for taking time to write this information as confusing as the law may be. Recently my son and I built two mountain bikes with an add on electric bike kit. It was a great father and son experience. But is saddens me to think that legally my 15 year old son can’t ride his bike. We will continue to ride them anyways as the laws are loosely inforced. But it just upsetting to have another thing to worried about.

  21. jsallen says:

    Marianne — I appreciate your forthrightness and wide horizons as to safety issues.

    The laws are clear: this is a motorized scooter. So, if your son’s father has a driver’s license, he follows the traffic law and the scooter is properly registered, he won’t get into any legal trouble simply for riding the scooter.

    I have a few other suggestions, and they are important:

    * The scooter needs to be in good working order and especially, have good brakes. I can’t comment specifically on this issue as I don’t work on scooters, but this should be checked over.

    * He needs to know how to ride safely. If he already is an experienced motorcyclist, he probably knows what to do. If not, he could take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course — though that would be on a motorcycle the Foundation provides. Or he could take the Cycling Savvy class in Waltham September 16-17. https://register.cyclingsavvy.org/groups/new-englandhttps://register.cyclingsavvy.org/groups/new-england — unfortunately, I don’t know of such classes specifically directed for motor scooter users, but the content is similar. In urban traffic, this scooter should be ridden the same way as a motorcycle. If he has only ridden a bicycle before, he may have to unlearn a lot: most bicyclists retain habits from childhood and have inaccurate ideas about how to be safe (mostly making the mistake of trying to stay out of traffic rather than operate predictably as a driver) which greatly increase their risk. The classes teach situational awareness, staying out of drivers’ blindspots, safe turning maneuvers, vehicle control for quick stops and turns to avoid danger, etc. etc. I have a short tutorial at http://bikexprt.com/streetsmarts/usa which covers the same topics but a class gives hands-on experience.

    It’s OK to carry a passenger if the scooter has a passenger seat. Most do. Your son needs also to know how to be a good passenger, which means at the most basic level, lean with the bike in turns and don’t make sudden moves which affect steering. You son may be able to help by making hand signals and helping look for traffic. Being a passenger, if his father uses good road technique, is a superb way to learn how to be a safe bicyclist or motorist himself. My son learned this on the back of a tandem bicycle with me and he now has been driving for five years and does it well.

  22. michael says:

    Hello , I have a second dui in ma and I’m not allowed a hardship license for 3 years, and I have to get up at 130am and pedal a bike 15 miles to get to somewhere to only get a ride to work for 6 am and winter is coming soon so there’s that to worried about. But my question is what is the limit of ccs that I could operate? I heard it was 45 cc but I’m not exactly sure. I’d rather be on something that doesn’t involve pedaling. I know there are ebikes but what is the limit with scooters? PS it’s ridiculous that you can apply for a hardship till a certain amount of years. I heard about a bill they hopefully pass where 1st and 2nd dui offenders will be granted a hardship license with proof at any point no waiting due to the fact that how can people make a living? They will be required to install the intake device etc.

  23. jsallen says:

    Michael — Without a valid driver’s license, you can’t legally drive anything with a gasoline engine. You aren’t supposed to drive anything with electrical assist either but it’s much less likely that police would stop you: they might not even notice, especially as long as you are pedaling, even if you don’t have to pedal hard. An e-bike also can have good bright lights for your night riding. With practice and learning bicycling skills, you might even come to enjoy the ride, and for sure it is healthy. It might even help you get your alcohol problem sorted out before you get your driver’s license back. I sympathize with your difficult situation but I don’t want you out there driving drunk. Please read the other comments on this post. They give more detailed answers so some of your questions.

  24. Mark says:

    Federal law allows unlicensed use of electric bikes with motors 750w or lower.

  25. jsallen says:

    No, traffic law is established at the state level, and so there are differences among states, especially regarding new developments such as electrically-assisted bicycles. The Federal Government can establish regulations for product design, and set requirements for Federal funding which influence legislation at the state level (for example, in requiring that right turns on red be legal following the 1970s fuel crisis). The situation with electrically-assisted bicycles has not settled down to the degree that there is any Federal mandate or uniformity among state laws. Product manufacturers, manufacturers’ associations and citizen advocates step into the gap and influence legislation. A notable example of this is the way that the manufacturer of the Segway lobbied state legislatures to define it as a pedestrian assistance device comparable with a wheelchair, succeeding in many states. Electrically-assisted-bicycle manufacturers are underway with an effort, in my opinion more reasonable, to establish three categories based on top speed and throttle or pedal control.

  26. Bob M says:

    A little perspective from someone who actually knows the difference.
    I recently acquired a 150cc scooter, to me, it’s a bicycle that I don’t need to peddle. Weather permitting I ride a 1340cc Harley as my primary mode of transport. The Harley tips the scales at about half a ton with rider, has a hand clutch and foot controls requiring practice to master and it’s capable of speeds well over 100mph.
    The scooter on the other hand is slow accelerating, limited in top speed and requires no skill that any ten year old with a bicycle does not posses. While the motorized scooter can SUSTAIN speeds around 50mph, I don’t see it as being all that much faster than a bicycle, back in the day when the schwinn was the primary mode of transport, I didn’t go slow. One more thing most people don’t understand; given the higher ride height and lack of fairing, you are more likely to sustain injury falling off your bike than a scooter or even a motorcycle.
    The point is, a scooter is possibly less dangerous than a bicycle, requires no more skill to ride and, while I understand that in our society some rules and regulations are necessary, grouping motor scooters in the same category as is motorcycles is ridiculous. This mess of confusing and contradictory laws is merely the product of a bunch of control freak legislators, who, likely never having ridden either a scooter or a motorcycle, don’t know what they are doing.

  27. jsallen says:

    Well, I agree with you about confusing and contradictory laws, and you make a good point about the difference between a scooter an a motorcycle, but hold your horsepower! There is a big difference between a scooter which can sustain 50 mph and a bicycle, or an electrically-assisted bicycle which is limited to speeds of 20 mph under electrical power, as defined in laws of other states. The important differences are two: speed, and nuisance due to noise and exhaust fumes. Nothing which goes 50 mph, is noisy or has an exhaust pipe belongs on a shared-use path, while electrically-assisted bicycles can fit in there, if somewhat uncomfortably when operated at the limit of performance. Even fast, reckless bicyclists are a problem on these paths — see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SD9u01lVxe8 . Also, 50 mph? (Gasoline-powered) motorized bicycles as defined in Massachusetts law are limited to 50 cc displacement and 30 mph. If one goes 50 and has a 150cc engine like yours, it is a motorcycle and subject to all of the licensing, registration, use and equipment rules which apply to motorcycles.

  28. J.J. Jennings says:

    Mr. Allen – first thank you for your post and continued replies to comments posted in response. I’ve found it to be very helpful in clarifying these laws… Other than that… I did want to say that you should take it a little easier on Studioj for their opinion. I can’t say that I don’t actually share your sentiment towards their manner of speaking, but at the same time they do raise a few valid points. If you live in MA I’m sure you’ve experienced the dreaded ‘RI’ drivers who can’t enter a rotary… Or run into a situation where our friendly biciclists cause problems on the roadway – just like typical MA vehicle operators do. Isn’t part of the issue with enforcement? I’d have to say it seems to be at least as much of the problem as the laws vagueness. I’m 100% in support of decreasing one’s carbon footprint or getting out and exercising… The one constant is that we all have to share the road and should be respectful of all those who are out there with us – whether you’ve got 50cc – 1250cc – or powering your ride with some good old fashioned sweat and hard work (and maybe an occasional spit).

    Thanks again for your time and effort to keep up with the confusing MA laws.

  29. Mike says:

    I have a valid Florida drivers licence but my license is suspended in mass can I operate a 49cc scooter legally with the valid out of state license?

  30. jsallen says:

    I’m not a lawyer, so you may wish to check with one, but it is very unlikely that the answer would be “yes.” Your license was suspended because you were convicted of committing some infraction, and the suspension applies to any license you would present in Massachusetts. Presenting another license when your Massachusetts license is suspended would be another infraction. Also, a license from another state is only valid for a limited time period of residence in Massachusetts. I found this information online: http://blog.mass.gov/blog/living-in-massachusetts/moving-to-massachusetts-part-2-drivers-licenses-and-motor-vehicle-registration/

  31. Ray says:

    Mr Allen, I just wanted to clarify that an electrically assisted bike if it meets the guidelines in of a Low Speed Electric Vehicle being a Consumer Product not a Motor Vehicle as described above of in USC Title 15 Section 2085 ( https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title15/html/USCODE-2011-title15-chap47-sec2085.htm ) will be allowed to be operated on roads in MA because this law supersedes State Law as outlined in Part D. You do not need a license, registration or insurance to operate it. You do need to obey the law and wear appropriate safety gear and rules of the road.

    I personally see these laws as a means to protect others on the road ways as a motor vehicle can kill other people and society needs to be protected. Otherwise a bicyclist or an assisted bicyclist would need to register this potential weapon. So when you stop pedaling a bicycle it stops moving forward which is the same for an electric bicycle. Hence the requirement for pedals…

  32. Emily says:

    Wow I can’t believe I’ve been breaking the law! I bought an electric-assist cargo bike (for hauling kids) in the fall and have been using a couple of paths to get to and from work. I had no idea this isn’t allowed. I assumed that since I can’t go above 20 mph (the engine stops assisting), and because plenty of cyclists are stilling passing me at that speed, that it made sense for me to be on the off-road paths. I will definitely take it down a notch. Thanks for sharing this info!

  33. jsallen says:

    Ray, that pre-emption defines low-powered electric bicycles as — bicycles — and so it subjects them to the same equipment requirements when sold new — some sensible, others weird — as for other bicycles (e.g., 10 reflectors so they face in every direction but no requirement for lights, front fork strength requirement, a mediocre level of brake performance, “hazardous protrusions” prohibited. But! These are only equipment requirements. Does this pre-emption have any effect on traffic laws? Not! Traffic laws are established at the state and local level. Every state for example, requires a bicycle to have a headlight when in use during hours of darkness. And every state — in some states every city and town — can determine where and whether E-bikes are legal, speed limits, etc.

    In New York state, for example, E-bikes are completely illegal and here is what the New York City police department has been doing about them.

    Does this Federal law say that an E-bike must have pedal assist, as you describe it? No, it may have throttle assist, so the motor will propel it while the rider is using the pedals only as footrests — same as with a gasoline-powered motorized bicycle.

  34. jsallen says:

    Emily, you have two main, practical concerns. One is, as you allude, to pay full attention to safety, and that means riding at a safe speed. On shared-use paths, that is often a low speed. Unsafe speed on paths has in the past been the province of poseurs who are strong but have poor road skills and little common sense or courtesy. They ride like bats out of hell on paths. Video example. Now with electrical assist, anyone can go fast! You probably don’t have to worry about cops ticketing you: there is very little enforcement against bicyclists — New York City being an exception. But the other concern is that if you do have a crash on a path, there is one more way to hold you at fault than if you had been riding a bicycle powered only by pedals, and this could be a problem in an insurance claim or lawsuit.

  35. shaun ellsworth says:

    I will never get a permit to drive a scooter in my life permits and license are for cars not bicycles. If ever stopped I’m going all the way to the supreme court. You have to be stupid to impose a law requiring a car permit or license for a bike, they should have made it at least motorcycle permit or license the minute this goes to an appeal court it will vanish

  36. jsallen says:

    Shaun — good luck but I’d suggest working with advocacy organizations to change the laws. As far as taking this to the Supreme Court, be prepared to spend a lot of money on a lawyer, and for your case to be shut down before you get there. Trials are a crapshoot and there’s a world of ignorance and bias about bicyclists. A bicycle having any kind of motor gets into a gray area but I agree with you, applying the same standards to one with electrical assistance to help the less fit among us get up the hills as to a faster one with a noisy, polluting gasoline motor (which also requires licensing, it isn’t only for cars) is unreasonable.

  37. Grace says:

    Mr. Allen – I very much appreciate all you’ve done to encourage safe riding, and your analysis of MA’s laws is very helpful, though frustrating! I’ve just ordered a “PEBL” from better.bike.com, a small fully-enclosed electric recumbent trike, complete with heater and windshield wipers! I expect delivery this August.

    Reading Chapter 90’s definitions, it isn’t clear to me whether it will be considered a motorized bike or a scooter, but it is clear to me that I shouldn’t drive it on bike paths. Since it’s almost 4 feet wide, it probably isn’t safe to be on a bike path, so that’s okay by me. I don’t think I’ll attempt Storrow Drive instead, though! I expect to use the built-in turn signals (not hand signals), because that just makes sense.

    Do you know if the “sticker or plate” for motorized bicycles described in Section 1D was ever put in place? I can’t find anything about it, or the biannual renewal.

  38. Robert Brennan says:

    Hi John, first, it seems like you are conflating the definition of a scooter with the definition of a motorized bicycle and, second, you are dwelling on what you claim is a lack of clarity about gas versus electric bikes, when there is no problem at all because it is clear both are considered motorized, and I think you are being deliberately obscure because you clearly favor the use of ebikes on bike paths when it is clear that the Commonwealth means to exclude them. Apart from any good dictionary definition of “motor,” let’s look at how the Commonwealth defines it from the definition of motor vehicle: “‘Motor vehicles’, all vehicles constructed and designed for propulsion by power other than muscular power.” Clearly this considers the idea of a bicycle, because it is the most common vehicle powered by “muscular power.” On the other end, electric motors must be included, otherwise, Teslas and Nissan Leafs would not fall under the RMV and might not need a license to operate. In fact by defining the propulsion methods by means of motor as anything other than muscular power, not only would gas and electric be included, but so would diesel, LNG, fuel cell, and any other system not yet devised, as long as it is not muscular. Thus, when we read the definition of a “Motorized Bicycle” as “a pedal bicycle which has a helper motor,” it is clear that it is any type of motor at all. It doesn’t require an awful lot to understand what a pedal bicycle is. Where there might be some confusion is whether the restrictive clause “with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and which is capable of a maximum speed of no more than thirty miles per hour” applies to both the “pedal bicycle” and “non-pedal bicycle,” but it is not up to bike guys, such as ourselves, to interpret this, it is up to the Courts of the Commonwealth, and they have read the law as I would, which is to say that the first clause stands on its own, in Commonwealth v. Lopez, 91 Mass. App Ct. 485 (2017), No. 15-P-1207 (I can send the PDF to a real email address, but you cannot post it due to copyright). In their opinion “‘pedal bicycle which has a helper motor’ automatically qualifies as a motorized bicycle . . . [and a] ‘non-pedal bicycle’ with a motor qualifies if the motor has ‘a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters, [the bicycle has] an automatic transmission, and [the bicycle] is capable of a maximum speed of no more than thirty miles per hour.'” I don’t need to repeat the language that tells us that motorized bicycles are not permitted on recreational bike paths that are separate from the street. Of interest to me and many of your readers is that it is abundantly clear that this was meant to include the Minuteman, which I believe to be the oldest, and certainly the most heavily used path in Massachusetts. Although I agree with you that some policies toward ebikes around the country are unclear, I have to disagree with you regarding ebikes in the Commonwealth. At least with regard to a traditional ebike whether purpose-built or conversion to gas or electric, it could not be more clear that they are all banned from bike paths in Massachusetts. I admit it is a bit unclear to me what a non-pedal bike with an automatic transmission is, but whatever it is, it is banned. Also, I don’t see anything about the particular laws you discuss that have to do with the mini-motorcycles that were reclassified long ago. What I do see is the intentional inclusion under scooters of Segways (the standing thing in the law on scooters and also electrically powered) and Seqway knock-offs, which often had three wheels. What the law did not anticipate is the evolution of a gyro-equipped one-wheel thing, which is effectively a one-wheel Seqway and already on the Minuteman. Also falling between the cracks are motorized skateboards and possibly hoverboards, although they are two-wheeled and should fall under scooters as do Segways. I could discuss in more depth why I think the ban on motorized bicycles is absolutely correct for the Minuteman, but just to make one point, when you think about cyclists who can maintain 20MPH on level ground, they have usually logged a lot of time on the saddle and usually have the cycling skills to go with that–in my book, serious cyclists (one quick test, pedaling all the time except when coming to a stop). The groups I see riding ebikes are increasingly recreational cyclists, or worse, inexperienced cyclists and do not have the cycling skills to match, chief among these steering and braking (e.g., hydraulic disk brakes are only so good if you only use the rear). Bike maintenance among recreational cyclists usually goes hand-in-hand with overall skill starting with something as simple as tire pressure, for many an annual thing. When it comes to retrofit motors, it seems to be almost entirely about speed and the quality or condition of the underlying bike matters little. Finally, I don’t think it is wise for you, as a public figure, to advise individuals who write to you and your readership to violate the law. I have seen ebikes operate at speeds rarely if ever seen by riders using muscle several times in traffic on the Minuteman with little margin of safety, whereas I have rarely if ever been concerned by the speed of a serious cyclists. In your shoes, I would not want to ever think I was part of the equation that led to someone riding such a bike on a crowded path, such as the Minuteman and having that lead to an accident in which that person or some innocent pedestrian or rider was seriously hurt. I am on the Minuteman every day, and I can tell you that a serious accident involving an ebike operating 20-30MPH is imminent.

  39. jsallen says:

    In reply to Robert Brennan:

    “…first, it seems like you are conflating the definition of a scooter with the definition of a motorized bicycle”

    No, the Commonwealth did that.

    “and, second, you are dwelling on what you claim is a lack of clarity about gas versus electric bikes, when there is no problem at all because it is clear both are considered motorized,”

    The problem with clarity is that Massachusetts makes no distinction. They have different characteristics; and also that the same vehicles fall into more than one category.

    “and I think you are being deliberately obscure…”

    Please do not impute a motive. That is an attack on my character. Let’s just discuss facts and policy. I think that it should be clear enough from what I have written that I am trying to bring some clarity to a confused situation, not the opposite.

    “… because you clearly favor the use of e-bikes on bike paths when it is clear that the Commonwealth means to exclude them.”

    Yes, I do favor the use of some kinds of e-bikes on paths. Just how am I being obscure about that? The Commonwealth does exclude them under the law. I said that it does. The law in question was enacted before e-bikes became an issue. What the Commonwealth intends to do about e-bikes has not been addressed by the Legislature.

    “Where there might be some confusion is whether the restrictive clause “with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and which is capable of a maximum speed of no more than thirty miles per hour” applies to both the “pedal bicycle” and “non-pedal bicycle,” but it is not up to bike guys, such as ourselves, to interpret this, it is up to the Courts of the Commonwealth, and they have read the law as I would, which is to say that the first clause stands on its own, in Commonwealth v. Lopez, 91 Mass. App Ct. 485 (2017), No. 15-P-1207 (I can send the PDF to a real email address, but you cannot post it due to copyright).”

    Please do. My e-mail address is no secret. Just look in the contact information at bikexprt.com. Legal rulings belong to the people. They are not subject to copyright.

    “…it is abundantly clear that this was meant to include the Minuteman, which I believe to be the oldest, and certainly the most heavily used path in Massachusetts.”

    Paths certainly do include the Minuteman, but the Paul Dudley White paths along the Esplanade in Boston have been in existence since the 1970s; same with the Province Lands paths on Cape Cod. Parts of the Cape Cod Rail Trail opened around 1980. The Minuteman opened, if I recall correctly, in 1992.

    “Although I agree with you that some policies toward ebikes around the country are unclear, I have to disagree with you regarding ebikes in the Commonwealth. At least with regard to a traditional ebike whether purpose-built or conversion to gas or electric, it could not be more clear that they are all banned from bike paths in Massachusetts.”

    Did I ever say that they were not?

    “What I do see is the intentional inclusion under scooters of Segways (the standing thing in the law on scooters and also electrically powered) and Segway knock-offs, which often had three wheels. What the law did not anticipate is the evolution of a gyro-equipped one-wheel thing, which is effectively a one-wheel Seqway and already on the Minuteman. Also falling between the cracks are motorized skateboards and possibly hoverboards, although they are two-wheeled and should fall under scooters as do Segways.”

    The legislature has not addressed any of these. They fall into pre-existing categories meant, in the main, to refer to two-wheelers with internal-combustion engines.

    “I could discuss in more depth why I think the ban on motorized bicycles is absolutely correct for the Minuteman…”

    I agree that it is, as it applies to those with an internal-combustion engine or any motor which provides power at speeds above 20 mph.

    “…but just to make one point, when you think about cyclists who can maintain 20MPH on level ground, they have usually logged a lot of time on the saddle and usually have the cycling skills to go with that–in my book, serious cyclists (one quick test, pedaling all the time except when coming to a stop).”

    A bicyclist’s being strong does not necessarily make that bicyclist wise. And a bicyclist’s being unable to keep up with others despite a motor assist does not necessarily make that bicyclist a terror on the path. Who is conflating categories, now?

    “I don’t think it is wise for you, as a public figure, to advise individuals who write to you and your readership to violate the law…I am on the Minuteman every day, and I can tell you that a serious accident involving an ebike operating 20-30MPH is imminent.”

    My earlier comments in this thread should make it clear that I strongly advise that people avoid unsafe speeds, and that I agree entirely with the ban on noisy and polluting internal-combustion-powered motors on paths. Mom on her long-tail e-bike taking the kid to school or bringing home a week’s groceries from the supermarket; Grandpa who isn’t as strong as he used to be but wants to keep riding; a person with a disability which makes pedaling inefficient, all ought, in my opinion, to be able to use e-bikes on paths at moderate speeds. Other states have addressed this concern with laws specifically addressing e-bikes, establishing different categories of them depending on their speed potential, and allowing use on paths of those whose motor provides power only below 20 mph. Massachusetts has yet to do any of that.

  40. Robert Brennan says:

    Hi John, when it comes to the rail trail on the Cape I may have to concede, but the Paul Dudley While path on the Esplanade is one of the true heartbreaks for my life. He was a hero of mine as a kid, and to see his name on what is just the worst of both a crosswalk and a sidewalk used to leave me thinking, “what if he knew.” For several years I rode the whole Cambridge to Watertown run while my daughter was in elementary school near the Charles, and I frequently either had to slow to a walking pace, ride on the grass, or shout at a pedestrian about to cross right in front of me. On nicer days, it was practically useless. But let’s leave that aside.

    I have over 150,000 miles on the Minuteman and now am running in the ballpark of 10k per year and am very willing to stand by my observations of the correlation (not 1.0, but quite high) between cyclist speed under pedal and skill level. Sure it’s possible for a very fit runner to decide to do a triathlon and hop on a bike and go fast with little skill, but, honestly, I don’t see bad cyclists going 20MPH, but I see terrible cyclists going 9MPH every day.

    I realize the dream of all the users you mention using ebike in the ways you mention, but it’s not the reality on the ground, not here, and not in the few places it’s been studied. The reality is the major use of ebikes is to increase speed and roughly by one third. In the Netherlands where ebikes are permitted on bike paths, there has been in upsurge in one-bike accidents including the elderly, because the inability to pedal is not unrelated to the inability to handle a bike. Furthermore, because modifying an ebike to exceed its speed limit is both inexpensive and easy, they have to have portable dynamometers to test the maximum speed of ebikes. Can you imagine the Arlington or Lexington police investing in this equipment and pulling bikes from the path for testing? Not to mention the 20MPH limit you mention is typically for a bike under motor only, on a level surface while boost during pedaling is available at considerably higher speeds. I was recently passed while riding 13.5MPH on a mild upgrade on the Minuteman during rush hour on an 80 degree evening by a man in business attire on an ebike who passed me at roughly 20MPH, who then handily passed two riders who had just passed me going about 17MPH, and although I sped up to keep him in sight longer, he quickly accelerated to an even higher speed, and after the second blind turn disappeared completely. I put his maximum speed at or near 30MPH under the combination of pedal and boost on what appeared to be an off-the-rack ebike. Based on my reading, his apparent motive, speed, is the typical motive of ebike users.

    Although there have been a number of concerning ebike riders over the last 5-6 years on the Minuteman, mostly conversion hubs, not factory ebikes, it only really struck me one day recently when observing a guy with the Copenhagen/MIT hub on a hybrid wedged between me and a couple of serious riders running through traffic from Spy Pond to Alewife at around 20MPH that this guy had nothing like the skills to pull this off. I dropped way off, but stayed close enough to watch his appalling lack of skill not to mention his generally poor awareness of the situation around him.

    The first generation of off-the-rack ebikes required pedaling in order to move and boost was cut completely at 15MPH, while those parameters might be suitable for bike path use, the technical difficulties in enforcement and most likely the unavailability of ebikes with such specifications now mean any such limitations are impractical. I am not in a position to comment on all paths in the Commonwealth, but as far as the Minuteman goes the present range of ebikes are far too dangerous. To the extent that the various paths along the Charles are considered bike paths, certainly not. I also consider the paths on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to be substandard in their engineering and not proper bike paths by any modern standard and also should not be considered for ebikes.

    Although the Commonwealth law makes no specific exceptions, generally speaking the ADA pretty much assumes that accommodations must be made for persons with disabilities, so just as I would assume that just as electric wheelchairs are allowed everywhere regardless of what restriction might apply to persons without disabilities, so too, I would expect persons with appropriate disabilities to be given the chance to use ebikes as appropriate to participate in any recreational activity persons without disabilities can use a pedaled bicycle.

    Finally, with regard to lawful vs. unlawful use, I don’t want to say anything that might tend to identify any individual or individuals, but one can regularly observe on the Minuteman why it would be unwise for someone who has gone far enough in the DUI process to lose even a hardship license to operate a vehicle capable of traveling 20MPH or more under power.

  41. Donald Crabtree says:

    My son goes to school in Boston but we are from Rhode Island so he has a Rhode Island drivers license. In RI you need to register a 49cc scooter but in Mass it seems you just need a sticker. Being from out of state can he get the sticker or is it the laws of the state you have a drivers license in. Thank you

  42. jsallen says:

    All states have reciprocal permission for driver’s licenses and registration of cars, trucks, motorcycles etc. (which makes sense because people drive across state lines). When the requirements are different in different states, as here with a motor scooter, I’m not sure. I’d think that your son wouldn’t have a problem, as the Rhode Island requirement is more stringent, but that is only my personal opinion. Your son might consult the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. If he is here long enough to establish residence, it might be simpler for him to get a Massachusetts license and sticker.

  43. Eric Klatt says:

    In the past I have built several half car/ half motorcycle machines. Understanding the law was vital in a couple of court cases .

    Now that I am old I enjoy a 20 minute ride on either my bicycle or Scooter once in a while.

    I have read the laws for Motorized Bicycle and Scooter for Massachusetts, and if I under stand correctly the Scooter definition is vague at best, perhaps allowing one to claim Scooter status with 500 hp as long as they do not exceed 20 MPH ……..

    My biggest challenge is being seen on my bicycle. Even at a walking pace in a cross walk has landed me on the hood of two cars……. people look but somehow do not see.

  44. Jim says:

    I just got a 4 wheel electric mobility scooter as I am disabled, it goes max speed of 4.25 mph. I live in mass. Do I need a driver’s license to operate on the sidewalk? Thank you, Jim.

  45. jsallen says:

    No. Legally you are a pedestrian.

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