motorized bicycle

Here are the confusing rules for operating gas-powered bicycles in Toronto

E-bikes are all the rage right now, but long before Toronto streets were teeming with these battery bikes, there were — and still are — plenty of gas-powered bikes plying the city's roads and bike lanes in the 2020s.

If you're thinking mopeds, let me stop you right there. Many power-assisted bikes, though technically mopeds by definition, are below the Ministry of Transportation's threshold for moped classification, and do not require licences, headlights, horns, or plates like their bulkier siblings.

Say you just bought yourself one of these gasoline-assisted bikes without doing any research whatsoever, because of course you did. You might have a few questions.

Are they even legal to own?

It is very much legal to buy a gas-powered bike, but how about if you want to ride it down a busy Toronto street. Would that also be legal? The answer is, well, it depends.

Are they legal to ride in Toronto?

This is a tricky question, one the Toronto Star admitted was a “legal grey zone” a decade ago when powered bikes were a newer trend in the city.

Riding the bike in pedal mode is wholly allowed in all of the places a standard bike can be used, and as long as you don't fire up the engine, it's totally considered a regular old-fashioned bike by law enforcement.

But the minute you hit the ignition, legality gets a bit murkier.

According to the Highway Traffic Act, bicycles with gas engines are legal motor vehicles based on criteria that include an automobile, a motorcycle, or a motor-assisted bicycle unless otherwise indicated.

Though in many ways, these exhaust-spewing bikes are not always held to the same standard as legal motor vehicles.

The Ontario Provincial Police have publicly stated that these bikes are not permitted on roads, while Toronto Police have indicated that the bikes are in fact street legal.

According to the City, pedal-assisted and power-assisted e-bikes are street legal. Pedal-assisted cargo cycles can be driven on city roads, painted bike lanes and cycle tracks, while power-assisted bikes can use city roads but are limited to sidewalks and bike lanes. But when gas is involved, the rules are different.

Toronto Traffic Services tells blogTO that "Converted bicycles or homemade motorcycle/moped units are not exempted from any current legislation. The only exempted class of motor vehicle is certain ebikes, that are within a certain class and allowed to operate on a road."

"These conversions are 'motorized vehicles,' and as such require a motorcycle/moped licence, safety compliance documentation, lights, horn, proper brakes, DOT compliant tires, chain guards, reflectors, proper mufflers, spark arrestors, insurance, helmets and a whole handful of other safety requirements. ( exactly what a motorcycle/moped is required to have)."

"I am not aware of any manufacturer that is currently producing products that would satisfy all the requirements. The charges and fines that any person operating on the road would be eligible for would amount to thousands and thousands of dollars (no insurance is a $5000 first offence)."

"I am aware of and have seen some of these motor vehicles being operated. They are not made to handle the speed, extra weight and do not have a braking system that would be able to stop the vehicle in an emergency situation. As such, they are not allowed on any roadway in Ontario."

So here's where you can and can't ride them

The City states that motorcycles, mopeds, and motor scooters are all limited to city roads, though the Ministry of Transportation warns that highways are a hard 'no' for these limited-speed vehicles.

Of course, the smaller gas-powered bikes in question don't meet moped standards, which makes the rules a bit harder to determine.

Want to ride in a bike lane under gas power? That's also going to be a nope. You'll have to use the road when in gas-guzzling mode. But even that could be a problem.

Think you can use your gas-powered bike as an alternative way home after a night on the town? That's another very bad idea, as getting pulled over on one of these bikes after a few drinks runs you the risk of impaired operation of a motor vehicle.

Even if that vehicle immediately reverts to the legal status of a regular bicycle when powered down, that's still drinking and driving.

Unless the bikes adhere to the Highway Traffic Act's motorcycle requirements, which many absolutely do not, they are 'NOT PERMITTED' on any public roads or sidewalks under gas power. So unless you're using that engine exclusively on private property, you could find yourself in hot water.

But with the engine off, it's legally a bike and subject to the same rules as a standard bicycle.

Who is allowed to ride them?

Assuming you have all the boxes above checked, you have to be at least 16 years of age to legally ride any kind of powered bicycle, whether electric or gas-powered, and a bicycle or motorcycle helmet is required when the power is on.

What happens if you break the rules of the road?

If you want to use one of these things as personal transportation on city roads, it could come with some pretty hefty costs for operating a motor vehicle illegally, which can land offenders in court with fines as high as $50,000. And on top of that, the cops may decide to confiscate your petro-bike.

But it really seems that without clear answers, law enforcement has been left — at least based on anecdotal evidence — to interpret the legality based on individual officers' understanding of the law, which is hopefully better than everyone else's lack of clarity.

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