Should Motorcycles Be Banned On Public Streets?

This is a very polarizing question that raises controversy and emotions. You may be asking this question because motorcycles are loud, motorcyclists typically ride like maniacs with their hair on fire, and you want them off of your local roadways.

The problem, however, is that just because you have a preference doesn’t necessarily mean that should be written into law. Now anyone who has lived through the past couple of years (This is being written in April of 2022) knows very well that government can force through some questionable policies in the name of public health and safety.

In general, any motorcycle that is compliant with the state and federal requirements of safety and emissions restrictions is allowed to be ridden on public roads by a licensed rider. No laws currently on the books outlaw legal motorcycles from being operated in public.

What Are The Arguments For Outlawing Motorcycles?

I had to think for a long time to make this list and it hurt my soul to admit there are any logical reasons to support this argument. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Distracting

Anyone who has been driving a car and had a motorcycle fly by so fast it tore the paint off the car understands how motorcycles have the potential to distract people from driving. Especially a loud bike that comes within an inch of your car can take your eyes off the road and cause frustration.

  • Obnoxious

Some bikes are just flat-out deafening. Not much is better at creating road rage than a massive straight-piped V-Twin Harley with a rider that likes to repeatedly test out his throttle response as he rolls by. Or maybe he’s just concerned that the bike will stall and he wants to keep the revs up over and over? I hope I haven’t lost too many people at this point but if you know what I’m talking about I hope you’re laughing.

Good old-fashioned meetup with some hobbyists revving the snot out of their unloaded engines.
  • Dangerous to rider

Here’s the argument that has been used for the last couple of years to protect us all from getting really, really sick…now I hesitate to use the “C” word for the risk of being reprimanded but I believe you understand the subject in question. There is a vocal minority that wants motorcycles to be banned to protect the rider from doing self harm. No comment.

  • Danger to others

A slightly more coherent argument is the risk motorcycles pose to others around them on the road. There is a very serious reality that incompetent motorcyclists can severely injure or kill innocent civilians by means of unsafe operation. (See video) Most of us have seen videos of showboaters (or low-skill operators) launching a bike into another car or people causing major damage. While this is a rarity I will give it the top ranking on this list.

….no words
  • Emissions

The fine Governor in my state of California has proposed a ban on gas-powered cars by 2035. This is the only real threat I’ve come across at this point that has legs. Motorcycles do not necessarily create meaningfully more harmful emissions than cars which is why this isn’t specifically an attack on bikes alone.

We’ll cross this bridge when we get to it over a decade from now but all I know is that I’ll be doing my very best to maintain and prolong the bikes I own before 2035 to hedge against this potential reality.

What Are The Arguments Against Banning Motorcycles?

  • Rights

I think the simplest place to start is with the legal right I have to operate a motorcycle on public thruways. As long as my bike meets all legal requirements of the state I’m operating in I am free to ride. We’ll touch more on the specific requirements a little later.

  • Affordable

Pound for pound the average motorcycle is considerably cheaper to own and operate. Maintenance is a fraction and fuel efficiency is much higher on average. More importantly, the average price of a decent bike is way less than a car. I’ll go more in-depth on price comparison in another article, but for the sake of argument take my word for it.

  • Fun

This is a little subjective as a lot of people have never ridden a motorcycle so again you’ll have to take my word for it. It is difficult to articulate the joy and excitement a motorcycle can create. Combine the freedom of an open cockpit with extreme acceleration, relentless speed, steep lean angles and visceral sounds to get the full effect of a motorcycle riding experience.

  • Efficient

Motorcycle engines are smaller than car engines on average and can achieve better fuel economy. This saves on operating costs and results in less fuel being used. This reason alone isn’t enough to move the needle but is certainly a nice perk.

  • Electric options

This is a fairly weak argument since electric cars also exist but it is worth noting that electric bikes do exist and are in mass production. If gas-powered engines are eventually outlawed we can ride electric bikes around with speakers attached to make fake engine noises. (Sad face)

  • Less wear on infrastructure

Something I didn’t give much thought to before writing this post is that motorcycles wear down infrastructure less than cars. Bikes weigh about a tenth of that of a car and only have two or sometimes three wheels down which produces less wear on roads and bridges.

What Defines A Legal Motorcycle?

In this section, I will itemize the criteria for a street-legal motorcycle in California.

  • Tires with thick tread

Only 1/32″ minimum requirement in California but come on don’t run your tires down to cords

  • Fully functioning headlights, a taillight, a brake light, and turn signals front and rear

Fairly self explanatory stuff here. Let there be light!

  • Front and rear brakes

Brakes will either be hydraulic (check for leaks and good pressure) or cable operated (check for good tension and no fraying

  • A horn and a mirror

Only a single mirror on the left side is mandated but two are preferable

  • DOT compliant helmet

Check for the “DOT” sticker on the back of your helmet to ensure compliance

  • Registration with a rear-mounted license plate

I will go into more detail about motorcycle administrative work in another article

Do The Risks Of Motorcycle Riding Outweigh The Rewards?

In general, the benefits associated with motorcycle riding outweigh the benefits. As with any other activity people participate in, risks exist and must be judged appropriately.

This is nothing more than an opinion based on the evidence outlined above, however, I think it would be dangerous to ban something as innocuous as motorcycle riding. What would be the next domino to fall?

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