Spooky Spokes

With some help from a lawmaker, Roland Bosma wants to start a transportation revolution

Roland Bosma talks about motorized bicycles like a revolutionary bent on destroying the transportation system as we know it.

According to Bosma, Spooky Tooth Cycles, which he co-founded, provides options to people who may not have the money to buy a car, but find it exhausting to manually bike around Tucson's sprawl in the summer heat. The "green" crowd also likes that the bicycles get 150 miles per gallon, polluting less and reducing dependence on The Man (i.e., oil companies), he said.

If Bosma's bohemian shop, at 657 W. St. Mary's Road, is indeed fomenting rebellion, the movement is in danger of being sidetracked, if not derailed, by state laws that don't know what to make of the motorized bikes.

"Now that we have about 200 bikes on the road, people are starting to take notice--cops are starting to take notice," Bosma, 29, said.

Arizona law, as in most states, doesn't contain a separate definition for motorized electric- or gas-powered bicycles. Instead, the classification for moped also encompasses the bikes.

Arizona statute states that a moped is a "bicycle that is equipped with a helper motor" and meets three criteria: a maximum piston displacement of 50 cubic centimeters or less, brake horsepower of 1 1/2 or less and a maximum speed of 25 mph or less on a flat surface.

Standard Spooky Tooth bikes--there are five models that can be tricked out, from seats to handlebars and beyond--have a piston displacement of 48 cubic centimeters and do 18 to 20 mph, which technically classifies them as mopeds.

A moped rider has to have a license, registration and insurance to be legal. Bosma said that when officers have cited Spooky Tooth cyclists, it has frequently been for not registering their bikes as mopeds with the Motor Vehicle Division.

But in a Catch-22, the MVD has refused to recognize the bikes as mopeds when people have gone to register them, he said. Most of the tickets given to cyclists have been dismissed by judges, he added, but a few have stuck.

"We just assumed that our bikes were legal, because they start their lives as a bicycle, with an engine put on as an afterthought," he said.

Frustrated, Bosma sought a remedy to the law's ambiguity. He discussed the issue with Democratic state Rep. Tom Prezelski at a Knockout Pills show, in what is likely a rare instance of a politician meeting up with a constituent at a punk-rock concert.

Prezelski co-sponsored House Bill 2796, which won unanimous approval from the House of Representatives earlier this month and has now moved to the Senate.

The bill defines motorized electric- and gas-powered bicycles and tricycles, and exempts them from the vehicle registration, certificate of title, license tax and other laws that are applicable to motor vehicles. Bikes and trikes that fit under the new definition will have to have a maximum piston displacement of 48 cubic centimeters, top out at 20 miles per hour and be optionally self-propelled.

"It's unclear to law enforcement how to treat these vehicles," Prezelski said. "They look at them and think 'moped,' and judges don't know how to treat them, either, so a lot of the tickets are being thrown out."

The bill commits motorized bicyclists to obey the same traffic laws as normal riders. It would also permit them to use bike lanes, and that has some safety advocates for regular cyclists concerned.

"In general, we're opposed to having vehicles that are motorized running in a lane that's used by bicycles," said Steve Wilson, president of the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association. He said people driving cars and manual bicyclists may not be accustomed to how fast motorized bikes travel, making accidents more probable.

Matt Zoll, Pima County bicycle and pedestrian program manager, said that while he's not completely opposed to motorized bikes sharing space with their manual cousins, he does have concerns about their speed and the possible safety impacts on regular cyclists.

"Just today, I witnessed a person in a motorized vehicle (a car) nearly get into a crash, largely because of the speed the (motorized) cyclist was going," he said. "They got up to a high speed pretty quickly, and the driver didn't realize the cyclist was coming up from behind so fast. Luckily, nothing happened--but it was a pretty close call."

Bosma said he's very sensitive to the concerns of manual bicyclists; Prezelski asserted that the limited number of motorized bikes on the road probably won't cause a hassle for regular cyclists. If they do become a problem, and his bill becomes law, he said, at least there'll be a statutory definition of the bikes so legislators can take action.

But Kevin Coine, a Spooky Tooth customer who talked to the Weekly while perched atop his Black Racer, said having a motorized bike has actually made him more safety-conscious.

"I obey all the laws ... even more so now," he said. "When I was on a (regular) bike, I kind of skirted through stop signs, you know, like people do."

Coine said not a day goes by when somebody doesn't offer to purchase his sleek bike with red tire rims. A motorized bike appealed to him because he was "darn tired" of peddling a regular bike to his graveyard shift at work. With a driver's license that's been suspended for the past two years and not a lot of money, his transportation options were limited.

"This fills the void," he said. "Now I can go 15 or 20 miles and not even break a sweat."

The best part? Coine filled the bike's tank for $1.58 five days ago and still has a half-tank of gas after numerous trips.

Bosma said Coine is the perfect example of a person who benefits from the cheaply priced "alternative transportation" Spooky Tooth offers, starting at $525.

People have obviously taken notice. What started two years ago as a business run out of a bedroom has turned into a laid-back, 3,000-square-foot retail space, in which Bob Dylan music plays softly and a placid dog named Cash wanders around. In a few months, Spooky Tooth will roll out electric-powered bikes, Bosma said at the shop, a can of beer in his hand.

He's passionate about motorcycles, motorized bikes and, of course, the Spooky Tooth revolution.

"It's a grassroots movement," Bosma said. "People have got to get to work. They've got to get groceries. They've got to get to school.

"You know what? Fuck the transportation landscape. There's such a disparity between cars and their high price and bicycles and their low price. There has to be another way."

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