With the enormous variety of motorized, two-wheeled motor vehicles available in commerce today, it can be a challenge to figure out the state laws that apply to a particular style of bike. This is particularly true since the categories of bikes have different terms in different states.
In Michigan, the line is drawn between motorcycles, mopeds and off-road recreational vehicles. Minibikes, which are essentially small motorized cycles, can fall into any of these categories depending on its specifications.
What Is a Minibike?
A minibike started out as a motorized, off-highway cycle with a low frame that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Often, they were made at home from bike or lawnmower parts. Since they were not intended to be used on the highways, they were different from motorcycles and mopeds, but they were smaller than regular dirt bikes.
Today, the term "minibikes" basically refers to small motorcycles. In Michigan, they are often called pocket bikes. Depending on the exact specifications of one of these bikes, it may be classified as a motorcycle or a moped in Michigan. If they have all of the requisite original equipment, they may be street legal. If not, they can only be used off-road.
Michigan Laws on Motorcycles and Mopeds
In Michigan, the two types of street-legal motorized bikes are motorcycles and mopeds. Motorcycles are more powerful, with gears that the rider must shift as they gain speed or slow down. These are the legal differences in Michigan:
- A motorcycle has an engine displacement of greater than 100 cubic centimeters, and a moped has an engine displacement of 100 cc's or less/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-257-32b).
- A motorcycle has a top speed of over 30 mph, and a moped has a top speed of 30 mph or less.
- A motorcycle has gears, and a moped has an automatic transmission.
Note that different rules apply to the requirements for driving a motorcycle and a moped. To drive a motorcycle in Michigan, the person must have a valid motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license.
Michigan Motorcycle Endorsement Requirements
To qualify for this endorsement, they must:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Have a valid Michigan driver’s license.
- Have passed either an approved motorcycle rider education course offered by a public or private sponsor, or a rider skills test offered by an approved driver testing business.
- Pay a motorcycle endorsement fee of $16.
- Carry liability insurance.
Michigan Moped Laws
To drive a moped on public roads, no insurance is required. A moped driver must:
- Be at least 15 years old.
- Have a Michigan driver's license or obtain a special moped license. No road test is required, but knowledge and vision tests are.
- Wear a helmet if younger than 19 years old.
Registering a Pocket Bike
If the pocket bike has an engine displacement of 100 cc's or less, which is almost always the case, it may be legally classified as a moped. It must also have an automatic transmission and a top speed of no more than 30 mph. However, in order to be a street-legal moped, it must also meet the state's operational and equipment requirements for mopeds.
For example, in order to drive on public streets in Michigan, mopeds must have:
- At least one headlight mounted between 54 inches and 24 inches above the ground that can illuminate people and vehicles at least 100 feet ahead.
- At least a brake on the front wheel and a brake on the back wheel, both of which can be operated by hand or foot.
- A horn that can be heard from a distance of 200 feet.
- A rear lamp that emits a red light which can be seen from 500 feet behind.
- A rear stop lamp that emits a red or amber light when the brakes are applied and can be seen from 100 feet behind.
- A taillamp or a separate lamp that lights up the license plate and registration sticker to make it clearly legible from 50 feet to the rear.
- A muffler.
- A rearview mirror.
- A permanent and regular seat that is firmly attached.
- Handlebars no higher than 30 inches from the lowest point of the seat to the highest point of the handle grip of the operator.
- A manufacturer’s identification number permanently affixed to the frame.
Minibikes, aka pocket bikes, that do not meet the requirements for a moped or a motorcycle cannot be used on public roadways. These small mini-motorcycles can still be used on private land or on off-road trails.
Michigan has over 4,000 miles of state-designated off-road vehicle (ORV) trails and routes, including six scramble areas, eligible county roads, frozen surface of public waters, state forest roads and some national forest road. To ride on a minibike that is not street legal, an individual must obtain an ORV license and a trail permit.
Both of these documents are valid for one year that begins on April 1 and ends on March 31 of the following year, no matter when they are purchased. The license costs $26.25 and the trail permit costs $10.
Helmets in Michigan
Generally, everyone under 19 years of age who is driving a moped or is a passenger on a moped must wear an approved crash helmet. A rider or passenger 19 or older may choose not to wear one.
Motorcycle helmet laws are somewhat different. Any driver or passenger under the age of 21 years must wear a crash helmet. If a driver is at least 21, they can operate a motorcycle without wearing a crash helmet if they meet certain other requirements:
- They must have had a motorcycle endorsement on their license for at least two years or have passed a motorcycle safety course.
- They must carry motorcycle insurance that provides first-party medical benefits payable if they are involved in a motorcycle accident.
- The first-party medical benefits insurance must have a minimum limit of $20,000 if there is no passenger, but a minimum limit of $20,000 per person per occurrence if there is a passenger.
Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. Her experience includes years of work in the insurance, workers compensation, disability, and background investigation fields. She has written on legal topics for a number of other clients. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing, and enjoys writing legal articles and blogs for clients in related industries.