The fun you can have on small motorbikes seems to be inversely proportional to their diminutive size. Minibikes – also known as pocket bikes, pit bikes, monkey bikes, and a slew of other informal terms – are small enough for a child to ride comfortably, yet can travel as fast as 50 mph. Such speeds beg the question: are minibikes legally operable on the street?
Depending on where you live, the answer can be yes, no, or maybe – every state regulates minibikes a little differently. But before you begin interpreting the legislation, it’s important to know what exactly a minibike is in the first place.
What Is a Minibike?
Minibikes are exactly what they sound like: miniature motorized bikes that look like a three-quarters scale Honda Rebel or another introductory motorcycle. They are small – usually about two feet tall – and feature tiny wheels no more than six inches in diameter. All the other major components are likewise scaled-down.
Minibikes typically use a 40 or 50 cc engine (or an electric motor) tucked underneath the seat. Transmissions may be one or two speeds. Riders straddle the bike like a motorcycle but with their knees splayed out and their backs straight.
Many minibikes feature safety equipment such as headlights, a horn, side mirrors, and brake lights, but due to the variety of laws across the country, not all bikes are so equipped. If you do plan on riding your minibike on the street – and your local laws allow it – be sure you install everything required for legal compliance.
Is a Minibike Considered a Motorcycle, Scooter, or Moped?
If you went exclusively by their engine displacement, minibikes would be classified as a moped. This is the smallest, slowest-powered two-wheeled machine. Typically, mopeds cannot legally be equipped with an engine larger than 50 cc; if so, that usually is enough to bump them from a moped to a scooter, which may have different usage laws.
However, many states also expect mopeds to travel at lower speeds than most minibikes are capable of. That leaves them occupying a generic middle ground – not really a moped and certainly not a scooter or motorcycle. To deal with this, most state governments simply consider them a “motor-driven cycle.” The catch-all term generally refers to anything featuring less than 50cc displacement but a top speed in excess of 20 mph.
For more on the legality of these various two-wheeled rides, check out our article on the legality of scooters.
Are Minibikes Street Legal?
It depends. In Connecticut, for instance, you can ride certain minibikes on the street (motor-driven cycles with a seat height of at least 26 inches and an engine size of less than 50 cc) – and there’s no need to have insurance or register the bike with the DMV. They only ask the rider has a valid license and keeps to the shoulder. However, Connecticut also differentiates “pocket bikes” as those with seat heights less than 26 inches, and these bikes can’t be registered and cannot be driven on any roadway or sidewalk.1
In Texas and California, you simply can’t operate a minibike on public roadways. That means you don’t need to register, insure, or plate your minibike – but could mean a hefty fine if you’re caught cruising on the street.2
In New Mexico, your minibike would be classified as a motorcycle due to its top speed. That means you could legally ride on the street – but you also need to purchase insurance as well as title and register the bike with the DMV.3New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division (MVD). Chapter 18 – Other “Vehicles”. Mvd.newmexico.gov. Updated January 10, 2014. Accessed June 30, 2021.4
For more state-by-state data, Genuine Scooter Company offers a helpful state-by-state guide.5Genuine Scooter Company. Scooter and Motorcycle Laws by State. Genuinescooters.com. Accessed June 30, 2021.6
Why Don’t Some States Allow Minibikes on the Road?
Because minibikes are dangerous. Their small size, low power, and relative rarity mean drivers are more likely to not notice a minibike rider puttering along the shoulder. That’s a big risk in today’s age of distracted driving and high-speed thruways. Even motorcycle riders, which suffer from far higher rates of traffic fatalities than car drivers, are better off than minibike riders thanks to being louder, faster, and more visible.7NHTSA. Motorcycle Safety. Nhtsa.gov. Accessed June 30, 2021.8
If your state allows minibike riders to legally use public roads, it would be wise to invest in some safety gear. A quality, DOT-approved helmet is paramount, even if your state doesn’t require it. A reflective vest is another good idea. And proper protective riding leathers and high-quality boots and gloves can be a literal lifesaver if the worst was to happen.
Don’t take safety risks – it isn’t worth it. A little investment in the right gear today will help keep you alive and intact in the event of an accident.
As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach with minibikes. The best solution is to consult your local DMV branch and inquire about how your state treats minibikes. If they consider your bike a motor-driven cycle operable on public roads, you’re in luck – generally, the requirements for these machines are lax or nonexistent, making it easy to get motoring.
However, other states might require a number of legal hurdles, from obtaining a motorcycle endorsement to dealing with title and registration headaches. However, the paperwork is a promising sign that you can ride on the street.
Abide by your local laws, deck yourself out in some quality safety gear, and enjoy your minibike. Even if you’re limited to your driveway, you can still have lots of fun on these pint-sized machines. If you’re still shopping for a minibike, check out our list of the best minibikes.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- State of Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. Motorcycles and Motor Driven Cycles. Portal.ct.gov. Accessed June 30, 2021.
- FindLaw. Are Pocket Bikes Legal? Findlaw.com. Updated December 4, 2018. Accessed June 30, 2021.