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View Poll Results: Have you ever had to register your bike or get a cyclist license?

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  • But of course (to one or both)

    14 17.72%
  • No (to both)

    54 68.35%
  • I've never heard of this, what are you talking about?

    11 13.92%
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  1. #1
    Senior Member neilfein's Avatar
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    Bicycle and cyclist registration

    I just finished editing a position paper about bicycle registration for a cycling advocacy organization, and my next project is a longer popular article on the issues involved: Why these licensing programs rarely or never even pay for themselves, let along produce revenue; law enforcement sees little to no benefit; and so on.

    What I need is stories from people who have experience with this: riders who have had to get a cycling license or have registered their bikes (or both).

    • Did you receive any benefit from such a program?
    • Was it more trouble than it was worth?
    • Did the police use the information about your registered bicycle to help get it back after it was stolen?
    • Has anyone ever been pulled over by the police in a city that requires cyclist or bike registration?


    My thoughts on the issue are that such programs seem utterly useless, but I don't have any personal experience. I'd appreciate any information or tales you might have about this. (Hey this is a forum, we're here to talk, yes?)

    Thanks in advance for reading, and happy holidays!
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  2. #2
    Young, Stupid, Bold. kvangundy's Avatar
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    I live in Davis, Ca. I am fairly certain that lincensing is required, or at least strongly encouraged enough on campus, I'm a student, that most are under the impression it is.

    I've never heard of anyone who has felt that this registration system has garnered any benefits. Mostly, it is regarded as a means for the local police to streamline their ticket writing. TAPs of Davis (Transportation and Parking) tout the registration/licensing system as a means to recover stolen bicycles, any criminal worth his organs would peel the sticker off before selling to the fence of his choice...

    These programs, from the inside, are a useless as them seem from the outside. A small source of revenue for the city and that's it.

  3. #3
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    The only place I have ever lived that required bicycle registration was the twenty years I spent in Davis, where the university required that all bikes that were parked on campus have a state license. This licensing has never been used to recover stolen bikes, nor was it meant to. Its origins go back to the '70s when over 90% of all trips in Davis were made by bike. Bike parking was never adequate on campus and this problem was compounded by the fact that, as students graduated and left, they often left their town bikes behind. In order to avoid having all the bike parking taken up by abandoned bikes and also avoid impounding bikes that were being actively used, the campus began requiring registration. This registration facilitated the impoundment of abandoned bikes, nothing more and nothing less.

    Once a bike was impounded at U.C.D., the police would just auction it off at the next semi-annual police auction. As far as I know, no attempt was ever made by the U.C.D. police to contact the owner of a bike that was impounded for an out-of-date registration. However, there was always a noticeable increase in available parking after an impound sweep, so there were some beneficial aspects to the registration requirement.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    The data speak volumes on bike registration. It's never worked very well in the US.

    Quote Originally Posted by neilfein View Post
    • Has anyone ever been pulled over by the police in a city that requires cyclist or bike registration?
    A friend of mine was pulled over for speeding once, another for not having a helmet, and a third for being in the turn lane to make a left turn. I've had a bike stolen, and reported it to the police with all the bike's info, so I was curious, and asked them about their experiences. All of my friends said the police didn't care to look at serial numbers on the bikes, or anything else that would tell whether they were stolen or not. My friends were all respectful and not drunk or high, so two were sent on their way with a warning, and the third got a ticket. ( These were three separate incidents, by the way! )
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  5. #5
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    Most bikes in Japan are registered. If and when the city council impounds your bike you need to prove that it's yours to get it back after paying a small fine. The police also do random checks to make sure you're not riding a stolen bike.

  6. #6
    Senior Member wahoonc's Avatar
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    I have lived in areas that have had cycle registration in the past. Supposedly it was so your bike would be listed for easy return if stolen. I have had several stolen over the years that were registered and have yet to get one back that way. I asked about the old registration records recently and no one has a clue what happened to the data base.

    FWIW I would not support registering or licensing bikes or the riders. I can see where it may be necessary in say a college environment to control the number of bikes and where they are parked. I know at University of Iowa they will ticket your bike if it is locked up somewhere it isn't supposed to be.


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  7. #7
    xtrajack xtrajack's Avatar
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    The town I live in has a voluntary bicycle registration program. It is supposed to help with recovery if your bicycle is stolen. The local police department also uses the National Bike Registry database.
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  8. #8
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    In 30+ years I have never heard of it. Do you get a license plate to hang from your seat or something?
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  9. #9
    GATC
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    What do you mean 'had to'? And 'register'? I chose to get a city sticker for one bike. It's a registration for purposes of theft recovery. Not required, and probably not even useful.

  10. #10
    Old, but not really wise CptjohnC's Avatar
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    Campus registration (strongly encouraged, though not strictly mandatory, I suppose). No licensure that I'm aware of.

    While licensing and registration might encourage responsible riding, competent riding, and 'ownership' of cycling, I see it more as an impediment to casual riding and therefore see it as a net negative. I doubt I'd be cycling if I had needed a license and registration (and accompanying fees) just to ride a mile to my nearest metro station.

    Registration has never, in my experience, been a benefit to the rider/ bike owner, and no impediment to thieves. Even engraved serial #s are of very limited value, in my experience.

  11. #11
    Cyclist storckm's Avatar
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    After my bike was stolen summer before last, I registered the other ones with the local police, since it might possibly make it easier for them to be recovered. It was voluntary and free.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Spudd's Avatar
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    In Toronto there's free voluntary registration with the police (via their website) which supposedly the police can use to return your bike to you if they find a stash of stolen bikes. I registered my bikes on it, figured it can't hurt and it might help. But there's nothing mandatory.

  13. #13
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    I grew up in Santa Clara, CA in the 70's. Bike licensing was mandatory. You went to a fire station on some very limited hours, paid $3 and they put a city sticker on your bike and recorded you and your bike's info.
    Supposed to help in theft recovery, but the cops didn't do squat for the four bikes I had stolen. Even when I told them I saw a kid riding my stolen bike. They said there was no proof. So, I jumped that kid and took it back. If the cops won't do anything - some kids just commit felonies!
    Every now and then they had big enforcement on bike riding. I got a ticket once for riding on the wrong side of the road. My buddy with me got that and one for no registration on the bike.

    Long Beach, CA recently had a real big Critical Mass mess with lots of unregistered bikes being confiscated.

    Don't know if my current city has registration or not, and I care not to.

    Many cities have youth programs for bike edu and issue "licenses" to the kid riders.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member jputnam's Avatar
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    Our town still has vestigal municipal code for bicycle registration. The Chief of Police is supposed to inspect bikes for safety, record title, transfer title for sales, etc. We haven't actually had a bicycle registration program in generations, but the code is still there if we ever wanted to start it up again.

    Seemed to go out of favor after the Model T came along.
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  15. #15
    Senior Member tpelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rumpled View Post

    Long Beach, CA recently had a real big Critical Mass mess with lots of unregistered bikes being confiscated.
    INS: Please Note! Might work at the next illegal alien rally!
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  16. #16
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    I was drafting a cement truck once and I was caught doing it by a policeman. He was going to take me and my bike to the police station because my bike wasn't registered. I guess he thought that charging me with tailgating a truck at 40 mph wasn't going to get him anywhere. I talked him out of it when I told him I was going to be late for work.

  17. #17
    Senior Member exile's Avatar
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    I've never had to register a bike, but I think it would be a good idea in areas where there are a lot of bikes and limited parking (like a college).

    At my school, If your bike is left on a bike rack with flat tires, worn cables, and rusty drivetrain it is left alone. However if that same bike is parked in front of a professors office or high traffic building a notice is left immediately on it that it needs to be removed. For those bikes that are left locked to benches, gates, and around trees they had until the 18th of December to move them.

    Right now I counted 11 bikes that have not moved from the 22 available spots even though the campus is on break.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    I'll repost what I wrote five years ago:


    Here is a news story about Washington DC ending its mandatory bicycle registration program due to its negative effect on police-public relations. I think the report prepared by the DC Office of Police Complaints is particularly interesting. They find that (1) poorly communicated local bike regulations that are inconsistent with surrounding communities promote public ignorance of the law, (2) impounding offenders' bicycles is an inappropriately severe punishment for the offense, and (3) selective enforcement and pretextual stops create a public relations problem for the police.

    -Steve Goodridge
    _____________________________________________________________________

    From League of American Bicyclists News:

    DC Bike Registration to be Eliminated

    The Washington, D.C. Police Complaints Board submitted a recommendation to the city's mayor and police chief recommending the elimination of DC's mandatory bike registration law. A number of complaints received by the Board suggest that MPD officers have enforced mandatory bicycle registration in Washington, DC, sporadically and improperly, raising questions about possible bias in these stops. The Board referenced the League's position paper in the report.
    Link to the August 4th DC Office of Police Complaints Report:

    (Tiny URL version of this link: http://tinyurl.com/bf8d3 )

  19. #19
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    As for myself, I've never had a bike stolen, so I've never had any benefit from registration. My city has a voluntary free bike registration program and I've registered all six of our bikes, but I lock them securely enough for my low-crime suburban area that I don't expect to lose them.

    Most mandatory bike registration programs are not intended to benefit the bike owner as much as the price of the registration. They are intended to get found bicycles out of the police impound lot faster. Yet some police departments have actually cut locks to impound unregistered bicycles, resulting in higher, not lower volumes of impounded bikes. Some cities have initiated or explored mandatory bike registration schemes as an effort to discourage bicycling. I know of one case where such a scheme was intended to deter through cycling by out-of-town roadies.

    The most common enforcement of bike registration laws has nothing to do with cycling, but as a pretext to search a person suspected of carrying contraband or weapons.

  20. #20
    genec genec's Avatar
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    I've been around long enough to recall back in the day when bike registration was a pretty standard affair... done at the local fire station. I recall my first bike having this, and in later years also going through this in my mid 20's.

    I tried to register a bike about 10 years ago and I was flat out told "we just don't do that any more."

    As far as licensing... what's a bike license? I have a driver's license, and I have taken LAB classes for cycling... and various safety classes for driving (both motorcycle and car), so certainly I should qualify... but I know of no agency that issues a "bike license."

    I can see wanting to register a bike for theft reasons... but other than that... nah.

  21. #21
    Senior Member tpelle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sggoodri View Post
    As for myself, I've never had a bike stolen, so I've never had any benefit from registration. My city has a voluntary free bike registration program and I've registered all six of our bikes, but I lock them securely enough for my low-crime suburban area that I don't expect to lose them.

    Most mandatory bike registration programs are not intended to benefit the bike owner as much as the price of the registration. They are intended to get found bicycles out of the police impound lot faster. Yet some police departments have actually cut locks to impound unregistered bicycles, resulting in higher, not lower volumes of impounded bikes. Some cities have initiated or explored mandatory bike registration schemes as an effort to discourage bicycling. I know of one case where such a scheme was intended to deter through cycling by out-of-town roadies.

    The most common enforcement of bike registration laws has nothing to do with cycling, but as a pretext to search a person suspected of carrying contraband or weapons.
    Most laws of this sort have a nefarious purpose, including *** laws in particular. It's called "selective enforcement". Back in the old west, during the cattle drive period when cowboys, freshly paid and flush with cash, would come in to town and visit the saloons and other "establishments", and generally raise hell. Laws were enacted that stipulated that all guns were to be turned in to the town marshal, and would be returned when the cowboy was leaving town. According to the laws, no one in town was to be armed. In practice all of the locals carried "shopkeeper specials", derringers, or other small pistols - everybody knew it, including the marshal, but the only people it was enforced against were the cowboys. During the antebellum period, most cities enacted strict *** laws, but again, the only people that they were enforced against were the newly-freed slaves.

    The longer I live the more I come to realize that it's not about safety or good order - It's about control!
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  22. #22
    Senior Member Grim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tpelle View Post

    The longer I live the more I come to realize that it's not about safety or good order - It's about control!
    And revenue.
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  23. #23
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    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. 'Ere we go again. Please read http://www.toronto.ca/budget2005/pdf...censingcyc.PDF for a comprehensive and thorough demolition of the idea.
    It wouldn't lead to better cycling. Please consider the effect of licensing drivers and cars on driving standards. If that worked as some forumers seem to believe, we wouldn't be logging on to umpteen forums to moan about driver behaviour.
    It wouldn't make it easier to stop and charge cyclists, since the existing laws are sufficient to do that.
    Unless the cost was enormous, there would be no surplus to spend on cycling facilities and the National Bike Register takes care of the bike identification problem in case of theft. In any case, what's to stop you taking a photo of your bike(s) and keeping a record of the serial number?

  24. #24
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    In many areas, you have to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation sponsored safety course before you can get your motorcycle license. This makes perfect sense because operating a motorcycle is very different than driving a car. Personally, I don't think specific registering bicycles does a lot but I do think that cyclists should be licensed. Just like a motorcycle, we know how different riding a bicycle is than driving a car, thus, it makes sense that riders should need to complete some kind of cycling safety course before being allowed to ride on the road.

    Personally, I'd take a test to get my bicycle license if I had to. If they offer a bicycle safety course in my area, sign me up. I'm also pretty confident I'd pass too. Yes, having to get licensed or take some kind of safety course might deter some people from hopping on their bike and going around town but these are usually the dumb-asses who I don't want out on the road anyway. Too lazy to learn the rules of the road? Stay off of it then.

    Then again, this would also prompt the idea of enforcing who can ride on the road with cars and who can stick to the sidewalk with pedestrians. Bicycles are unique since they can be either car in one scenario or pedestrian in another.

    All of this stuff about registering bikes doesn't sound like it's a good idea for either side. Police don't care if your bike gets stolen since your bike is just a toy and you can go back to Wal-Mart and buy a new one as far as they're concerned. As for cyclists, it's just another thing you have to get done and it never really seems to help when you need it to (stolen bike recovery).

    I think that ideally registration and licensing of bike and cyclists could be beneficial but it never seems to work out.

  25. #25
    The Professor akohekohe's Avatar
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    Hawaii Law:

    249-14 Bicycle and moped fee. (a) Bicycles having two tandem wheels that are twenty inches or more in diameter and all mopeds are required to be registered and shall be subject to a permanent registration fee of $15, to be paid by the owners thereof to the director of finance. (b) An owner of a bicycle having two tandem wheels that are less than twenty inches in diameter is not required to register such bicycle, but may do so to facilitate the return of recovered stolen bicycles by payment of the registration fee. The fee collected shall not be refunded or prorated. Upon receipt of the fee, the director of finance shall number and register each bicycle and moped for which the fee is paid, in the owner's name and furnish the owner with a metallic tag or decal for each bicycle or moped which shall be attached to the bicycle or moped. On bicycles the decal shall be affixed to the upright post attached to the sprocket facing in the forward direction. On mopeds the decal shall be affixed to the lower portion of the rear fender facing rearward. Upon initial registration by an owner or transferee, the director of finance shall require proof of ownership and require the owner to furnish verification of the serial number and description contained in the proof of ownership and application for registration. The metallic tags or decals shall be in a form as the director of finance shall from time to time prescribe. It shall be the duty of the director of finance of each county to purchase a sufficient number of these tags or decals.
    (c) All fees collected under this section shall be deposited into the bikeway fund and shall be expended in the county in which the fees are collected as provided in section 249-17.5.

    249-14.3 Exemption from fee and tag. Any bicycle brought into the State shall be exempt from the payment of fees and display of State of Hawaii bicycle tag for the remaining period for which the taxes or fees have been paid on such bicycle in compliance with the law of the state or country from which it was brought, if the bicycle displays a tag for the current year as required by the law of such state or country.
    I don't really object to this. I think $15 for a one time registration is reasonable. We use the roads so I don't mind paying a fee and in this case it goes to the bike way fund which is restricted for use for bicycle facilitates (although this includes multi-use paths and they don't license shoes). The police do check for the license if the bike is stolen or abandoned and of course use the license to issue parking tickets. I ride Alex Moulton bicycles which don't require a license (less than 20" wheels) but I get the license anyway because I support the program and it could help recover a stolen bicycle. If you are in an accident you had better hope it is licensed because otherwise the police will ticket you and impound the bike. I do think a municipal program is wrong headed though - it should be state-wide, just like the licensing of motor vehicles. As the above shows Hawaii does recognize licenses from other jurisdictions.

    Licensing bicyclists is another story ...
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