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Interpretation ID: 07-007541as

Mr. Darby Crow


Crow Cycle Co.

863 Opal Street

San Diego, CA 92109

Dear Mr. Crow:

This responds to your letter concerning whether the Crow Cycle Companys motorized bicycle design (the Crow beach cruiser) is considered a motorcycle, subject to the jurisdiction of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As discussed below, it is our opinion that the Crow beach cruiser is a motor vehicle. Moreover, based on the specifications of the vehicle that you provided, it is our opinion that the Crow beach cruiser should be considered a motorcycle, or more specifically a motor-driven cycle, and therefore is subject to Federal laws governing those vehicles.

By way of background, NHTSA regulates the manufacture, importation, and sale of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. The definition of motor vehicle is given is 49 USC 30102, and reads:

[M]otor vehicle means a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public streets, roads, and highways, but does not include a vehicle operated only on a rail line.

Furthermore, the NHTSA has included definitions of various vehicle types in its regulations. In 49 CFR 571.3, we defined a motorcycle as a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground. A motor-driven cycle is defined as a motorcycle with a motor that produces 5-brake horsepower or less.

You have provided detailed specifications regarding the Crow beach cruiser. Most relevantly, you stated that it comes equipped with a 36cc, 1.6 HP engine. The Crow beach cruiser has a bicycle frame, seat, transmission, and mountain bike wheels. The speed control is a twist throttle, similar to motorcycle designs, and most other components are standard bicycle components.

Furthermore, you stated that the Crow beach cruiser can be operated in three different modes. The first is Human Power, in which the vehicle is operated like a non-powered bicycle. The second is Human Power plus gasoline engine, in which the vehicle operates like a power-assisted bicycle. The third is Gasoline engine only, in which the engine provides the sole power for the vehicle. In this mode, the vehicle has a top speed of 28 mph when placed in the smallest gear. Additionally, we note that the beach cruiser style of bicycles, whether motorized or not, are marketed in part for and commonly used on public roads.

You provided several arguments as to why you believe NHTSA should not consider your product a motor vehicle. You state that the engine output and top speed of the vehicle, 1.6 HP and 28 mph, respectively, are similar to what a world-class cyclist can sustain through human power alone, and what an average cyclist can produce in brief bursts. Therefore, you state, the performance of the vehicle is similar to that of an ordinary bicycle powered by a cyclist. You also state that the Crow beach cruiser cannot keep up with normal road traffic, is not capable of quick acceleration, and cannot climb hills at a speed comparable to a motorized vehicle.

You made several additional arguments. First, you argued that the Crow beach cruiser is very similar to a mountain or road bicycle. You state that the controls are similar and the components are largely bicycle components. Furthermore, you presented information on various State laws regarding the classification of motorized bicycles and motorcycles. You stated that a majority of States classify a vehicle a top speed of 30 mph or less and an engine capable of producing 2 HP or less as a motorized bicycle.

Based on the description of the vehicle you provided, we believe that the Crow vehicle is a motor vehicle, subject to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs). We believe that it should be classified as a motor-driven cycle. Below, we will state our rationale, as well as address the arguments you put forth in your letter.

NHTSAs position on whether motorized bicycles should be classified as motor vehicles under the definition in 49 U.S.C. 30102 has been discussed in several previous interpretations. In a 1999 interpretation, we stated that attaching a motor to a bicycle rendered the bicycle a motor vehicle, because the motor was capable of propelling the vehicle on its own.[1] Similarly, a 1997 interpretation to an electric bicycle manufacturer stated that NHTSA considered self-propelled bicycles to be motor vehicles, subject to the Federal requirements.[2] We are enclosing copies of both previous interpretations. Because the Crow beach cycle is capable of operating solely under mechanized power, we would consider it to be a motor vehicle, and thus subject to Federal requirements.

We note that we do not consider power-assisted bicycles to be motor vehicles. In a recent letter of interpretation, we stated that a bicycle with an engine that was not powerful enough to power the bicycle alone would not be considered a motor vehicle.[3] The Crow beach cruiser, on the other hand, is capable of performing purely on engine power.

You argued that the Crow beach cruiser is no more capable of keeping up with traffic than human-powered cyclists, and therefore should not be considered a motor vehicle. We disagree with this argument. The Crow beach cruiser, using only the motor, is capable of sustained speeds of up to 28 mph. We believe that vehicles with speeds of over 20 mph are capable of on-road operation. We note that one class of four-wheeled motor vehicles, low speed vehicles (LSVs), have a top speed of more than 20 mph but not more than 25 mph.

You also argued that because the Crow beach cruiser uses similar controls to a road or mountain bicycle, it should be considered a motorized bicycle, and that many States do not consider low-powered motorized bicycles to be motorcycles. While we are not familiar with the various State laws you mentioned, we note that Congress has enacted laws regarding motorized bicycles. Specifically, in the Consumer Product Safety Act, Congress distinguished certain types of motorized bicycles, namely, low-speed electric bicycles, which have a top speed of less than 20 mph. In that Act, Congress stated that because low-speed electric bicycles are designed not to exceed the maximum speed of a human-powered bicycle, and they are typically used in the same manner as human-powered bicycles, electric bicycles should be regulated in the same manner and under the same agency (the [Consumer Product Safety Commission] CPSC) as human-powered bicycles. While we note that this law applies only to electric bicycles, and not gasoline-powered bicycles like the Crow beach cruiser, we take note that Congress used a cutoff speed of 20 mph. We also note that the 20 mph cutoff point was the speed that NHTSA used to determine the minimum top speed for LSVs. Therefore, we are not persuaded by your argument that the speed and design of the Crow beach cruiser should cause NHTSA to not consider it a motor vehicle.

Based on the above analysis, we have concluded that the Crow beach cruiser is a motorcycle, or more specifically, a motor-driven cycle. As such, it is subject to the FMVSSs applicable to motorcycles.

If you have any further questions relating to NHTSA, please contact Ari Scott of my staff at (202) 366-2992.

Sincerely yours,

Anthony M. Cooke

Chief Counsel




[1] June 10, 1999 letter to Mr. Ralph F. Ivey, available at

[2] November 20, 1997 letter to Mr. Gary Starr, available at

[3] September 17, 2007 letter to Mr. Howard Seligman, available at