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What is a Motorized Bicycle?

By Kris Roudebush
Updated May 23, 2024
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The motorized bicycle concept has been around since the late 1800's. Taking the basic bicycle frame and adding a motor to do some or all of the pedaling for you made the biking experience easier. Initially inventors were crazy about the motorized bicycle and in the 1800's there were several patents for a variety of motors. Most of these motors wouldn't be looked at again until the early 1990's, about a hundred years later.

The motorized bicycle is considered environmentally friendly, which may add to their popularity. They are sometimes called light electric vehicles and may be listed on your license as such. They're different from motorcycles since motorcycles don't have pedals to fall back on to power the vehicle. Mopeds have pedals but there may be legal restrictions on using the pedals so check with your local DMV or Motor Vehicle Authority.

The U.S. is seeing a spike in demand for the motorized bicycle. Countries where bicycles are already popular had nearly as many motorized bicycles as other vehicles in the mid 90's. Electric bicycles are the most popular and China has been selling them by the millions since the early part of this century.

While the electric motorized bicycle is the most popular around the world, there is a motorized bicycle or two that uses the internal combustion engine to get going. Bolt on bike motors saw a boom of popularity in the 60's. A variety of manufacturers, including Sears, produced the motors which continued to sell into the 70's. Cleaner and more efficient engines are making these motors popular again.

Electric motorized bicycles are almost overwhelming in the varieties of motors and batteries that are available. Newer batteries are longer lasting and lighter giving the rider a drive range of around 25-30 miles (40-50 km). There is a distinction in the source of power an electric motorized bicycle has available. Power on demand is usually located in the handle bars. Pedelec is sometimes called power assist, since you'll have to pedal to control the motor.

The motorized bicycle won't be outselling conventional vehicles, in the U.S. at least, any time soon, but they are popular. Check your area for clubs and hobbyist groups. As a hobby motorized bikes are extremely popular and allow individuals to share modification information. Some unique modifications include the steam powered motorized bikes or solar powered bikes.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon289905 — On Sep 06, 2012

I learned a lot on how to build my motorized bicycle in an online forum, and found out they have regular group rides near my hometown and they are even racing motorized bicycles in Tucson, Arizona on go-kart tracks.

I love my motorized bicycle. I have not driven my car in months and the best part is the huge savings on fuel from not having to commute in my car anymore. No more paying for parking and even after a bad day at work, the ride home is so enjoyable that, by the time I reach home I have a huge smile on my face.

By indemnifyme — On Dec 19, 2011

@strawCake - Yeah, a motorized bike definitely sounds like it could be a great form of transportation. Especially if you have kind of far to go!

Anyway, a motorized gas bicycle seems like it would be pretty cool to have. I can understand why people started up with this idea in the 1800s too! I mean, they were pretty much at the height of the industrial revolution and the engine was the new cool thing. We all know how it is when something new comes out-people want to add it to everything! I'm not surprised people in the Victorian era tried to add it to a bicycle.

By strawCake — On Dec 18, 2011

You know, I don't think I've ever seen a motorized bicycle or even any motorized bicycle motors! Maybe motorized bicycles aren't that popular where I live. I see a ton of people on regular bicycles though!

And I have to admit, before reading some of the comments on this article, I thought the idea of a motorized bicycle was a little lazy. I mean, the whole point of a riding a bike is to get some exercise, right? I never thought about how much a motor on a bike could help out an older person or someone who relies on their bike for transportation!

By drtroubles — On Dec 18, 2011

@popcorn - I recently used one of those bicycle motor kits on my grandfather's bicycle as he was struggling to make it up some hills he used to be able to make with ease. I think having a motorized bicycle wheel is a great add-on for anyone who struggles a bit with portions of their cycling trip.

I honestly tried out my grandfather's motorized bike and I loved it. I am not that athletic myself and I loved the ability to coast along without any effort being put in. I think I might get motorized bike myself so I can enjoy my commute to work. Anything is better than being on a cramped bus.

By popcorn — On Dec 17, 2011

We ended up buying one of those bikes with the electric bicycle motor for my uncle who has some recent mobility issues but didn't want to give up his ability to go biking. We were trying to figure out a way for him to be able to bike without having to put as much effort in and a motorized bicycle was just what the doctor ordered.

I think it is pretty cool that you can peddle when you want and use the motorized bicycle engine when you need time to rest. My uncle is doing pretty well now and is able to bike almost as far as before his injury. I'd say a motorized bicycle is a great buy for anyone who wants a little extra help.

By Mykol — On Dec 17, 2011

@golf07 - My husband ordered a motorized bicycle kit for around $200 and converted my bicycle to a motorized one for me. I love it, and wish he had done this a long time ago.

He is pretty handy when it comes to this sort of thing, so don't know how complicated it was for him to do. He converted a motorcycle to a trike for himself, but I was content to just have a motorized bicycle.

When I just need to go a few blocks to get somewhere, I love getting on my new bicycle. I am starting to see a lot more of them around where we live too.

By golf07 — On Dec 16, 2011

I have been to a few countries where you see more motorized bicycles on the roads than you do cars.

This is a convenient, inexpensive way for them to get around and most people think nothing at all about having a motorized electric bicycle.

I can see why they are so popular, and wouldn't mind having one myself. Since I live in a warm climate year round, this is something I could get a lot of use out of.

Most times it is much easier, and just as quick to hop on a bicycle to get where I am going, but there are many days that having a motorized one would be even better.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 16, 2011

Has anyone ever heard of an electric bike that can also be used as a manual bike? I can see how I would like to have both options. If I am just out for a leisurely ride on a nice day it would seem silly to use the motorized feature, but if I am going up a steep hill or trying to out run a rain storm maybe it would be nicer to have a motorized assist? I feel like something like this should exist but I have never seen one.

By truman12 — On Dec 16, 2011

I had a motorized bike when I was in college. It was great because I went to a small school in a small town so I never had to travel very far. I would put maybe 10 gallons of gas in it a semester, if that, and get everywhere I needed to go in no time.

It had all the advantage of a motorcycle without any of the hassles or costs. I could even fit a friend of mine on the back as long as they didn't weight too much. I had to get rid of it when I moved after graduation but I sold it to a friend and he told me it ran for another 10 years.

By anon106112 — On Aug 24, 2010

update about types of motors construction and working principles about motor parts working.

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