15 March 2019

Blue Ridge Cycling Blues

There're too many of those gosh-darned bike riders on this-here road.

OK, so the complaint might not have been articulated in quite that way.  But I've given you the gist of it, as it was relayed to a state legislative representative.

So what does that legislator do?  He introduces a bill that would require all cyclists riding on public streets or highways in his state to register their bikes (for a fee) or face a fine.  They would also be required to affix a plate to the rear of their bicycles.

The representative is Jeffrey Elmore, a Republican who represents Wilkes County in the North Carolina House of Representatives.  He filed the bill "by request," which usually means the representative filed it as a favor to constituent or someone who's not in the general assembly.  It doesn't necessarily mean that the representative who files the bill is in favor of it.

Elmore hasn't said anything about the bill, HB157, since filing it.  However, at least two of his colleagues--both Democrats--have voiced their opposition to it.  

Susan Fisher of Buncombe County said it would discourage people from using their bikes to get to work or school, or for recreation, at a time when "[w]e should be encouraging alternative forms of transportation in light of the carbon restrained future we're facing."  

And Brian Turner, also of Buncombe County, pointed out that such a requirement would place an unfair burden on poor people who rely on their bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.  He also raised another issue:  "Is this what we want our police to be enforcing?"

Family cycling in Boone, North Carolina

The question of enforcement is related to another issue:  Would visitors from out of state be required to purchase a temporary permit?  If not, the police would probably waste a lot of time pulling over cyclists who didn't have plates on their bikes but who came Tar Heel State for a race or a tour of the coast or the Blue Ridge Mountains.   

That last point was not lost on Mike Sule, the executive director of nonprofit Asheville On Bikes.  He points out that his state has become one of the more popular destinations for bicycle tourism.  "WNC (Western North Carolina) is a great place to ride a bike," he explains.  "But so is Pennsylvania, and so is Tennessee" and that "we have to understand that we are competing with those other states for people to come here and enjoy themselves."

He also wonders whether such a bill, if passed, would have a negative impact on the state's bicycle manufacturing and retail industries, which are thriving even with the demise of Performance Bikes.  WNC is home to Industry 9, Fox Factory, Cane Creek and other bicycle-related companies.

Sule also made one other really good point against the bill.  He noted that other cities, including Seattle, San Diego, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, have imposed similar fees.  In none of those cities did requiring cyclists to register their bikes for a fee meet the objectives, whatever they were, that served as the rationale for such fees.  And enforcing such regulations cost more than the cities collected in fees--while cycling was discouraged.


  1. When are they going to introduce compulsory intelligence tests for those seeking public office. Personally I would enforce it for voters too...

  2. Dave Moulton had a good piece on his blog a few years back. The gist of it was as you pointed out that these bike registration schemes cost more to administer than they bring in. Also since most Americans view bikes as toys no one will pay to register a "toy". Basically it gives the police something to beat a cyclist over the head with if they do happen to stop him. I imagine it would mostly be directed at people of color.

    It's also depressing to see yet another dumbshit law proposed in my home state (remember the bathroom gender potty law). Sigh....

  3. Coline—Mark Twain once said, “Now, supposing a man were an idiot and a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

    Phillip—Thanks for reminding me about that post. I agree that the registration will be used in a discriminatory manner.

    Don’t get me started on the potty law.

  4. Hopefully, rational minds will prevail and prevent passage of yet another ill-fated law that will result in unintended behaviors (in this case, less use of bicycles), while burdening taxpayers with the cost of a program of dubious value. Hopefully, some of your readers who live in NC will voice their opinions to their elected state representatives.

  5. Rob--I share your hope. The NC bill seems to be the result of a lawmaker who doesn't ride listening to a constituent who has an irrational fear of cyclists.