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For the Recyclists Bike Club, motorized bicycles are the way forward

on September 29, 2014

In front of a busy gas station in Oakland, an unusual-looking vehicle with two wheels passes by.

It’s not a motorcycle. It’s not a scooter. It’s not a battery-assisted bicycle. It’s a black Genesis one-speed cruiser, with a fat seat, high handlebars, and a silvery motor welded to the frame. There’s a gas tank, too, about the size of a toaster—and a crescent–shaped exhaust pipe.

The bicycle rumbles and goes quiet, as its owner, a 32 year-old mechanic named Jon Marshall, reaches for the gas pump to fuel up his bike. “Everywhere we go, people tend to stop us,” he says.

Marshall, a veteran of the Marine Corps who served in Iraq, grew up in Oakland’s Laurel District. He is assembling these motorized vehicles in his family house’s backyard garage, which he and his two friends working with him have renamed the Recyclists Bike Club. Using second-hand bike frames and an assortment of tools and small motors, the three Recyclists have devoted their shop not only to bike repairs, but also to building their own improvised motorized bicycles.

Unlike the battery-propelled bicycles now being sold in local shops in the Bay Area, the Recyclists’ homemade motorized bikes are powered by the kind of small engines typically used for all domestic and imported scooters. That makes these bikes noisy, when the engine kicks in. But the noise itself is “a safety advantage,” Marshall says. Car drivers are likelier to notice a vehicle on the road, he says, when its engine is making a loud sound.

“It’s easy to use,” Marshall says. He jumps on the bike, starts pedaling, and gradually releases what looks like a left handlebar brake.  But this handlebar contains a clutch lever, and releasing it—just as in a manual-transmission car—engages the bike’s engine. With a rising growl Marshall’s cruiser bike now starts to sound just like a motor scooter.

“It’s easy, simple and I like it,” Marshall says. He started taking an interest in cycling at an early age, he says, and two years ago began talking to his friends Willis Charles, 31, and Jason Tso, 28, both of whom have mechanical backgrounds and also love bicycles. The three bought their first used bikes and began experimenting with ways to attach both motors and safety features. They decided to link the front and back brakes, for example, so that both could be controlled from one handlebar.

The Recyclists’ very first finished product, a grey 6KU single-speed Fixie bike they named RTD, was sold—for $700—to a “collector” Marshall says. The friends have since built three more, and worked on building bikes for customers in their city. They have started up a small business putting motors on bicycles people bring to them. “Bring your bike, I put the motor you want on it,” Marshall says. “ It depends on your budget.”

For purposes of governmental licensing and registration requirement, the motorized bicycle is currently in legal limbo. Although Marshall says their bikes can go 30 miles per hour under motor, there is no formal California Division of Motor Vehicles category for motor-propelled bikes. Regular one-time bicycle registration is all that’s advised, and “there is not much regulation in terms of parking,” Marshall says.

The Recyclists aren’t the only people in the Bay Area putting motors on bicycles. There is All Access Mobility Device Repair in San Francisco, and Rutherford’s Boat Shop in Richmond.

“The competition is high,” Charles says. But the Recyclists hope to expand their business, and soon to start importing motors directly from China. They consider the Bay Area an especially bike-friendly area, and aim to create a community for motorized bicycle riders—perhaps with its headquarters in the crowded Marshall garage on Maybelle Avenue.

“It’s a work in progress,” says Charles, pointing at two dollar bills tacked to the wall. “These are not coming down,” he says, “until each of us makes ten thousand dollars.”


  1. Robert Prinz on October 1, 2014 at 8:26 am

    While I appreciate the Recyclists’ ingenuity and entrepreneurialism, there doesn’t appear to be any ambiguity about the devices they are building, which are clearly mopeds under California law, and not motor-driven bicycles.

    “Motor-driven bicycles” and “mopeds” are similar but different devices under the law, with different restrictions and requirements. Motor-driven bicycles must run on electric battery power and can’t be able to exceed 20mph unassisted, but they can be operated in bike lanes and on paths. Mopeds can go up to 30 mph, can use use a gas engine, but can’t be used on bicycle lanes or paths. Both devices must be able to move under pedal power only, and the operator must wear a helmet, be 16 or older, and moped drivers must also have a license and insurance.

    If the Recyclists are building and selling these devices they should be aware of the legal designation and requirements. Moped operators can be ticketed for using bike lanes and paths, for riding without helmets or under age, or for riding without a license, registration, and insurance.

  2. Kyle Craw on November 26, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    The motor bicycle is still classified as a bicycle hence a rider should adhere to rules and safety measures that are stated for bicycle users.

  3. Alta Johnson on January 8, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Very nice Jon. Hope all goes VERY well.

  4. Ronald Ortiz on January 15, 2015 at 9:35 am

    I’m so happy to hear about you guys . I have a motor bicycle it ran great for 2 days then the chain broke I’ve been looking for mechanics that can fix this bike . How can I get in contact w you guys ?? I’m a paying customer ofcourse or you can contact me ofcourse my email is

  5. Lizard King on January 23, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    yo, I love what your doing up there! im doin my best to bring up the southern California front! I want to see a FLEET of these machines runnin down the road. Keep an eye out for Lizard King Bikes on the roads and in the races!!!

  6. Robert McGough on July 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Im starting to make motorized bikes here in san mateo can you give me some pointers?

  7. Briggs Schwinn on July 27, 2015 at 4:31 am

    This article is all over the place on the law. VC 406 states for gas bikes, they must have an automatic transmission, motor under 4hp, maximum speed of 30, and working pedals. However their bikes have a manual clutch, so technically speaking they are illegal.

    Another VC states that you may use bike lane, but not bike paths depending on local ordinance. REG 230, fill out application and mail with $21 check, a one-time registration fee.

    Putting a motor on a bike changes everything. Those caliper rim breaks are ok for 20mph pedal bikes, but unsafe for motorized. Everything that is not secure or heavier duty will fail or just fall off within 500mi. Aluminum frames may crack.

    If these guys are going to sell any motorized bikes at all, they should at least have a freakin $100 SA 90mm drum on the front.

    A valid license with M1 or M2 endorsement is required.

    Most motorized bike riders lie about their manual transmission, whereas I lie about my top speed.

    Source: 4-stroke 147cc 50mph hydraulic disc brakes on 35 year old steel american frame.

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