LYNNWOOD – They weren’t REALLY racing, understand.
It’s just when Matt Perske occasionally caught up to 11-year-old Robert Linse, Linse would just coincidentally push the throttle slightly, leaving the impression of competition.
The impression was enough for Linse’s stepfather, Shawn Hill.
“I’ve gotta reel him in,” Hill said. “He’s real competitive and he’ll drive it into the fence if I don’t.”
A talking-to met the needed goal. Linse, who admits to sitting and staring at the vehicle when he isn’t riding, doesn’t want to blow a good thing.
“I keep going and I can’t stop,” Linse said.
But he did.
Linse, from Lynnwood, and Perske, a 21-year-old from Redmond, were riding “pocket bikes,” a sort of mini-motorcycle that, while it hasn’t yet reached craze status, offers a reasonably affordable in for entry-level motor heads.
“You can’t beat it,” Perske said. “It’s something decently cheap to get into and have a lot of fun with. The minute you get on one, you can’t stop riding it.”
Pocket bikes vary widely in price and performance, but the basics are these: They have 39.6 c.c., two-stroke engines that are available in 2.6 to 12 horsepower.
Half-fairing versions, the most popular because of affordability and light weight (about 30 pounds), have half-gallon gas tanks, tubular steel frames and more room for the rider’s feet.
Full-fairing versions have a three-quarter-gallon gas tank, a reinforced frame that’s stronger than that of the half-fairing model and gives more of a feeling of stability when riding at higher speeds. The engines also are more powerful.
Price range: about $460 to $3,500, depending on the model.
Top speed: about 30 mph all the way up to 60 to 70 mph for highly modified engines.
And that’s why it’s recommended riders wear bike leathers, although many opt merely for knee pads and elbow pads, along with the required helmet.
Lewis Wy of Lynnwood shows the need for protection when he lifts his pants leg to reveal an ugly knee scrape.
“My battle wound,” Wy said, smiling.
Riders come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Six-foot-6, 230-pound Steve Kuhnle of Marysville gives the appearance of riding an in-line skate, his knees seemingly jutting out into the next county when he rides these 24-inch-high bikes. His size-13 feet make it necessary for Kuhnle to glue a piece of thick plastic on the side of his athletic shoes because they scrape pavement every time he leans into a turn.
“That’s all I could do,” Kuhnle said. “They don’t make size 13 boots for me.”
On this day, a gathering of about 10 to 12 riders braved the threatening sky to buzz around the 164th Street Community Transit park and ride. They are ultra-careful to wear helmets, make sure they ride on low-traffic evenings and stay off main streets within the parking area.
“This isn’t racing,” said Mitch Fotes, co-owner of NWMiniMoto, a Lynnwood retailer that sells pocket bikes. “This is an informal gathering. This is just quote-unquote practice.”
Pocket racing started in Europe and is very popular in Japan, where riders start as early as 5 years old.
“The top racers in the world you see started with these,” Fotes said.
A more formal gathering (a real set of races) comes July 17 at the Sand Point Naval Base in Seattle, Fotes said, which will be run in conjunction with a car show. Fotes expects a course that includes 15 to 16 turns and protective hay bales.
A problem, however, arises in the issue of legality.
On this day, the group is keenly aware of the watchful eye of Snohomish County Sheriff’s Dep. Mark Bond of the transit police, who says he’s simply there to watch. Unknown to the group is liability issues, so Fotes makes certain all riders know the helmet rules, clean up every speck of anything they produce and keep safety in mind.
Still, their time at this park and ride may be limited.
“It’s probably one of those things where, if we looked it up, we’d have to tell them no,” Bond said. “That would be too bad. I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove they don’t deserve it. They’ve made an effort to clean their trash and they’ve been responsible in getting out of the way of other people.
“The lower-level transit supervisors and I have talked about it and we’re of the consensus that we’re probably going to have to tell them not to, but if no one else is complaining, then we’re not going to be the primary one.”
Welcome to a new sport.