Retro-fitted engines craze worries authorities

A craze for fitting bicycles with engines up to 80cc is sweeping the otherwise genteel island of Malta.

The island's authorities allow bikes to be fitted with engines of 50cc or less, provided the riders are over 16 and have passed the driving theory test.

But the easy availability of conversion kits online - plus dealers who seemed to be unpeturbed at requests to retro-fit ordinary cycles with motorbike engines - has seen a significant increase in power-assisted riders tearing up the island.

According to the Times of Malta, the engine kits - costing as little as €200  - can be installed by owners, rendering their bikes potentially unsafe due to possible faults.

A dealer, who specialises in retrofitting engines on bicycles, said he encountered no problem registering the imported engines, including those exceeding the 50cc limit, with the Malta Transport Authority (ADT), insisting he was doing everything above board.

The dealer said he imported the engines from China, fitted them on normal bicycles in his garage and sold them.

What  concerns the Maltese transport authorities is that the power-to-weight ratio would be larger than that of a normal motorcycle or scooter due to the lighter build of the bicycles.

Motoring expert Hugh Arnett said that legislation should be introduced to prevent people from fitting engines on bikes without inspection by the authorities.

However, he saw no problem with people just having to pass the theory test in order to be able to drive one of the motorised bikes, pointing out that normal bicycles could go quite fast. Crash helmets should be worn, however, rather than simple bicycle helmets, he warned.

Provided the bikes' engines is small and the speed limited does not exceed 50kph, the engine is mounted on a proper frame and the tyres are more than 2.5 inches wide, Mr Arnett conceded they were not much different from a normal bike.