Bike Licenses? Is That Really a Thing?

Today I learned about several cool bikey things Missoula has to offer. Finally, I encountered an official Missoula bike map, something more comprehensive than the 11”x17” photocopied map given out at the Adventure Cycling Association offices. Sure, the map was last updated in June 2005, and the cover photo was taken in China and not Montana. But it’s more durable than the former, which I’ve already needed to replace once due to a water spill inside my watertight messenger bag.

Then I met Bob Giordano, the head of MIST, who I hear has been instrumental in getting Missoula to be as bike-friendly as it is*. Next, I learned more about Freecycles Missoula, who assures a free bike to anyone and does a bunch of cool community events.

Then I found out about the bike licensing.

“Any person who operates a bicycle within the city limits needs to purchase a city bicycle license. Bike licenses are issued to protect the owner of the bike. You can receive a fine for riding an unlicensed bike within the city limits. If your bike is stolen or lost and recovered, you have a greater chance of getting it back if you have licensed it. Any questions or comments can be directed to the Bicycle Coordinator…”

As a matter of fact, I had many questions:

Bike licenses? Is that really a thing in Missoula? Really? I need to pay $10 to the City of Missoula to ride my bike around for the next 12 weeks? Or else get a fine?

Examining the license form, I found I had a few more questions. What if my bike doesn’t have a serial number? Or a model name? Or if I don’t want to put your license sticker on my bottom bracket? What purpose does this serve? Are the police going to pull me over at random and check my bottom bracket for a sticker? Or is this a program designed to try and track the town’s bicycle trends? The City of Portland (Bike City USA) seems to think that a bike licensing program wouldn’t even pay for its own administrative costs, so what’s so different in Missoula?

Instead of going to the Missoula Bicycle Coordinator, I decided to do a straw poll among my coworkers. As a newbie, it is my preferred method on getting a general reading on anything I’m wondering about at any particular moment. It was also after 5pm so most people were gone, meaning my sample size was one.

The one person I did ask thought it was strange that the subject had come up twice in one day in the office, and no; she doesn’t think anyone actually licenses their bikes.

According to the Missoula Public Library, I am a resident. Thus, according to the City of Missoula dog licensing site, I would need to license Atticus as well, despite our only being in town three months. Just like that license, I plan to openly disregard the bike licensing thing. On the other hand, part of me thinks it would be a real hoot to go through the process to see how it works. Talk to city workers to try and find out more.

What say you, internet readership?

*=The Adventure Cycling Association, a national organization, may have staff members who get involved with the local bike scene, but it is not a priority for the organization as a whole.


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6 responses to “Bike Licenses? Is That Really a Thing?

  1. Max

    We had optional bike licensing at UIUC. They used the same arguments (helps to track down if it’s stolen), but the reality was the only thing that happened as a result was that if you locked your bike somewhere you weren’t supposed to, then they could place a fine in your name with the University; thus blocking your graduation, transcripts/etc until you paid it.

    As you can imagine, it was really popular.

  2. The generally accepted purpose of licensing anything smaller than a car is to ensure its return to the owner in the event of loss or theft. (Licensing a car only makes it easier to track the driver for purposes of, um, “enforcing” such things as “safe” driving and “insurance coverage”, both Faustian bargains at best.)

    I would think that licensing your dog isn’t a bad idea, even if you’re only there for three months; if something bad happens (i.e., Atticus storms off in a fit of pique because you withheld pizza or committed some similar breach of the dog-human relationship agreement), having one of those pesky tags on the collar may make it easier to recover said beloved beast. NOT having one of those pesky tags on the collar may inspire the City of Missoula to care quite a lot less about your dog.

    I figure that not licensing the bike is a little easier; just U-lock-and-cable the crap out of it everywhere you go and you should be okay.

  3. And oh, yeah: being (gulp) quite a bit older than you, I remember when MOST American towns and cities enforced bicycle licensure. I had a license for my bicycle in every town I lived in from Kindergarten (Philadelphia) to Concord, CA (6th grade). Of course, I lived in four different states and went to five different schools between K and 6th grade. I also recall having something like five different bikes in that time, which only proves how ineffective the bike licenses were in preventing theft and aiding in recovery.

    • Beth–Atticus has always been licensed, but his current license is just not for Missoula. He’s also microchipped. Of course I don’t want to cut any corners when it comes to him (lord knows his body won’t let me, at least when it comes to his allergies!), but in this instance, I think I’m pretty safe. (Knocking on any wood I can find…)

  4. Dave O'Dell

    I vote for civil disobedience. Bike licensing has to be one of the worst ideas ever.

  5. Erinne

    I enjoy flouting unnecessary and inane laws. But you probably knew that already. 🙂

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