Christmas is coming and the Motor Cycle Industry (MCI) is warning 'buyer beware' and encouraging extra vigilance when buying mini bikes.
The import figures show that the significant increase continued from 70,000 imports in 2003 to 176,000 in 2005, though the number of imports have started to tail-off in 2006. This growth partly explains why the problem of young people riding illegally has amplified and the industry is urging parents and family to think very seriously before buying.
These machines can only be used on fully private land, such as a farmer's field, with the owners permission. Pavements, tracks, off road rights of way, parks and playing fields are public areas, although they are not roads, but people must be aware that illegal use in such places can have serious consequences for the rider and others.
The seizure and crushing of bikes, ASBOs, fines, loss of driving licences and injury are some of the consequences of unsupervised, illegal use. The industry is urging buyers and owners, particularly parents who are tempted to buy a mini bike as a present, to identify suitable venues, including practice tracks and to participate in Local Authority initiatives, which are increasing, prior to making a purchase.
Over the last five years there has been a significant increase in the import of poor-quality copies of these very small 2-wheelers. These machines are often sold at very low prices, from as little as around £100, via mail-order or internet outlets with no local presence or specialist training.
A bike purchased from a reputable manufacturer can cost from around £1,000 upwards. This price is a guarantee of quality, service and after-sales support, so anyone who is considering purchasing a bike for a very low price should be careful when making purchasing choices.
A growing concern is that some of these suppliers are selling products using the branding of reputable products and to the untrained eye it can be almost impossible to differentiate between a copy and a legitimate product, especially if the purchase is made online. However, if a product is retailing for a significantly lower price than the manufacturer would sell it for, alarm bells should start ringing.
Craig Carey-Clinch, MCI's Director of Public Affairs said, "Price is a clear indicator to help guide people with their purchase. Products being sold well-under the market value must be considered with caution. Even if the bike is safe, you will not have the benefit of after-sales service and you are unlikely to be able to buy spare parts.
"It is also important to remember that these off-road bikes are only for use on private property, with the permission of the landowner. In short, in an urban area, ride an unlicensed and uninsured mini bike out of your garden gate and you're breaking the law. Parks, playing fields and grassy areas can not be used by people on these bikes, as they are public rights of way. Anyone caught using them illegally risks their bike being seized, fines or worse.
"Mini-bikes are designed for young people to enjoy their first experiences of motorcycling and it is imperative the machines are safe and used in the correct environment. The misuse of mini-bikes is creating a negative image of motorcycling and having a detrimental effect on responsible, committed riders, and parents must help to keep their children safe and legal."