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License to Ride... continued

Should Bikes By Registered?

Unlike whether or not it is a good idea to require cyclists to be licensed, the question of whether bikes should be registered is a little harder to answer. For clarity, we’re talking about a system in which bicycles each receive a unique serial or registration number that must be permanently affixed to the bike. My research took me as far back as 1975 – a report issued to the California Senate (SCR 47 Statewide Bicycle Committee Final Report, February 10, 1975) in which the potential for putting a bicycle registration system in place was considered. (Interestingly, in this same report the Committee recommended against licensing bicyclists). Additionally, advocates and transportation planners that I talked to for this article remember programs run by the police in the 1940’s and 1950’s where children registered their bikes. The short answer to this question is, “It depends.”

Registering bicycles achieves two goals: 1) Generating revenue to help maintain the system itself, and 2) Providing a mechanism for returning stolen bikes to their owners. Research indicates that in most cases the fees generated by selling registration stickers or tags isn’t nearly enough to cover the cost of the system. Yearly fees range from as little as a couple of dollars to nearly twenty depending on locality and complexity of registration system.

Advocates of registration systems claim that it helps to increase the return rate of stolen bicycles. Davis, California in particular has achieved some measurable results with their system. Other areas could not provide what the actual rate of return for bikes with registration stickers as opposed to those without. Opponents to registration systems claim that it provides an additional barrier to getting more people on bikes. Areas with large student populations (and therefore a higher number of cyclists on average) tend to favor registration systems. In Washington, D.C., the registration system is in the process of being repealed due to harassment by the police who have been pulling over cyclists who have otherwise done nothing wrong.

Below is a list of the types of registration systems that were surveyed. This is by no means a complete list, but is fairly representative of the range of implementations.

Davis, CA
University of California, Davis requires all campus bicycles to be registered, and the increase in stolen bike recovery has increased from approximately 1-2% to 10-15%.

The state has a bike registering law which costs $15 (a one-time fee) and 100% of the funds are used for bike facilities and educational activities. A numbered metallic tag or decal is issued to the bike owner for application to the bike. Records are maintained by the state including: bike registration number, owner’s name, proof of bike ownership, bike serial number. The law states that it falls to each county “to purchase a sufficient number of these tags or decals” (section 249-14). Fees collected are placed in the “Bikeway Fund” for 5 specific uses.

Annual bike registration stickers are issued and put on bike rear fenders for visibility.

Washington, DC
The registration system is currently being repealed because it’s been used to pull over cyclists who have done nothing wrong, according to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association ( The police harassment has been determined to be a deterrent to new cyclists.

According to MassBike (, MA has a state law that gives each town/city the option to require registration of every bicycle purchased. However, with cyclists riding in multiple jurisdictions and counties, the local-only registration has been found to be useless. MassBike’s currently proposed Bicyclist Safety Bill includes a provision to repeal this law.

The state had a mandatory bike registration program, but it was repealed in 2005.

Salt Lake City, UT

The city requires all bikes to be registered. If police stop a rider for other reasons and the bike is not registered, it can be impounded. Bike theft is not discouraged because there is no record keeping system that links the bike to its owner. If the police recover a bike, there is no way to contact the owner because no bike registration records are kept. Bikes end up being auctioned off or sold as scrap.