There may be hundreds of lawbreakers riding two-wheelers on the streets of Lorain.
Right now. Even as you read this.
“The city of Lorain is suffering under the scourge of unlicensed bicycles,” said no one ever, most likely.
Yet, signing up bicycles at City Hall remains the law of the land in the International City.
Few residents know about it and almost no one enforces it, city officials said.
Back in the day
Lorain’s bicycle license law from 1968, said city Auditor Karen Shawver, who cited the city ordinance on the issue. The auditor’s office is responsible for issuing the $3 permits.
“We had numerous, numerous bike licenses issued back in the day,” Shawver said.
In the 1980s, the city auditor’s office had a computer system that shared bicycle license information with the police department. If officers found a stolen bike with a license, they could check who owned it, Shawver said.
Last year, Shawver said she spoke to former police Chief Cel Rivera about eliminating the licenses and instead creating a police program to register bicycles for free for children.
It sounded like a good idea but became a low priority due to turnover when Mayor Chase Ritenauer stepped down, Rivera announced his retirement and the city had a testing process for a new police chief.
The auditor’s office current software does not interface with the police computers, Shawver said, so there is no searchable database for officers to use if they recover a lost or stolen bicycle.
Last year, the Martin family of Lorain joined an elite group of riders when they ventured to Shawver’s office on the sixth floor of City Hall.
The family accounted for about 72 percent of Lorain’s bicycle registrations issued in 2019 — or eight of 11 licenses.
When the family moved to Lorain from Texas in 2017, they researched the community and discovered the license requirement, not unlike their former residence, said Andrew Martin, patriarch of the clan. He and wife Christie form a peloton with their children: John, 16, Anna, 14, Simon, 14, Jesse, 13, Sylvia, 12, and Danny, 7.
The children received new bikes for Christmas, and the following April, they went for licenses.
“It was standard operating procedure for us,” Andrew Martin said.
He said he was surprised at the low level of public attention and enforcement dealing with the licenses.
“It’s not like I see the bicycle squad out stopping anybody,” Martin said. He humorously suggested contacting the auditor’s office to consider a new career opportunity.
“Ride around on my bike and busting people,” Martin said.
It could be a busy job. So far in 2020, the auditor’s office has issued just four licenses.
When The Morning Journal inquired about bicycle licenses to the Silver Wheels Cycling Club, Vice President Cheryl Burkhardt of Lorain said she would ask fellow board members at their Sept. 10 meeting.
“They were just kind of baffled by the question, actually,” Burkhardt said afterward.
“They looked at me like I was kind of nuts,” she added with a laugh.
The Lorain County-based Silver Wheels has up to 350 members ranging in age from teens to 80s. Many members are older or retirees who have years and miles of experience on the road, Burkhardt said.
“None of them have ever gotten a license except when they were kids,” she said. “No one has gotten a bicycle license for many years in our club.”
Although the license may serve as a theft deterrent, a thief could scrape off a license sticker. Thieves who know the value of high-end bikes also could file off serial numbers, Burkhardt said.
Off the books
In 2013, the city of Cleveland eliminated its bicycle license requirement, said Jacob VanSickle, executive director of Bike Cleveland, a member-supported advocacy group.
“It was seldom used and not equally enforced,” he said.
The reasoning to end bike licenses stemmed from concerns in other cities, where bicycle advocates reported the requirement could be used to target young Black boys out riding.
“For us, we felt it was an equity issue,” VanSickle said.
He acknowledged some cities may find success in using registrations as a way to return stolen bikes to their rightful owners.
For now, Bike Cleveland suggests bike riders and police departments use Bike Index, a free, national registry.
Bike Cleveland has tips on preventing bicycle theft. Bike Index offers tips on how to avoid buying a stolen bicycle.
See you in court
According to the city law, first-time bike license violators would be guilty of a minor misdemeanor. In Ohio that is punishable by a fine up to $150.
Lorain Municipal Court logged 14,393 cases in 2019, but it appeared bicycle license violations are even rarer than actual registrations.
So far in 2020, two tickets have come through Lorain Municipal Court, said Judge Thomas J. Elwell Jr. There were a pair in 2019 and four in 2018.
“It’s a rarity that we get them,” Elwell said. “The general public, to a great extent is probably not aware that it’s a legal requirement and it’s something that the police don’t cite very much.”
Elwell did not recall the exact circumstances of the recent bicycle citations, but “my guess is that they were linked to some other offense.
“But even then, it’s a rare charge,” he said.
“I almost never see a bicycle license ticket,” said Judge Mark J. Mihok. “It’s been several years since I’ve seen it.”
If someone was riding at night in a high crime area, lack of a bicycle license could give a police officer probable cause to pull over someone on a bike, Mihok said.
Otherwise, Lorain police officers will address urgent public safety concerns, said Chief James McCann.
A bicycle license is a $3 fee to own a bike, but not having it does not create a public safety issue, McCann said.
“It’s zero on my list of to-do items,” McCann said. “I’m going to tell you straight up, we’ve got bigger issues to deal with. I’m more worried about the safety of the public.”