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Hakim Abdullahi, 17, of Dorchester, tried out a minibike for sale at Boston Auto Design. (Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki)

Mini motorbikes make many roar

The sparkling chrome mufflers, sleek fiberglass bodies, and ventilated disc brakes are enough to please any motorcycle admirer. But the bikes that scream up and down Deborah Connally's street each night are 2 feet high. And they're driven by 13-year-olds.

Mini motorbikes, going by names like Ninja Super Racer and Mini Chopper, have become the rage among teenagers in Boston, and they're driving adults like Connally nuts.

''They come at 2 and 3 in the morning," said Connally, whose front window overlooks Columbia Road in Dorchester. ''God forgive me, but they're going to kill themselves one day."

Relatively inexpensive, too small to require a license, and built to look like racing bikes, the bikes are flying out of showrooms at motorcycle and auto accessory stores. They are must-haves in tony suburbs and urban neighborhoods alike. And now, with concerns about noise and danger mounting, city councilors in Boston, Providence, and New York are looking to ban, or at least regulate, the mini motorcycles.

''They're clearly dangerous, not only to the people who are driving them, but to law-abiding people who are driving and walking in the streets," said Boston City Councilor John Tobin, who planned to ask for hearings next week to discuss a citywide ban. ''I almost killed a kid on one the other day on Tremont Street. He came whipping across the lanes in front of my car. I could have killed the kid."

Regular minibikes have been around for decades, but manufacturers last year introduced scooters dressed up to look like choppers, with long forks, fenders, and banana seats. They caught on, and soon showrooms were sporting mini scooters that look like powerful racing motorcycles, with bright-colored fairings and monoshock suspensions.

''That's why the kids want them," said Dave Green, a salesman at Boston Auto Design in Dorchester, which has sold 20 of the bikes in the past two weeks. ''They're really the hot new thing."

With the explosion in popularity has come a flood of protest. City councilors say they have been inundated with calls from residents concerned about noise, danger to pedestrians, and the fact that some teenagers are riding without helmets or other safety gear. Police say they have ticketed at least two riders of the minibikes at public housing developments, charging them with disorderly conduct.

''The kids are operating them recklessly, and it's compounded because we can't chase them in a police car," Boston Police spokesman Lieutenant Kevin Foley said. ''They're driving very indiscriminately, on side streets, up sidewalks, basically going anywhere where they feel like going."

State helmet laws require operators of all motorized bicycles, including motorcycles and scooters, to wear helmets. But critics say people riding mini motorcycles often seem to go without.

''They're not compliant to any of the laws," said Mike Mazerall, a manager of a motorcycle repair shop in Dorchester who added he nearly collided with a pack of five riders recently.

Because the mini motorcycles generally have engines measuring less than 49 cubic centimeters, they are immune to regulations that require licenses, insurance, and registration on motorized bikes and scooters over 50 cubic centimeters. And controlling errant riders is difficult.

Tobin said that Boston should adopt rules that would ban the mini motorcycles.

In New York, where minibike riding has been outlawed, the city council is considering a ban on sales to stem a continuing proliferation on streets, said John Liu, who chairs the council's transportation committee.

Councilors in Providence, meanwhile, were scheduled to vote last night on a law prohibiting the cycles on city streets and sidewalks.

''It's a safety issue," Providence Councilman Patrick K. Butler said yesterday. ''These kids, 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds, don't know what the regulations are for driving."

Manufacturers say the bikes are intended for off-road use. Gerry Eggleton, general manager and vice president of Pantera, in City of Industry, Calif., which manufactures mini motorcycles, said the bikes are no more dangerous than skateboards. ''They're not designed for the street," he said. ''They have low-brake horsepower and don't go fast enough."

Other defenders of the bikes want government officials to let them be. ''If anything, these bikes are keeping younger kids out of trouble," said Green, of Boston Auto Design.

Adults have been buying the mini motorcycles for themselves, too. ''Guys over the age of 25 or 30 are taking them," Green said. ''They say they're buying them for their kids, but then I see them out riding them."

But with price tags from $300 to $800 and no need for a license, riders are often teenagers who are not yet of driving age.

''Everybody wants these," said Hakim Abdullahi, a 17-year-old from Dorchester who was admiring one of the cycles earlier this week at Boston Auto Design. ''Me and my friends are trying to put our money together and get two."

Keshaudas Spence rides his Ninja minibike around the block near his house on Wildwood Street in Dorchester. Since his mother bought him the bike two months ago, the 12-year-old says his popularity on the block has gone up. And after his mother took a spin on the bike, she bought herself one, too. Now, they ride together.

Globe correspondent Suzanne Sataline contributed to this report. Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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