Matt Elofson-Staff writer
LUMBERTON - It looks like the bicycle may become an endangered species in Robeson County.
More and more kids, and kids at heart, are dumping their old pedal-powered people movers for rockets ... pocket rockets, that is.
Pocket rockets are the latest internal combustion craze, miniature motorcycles that sell for as little as $300 or as much as a full-sized Honda.
Frankie Green, owner of Country Tire on Second Street in Lumberton, has been selling the pocket rockets for about a year and has watched his sales climb in proportion to the popularity of the tiny racers.
Originally marketed toward children, Green says the bikes attract devotees of all ages, from a customer who bought one for his 4-year-old on up to a state trooper who purchased one for his own enjoyment.
"It's a fad man ... like Spider-Man," Green said.
Green says that pocket rockets are available in two sizes: 22 and 26 inches tall. The smaller one doesn't come with a speedometer and maxes out at about 35 to 40 mph, while the larger model will pin the speedometer needle at 55 to 60 mph.
Green compares the pocket rocket motor to that of a "little weed-eater."
Green says one of his most popular models is a mini-chopper that goes for about $600.
Pocket rockets are illegal to ride on the street, but local law enforcement hasn't classified them as a safety problem ... yet.
Lumberton police traffic Officer Steve Hardin says he's aware of the pocket rockets, but he hasn't seen them on any city streets. State Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Scott Howell says state troopers haven't had problems with the mini-bikes, either.
"We haven't had any complaints or problems," Hardin said. "There's a lot of stuff that comes out that legislation hasn't caught up with in terms of the definitions and legal requirements. If it doesn't fall under the statutory definition of a moped it's not legal to ride on the public roadways."
Despite not being street legal, there are places where pocket rocket fans congregate to show off their mini-movers.
Sherry Hammonds, who works at the Thunder Valley Raceway with her father and raceway owner Lester Cooper, says she's seen a lot of the bikes zooming around the pit areas of the track.
"I've mostly seen children on them riding around the pit areas," Hammonds said. "We've never actually seen one go down the race track. But there are whole lot of them out here, especially on race days.
"I've seen really small kids riding them," she said. "They have race suits and wear knee pads and helmets. I think they're very cute. They seem to attract a lot of attention, and the kids really seem like they have fun on them."
But it's not just kids strapping themselves to pocket rockets down at Thunder Valley.
Brandon Jones, 29, said he wants one for himself after topping out at 36 mph on a friend's "rice rocket" at the track last month.
Jones said he enjoys riding the "rice rocket" to and from the concession stand at the raceway on Wednesday nights. It's all a part of what Jones calls a "good time hanging out with friends at the raceway."
"It's sort of entertainment, people look at you and ask questions about it," Jones said. "I love it, I'd like to have one myself."
Jones' friend, Cagney Freeman, who has owned his pocket rocket for about a year, says he got one because of the machine's good looks.
"They look pretty good ... I got it because it looks cool," Freeman said.
Freeman, 21, of the Union Chapel community, says he's already added nitrous oxide to his pocket rocket to boost its top speed from 35 mph to near 55 mph.
Despite their popularity, Jones warns that the pocket rockets aren't made for everybody.
"It's neat to have, but its not something for little kids," Jones said. "It's just as dangerous as a street bike. You have to be kind of athletic to ride one of these. It's basically a balancing act."