Looking forward to making your motorcycle street legal in the USA? The first thing you need to do is find out what makes a motorcycle street legal in the USA. It’s actually easier than you might think and many people simply get confused by the regulations and requirements that surround this process.
What Makes A Motorcycle Street Legal In USA: What The Regulations Say
There are four basic regulations to look at when determining if your motorcycle is street legal in the USA: FMVSS, EPA, DOT, and CARB regulation standards. Between these 4 regulations, there’s nothing stopping any properly manufactured (factory) motorcycle from being legally allowed on roads within the USA. All motorcycles produced since 1978 should meet all of the aforementioned regulations to be classed as roadworthy; however certain factors such as frame type can make it difficult for dirt bikes to be road legal.
Certification & Documentation Requirements
The following are the specifications you need to abide by in order to make your motorcycle street legal in the USA:
FMVSS- Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards – All roadworthy motorcycles should meet at least these standards. They include brake, lighting, and other safety functions that are required for street use.
EPA- Environmental Protection Agency – Any fuel-injected motorcycle needs to meet EPA regulations for emission levels before being allowed on public roads. This generally only applies to new motorcycles being brought into the country – it doesn’t affect imported used motorcycles.
DOT- Department Of Transportation – Also known as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT is responsible for the safety of vehicles operating on public roads. They’re responsible for the chassis structure of motorcycles, although not their engine function/performance.
CARB- California Air Resources Board – Like EPA, there’s nothing stopping offroad motorcycles from meeting CARB standards before being allowed to operate on public roads. CARB sets emission standards and any motorcycle falling below these figures mean they can be legally used in most states with an additional implementing agency sticker.
Choosing A Certified Vehicle
Now that you know what makes a motorcycle street legal in the USA, how do you go about finding one that’s appropriate? There are actually many options out there, but be aware that not all motorcycles on sale in the USA are legal to ride on public roads. Here’s a shortlist of manufacturers who sell street legal motorcycles:
Honda – All new models and most imported used models (under 15 years old) meet FMVSS and EPA standards. When you buy a Honda motorcycle, there should be a sticker attached to the steering head which states whether it meets DOT or CARB standards. Ask your dealer if you’re unsure about any particular model from Honda. If they can’t give you an answer, don’t use them!
Yamaha – Some Yamaha motorcycles aren’t roadworthy so check with the manufacturer before buying one from eBay or Craigslist.
Suzuki – Again, most Suzuki motorcycles are now legal so check with the manufacturer or confirm with your dealer before buying one.
Kawasaki – Generally, all imported Kawasakis meet the required standards and it’s rare for any of their new models to fail DOT and CARB tests.
Ducati– Ducati motorcycles are 100% reliable when meeting FMVSS and EPA standards but don’t expect them to meet DOT or CARB standards. This is because most Ducatis come as single-seater “sports bikes” (though there are exceptions) which aren’t classed as legal for road use.
The Law Around Making Motorcycle Street Legal in the USA
There are some motorcycles that may not meet FMVSS, EPA, DOT, or CARB standards but can be easily modified to make them compliant with the law. However, it’s important that you fully understand what you’re doing before attempting to modify your motorcycle in this way. If you fail to follow road safety guidelines while riding a non-compliant vehicle, you could have your motorcycle seized by authorities and even face criminal action for riding unsafely on public roads.
The U.S government has set the “Federal Minimum Requirement” standard for motorcycles. This states that all new motorcycle models have to meet certain road safety standards before being sold in the USA, while imported models must meet at least some of these requirements (depending on their age).
The DOT considers each motorcycle model individually when deciding whether or not it’s safe enough to be allowed on public roads. For example, they may give one bike an “A” rating and another bike a “C” rating depending on how well they’ve implemented FMVSS regulations into the design. The truth is that most DOT-approved motorcycles are actually pretty safe – even if they’re not quite up to scratch with EPA or CARB levels of emissions control.
Where To Find Legal Motorcycles
Now you know what makes a motorcycle street legal in the USA and how to find one that’s safe enough for riding on public roads, you may be wondering where you can buy such a motorcycle from. For new models, it’s usually easy to purchase them from your local dealership. However, if you’re trying to find an older bike or import a motorcycle for sale, you should use caution as there are many companies out there who sell non-compliant motorcycles under false pretenses (i.e: they advertise them as being compliant when actually they’re not).
This is why we recommend only using certified dealerships that personally appraise all used motorcycles imported into the USA and point out any potential problems with bikes that fail EPA/CARB standards.
Motorcycles that meet the required FMVSS, EPA, DOT, and CARB standards are not only legal for road use – they’re also much safer than any non-compliant motorcycle. If you want to be 100% sure your motorcycle is on the right side of the law, always buy from a dealership that is fully committed to making sure all their motorcycles comply with relevant standards and regulations.
Remember: “buyer beware” when buying non-compliant motorcycles on the second-hand market. If you know what to look for, there is often a way of making your motorcycle street legal in the USA but only if you fully understand the safety implications of such modifications.
Disclaimer: The above is not legal advice and has been written for educational & entertainment purposes. Please do your own research.