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They May Be Small, but They're Fast

February 23, 1999|SUSAN CARPENTER

A funny thing is happening in the world of guys' toys these days. From laptops and cell phones to pagers and electronic organizers, guys are actually bragging about how small and fast their gear is.

It's a description that also applies to pocket bikes--miniature, racer-style motorcycles. Weighing just 37 pounds, they may look like toys, but these mini motos, as they are called, pack a lot of punch. Depending on the horsepower, which ranges from 3 1/2 to 13, micro bikes can go as fast as 90 mph.

"Nasty fast," according to Don Sercombe, who co-owns Azusa's Mini Motos Etc. with his father.

"People really ride these things?" asks Tony, a 19-year-old shopper.

Full-sized men really do, Sercombe assures. Six-foot-9 Trailblazers player Stacey Augmon bought one. So did Pasadena eccentric Captain Bill, who's 74 years old and probably 100 pounds overweight, Sercombe says.

"You get intrigued with the strangeness of 'em," says Sercombe, himself an obvious victim.

His shop is lined with dozens of miniature motorcycles, most of them displayed on pedestals. Mini Motos has been in business for a little more than a year and sells roughly 20 bikes each month. They are not street legal, but enthusiasts ride them anyway--in industrial parks or shopping mall parking lots.

"You can get away with a lot," Sercombe claims.

For liability reasons, he does not provide lessons, but Sercombe does have one bike with training wheels so potential riders can get a feel for it. Pocket bikes are similar to regular motorcycles, except they have only one gear. The bike's center of gravity is also at the back of the bike, so the rider must lean forward or risk being dumped on the road. He suggests riders wear a helmet, as well as knee, elbow and wrist pads.

"They go fast. They stop fast. That's the intrigue. You don't fall far, but you do hit hard."

Two companies make pocket bikes--Blata and Polini, both in Italy. Most of them arrive in the U.S. with plain Jane coloring, so Sercombe has them custom painted. One bike has a grizzly bear and paws on the side. Another is decorated like a Camel cigarette box. None of them comes with lights or turn signals, though many are painted in a trompe l'oeil fashion to look as if they do.

"That one's bad," one customer says, waving his hand toward a purple minibike with a tricked-out flame job. "I gotta have that."

It might be awhile. Prices start at $1,299.

Mini Motos Etc., 943 W. Foothill Blvd., Azusa. (626) 812-0778.

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