In early September 2023, Japan’s National Police Agency announced its plans to review vehicle classification for certain motorcycles. The NPA has assembled a group of various experts, including instructors, industry personnel, and academics to study whether motorbikes that make 4 kilowatts (about 5.36 horsepower) or less and have 125cc or less of displacement should be reclassified as ‘motorized bicycles.’
For those unfamiliar, Japan currently has a tiered licensing scheme in place for motorcyclists. Riders can test to obtain a standard motorcycle license at age 16, or a large motorcycle license at age 18. Notably, all license holders for all types of vehicles—whether two- or four-wheeled—are eligible to legally operate vehicles classed as ‘motorized bicycles’ in Japan as of September 2023.
The first meeting of this group was held on September 11, 2023. The Japan NPA plans to hold three or four additional meetings throughout the year to assemble the combined recommendations of the group as it conducts its research. Interviews of drivers, riders, and other societal stakeholders in the matter will be taken into consideration.
As of September 11, 2023, Japan’s National Police Association defines a motorized bicycle as “for a two-wheeled or three or more wheeled vehicle: total engine displacement of 0.050 liters (50cc) or rated output of 0.60 kilowatts (0.8 horsepower); other vehicle: total engine displacement of 0.020 liters (20cc) or rated output of 0.25 kW (0.33 horsepower).”
The definition of a large motorcycle is “a two-wheeled vehicle (including a vehicle with a sidecar) with an internal combustion engine having a total engine displacement of more than 0.400 liters (400cc) that is not a special large motor vehicle or a special small motor vehicle.”
Special large motor vehicles are generally construction equipment, such as asphalt finishers or dump trucks, as well as snowplows or agricultural equipment. Special small motor vehicles have specific size requirements and cannot exceed speeds of 15 kilometers per hour (about 9.3 mph).
By contrast, the Japan NPA defines a standard motorcycle as any motorcycle that does not fit the description of a special large motor vehicle, a large motorcycle, or a special small motor vehicle. So, basically, just about everything under 400cc.
Looking at the new displacement ceiling under consideration, you might expect something like the Honda Cross Cub 110 to potentially qualify as a “motorized bicycle” if the group approves this recommendation. However, since it makes a claimed 7.9 horsepower, which is slightly over the 5.36 horsepower ceiling also under consideration, there’s a chance that it might not make the cut without a restrictor kit. You know what does make exactly four kilowatts of power (as per manufacturer claims), though? The BMW CE 02.
All of that said (and before we get carried away), this entire scenario is currently under consideration; no more, no less. That means the discussion is ongoing. Presumably, even if the committee does decide to change its classification of motorized bicycles for the nation, tweaks to the specifications could still be made between now and any formal announcement of that change.