FARGO – Until this week, a bicycle owner who doesn’t have a bicycle license could have been charged with a misdemeanor, fined up to $50 and had the bicycle impounded.

That’s according to a city law that dates to 1965.

City commissioners voted Monday to ditch the law as part of a revision of the city’s bicycle codes, including a reduction of the penalties to $5.

Jason Loos, the assistant city attorney who suggested the revision, said the law hasn’t been enforced for years and is largely outdated because there really is no such thing as a bicycle license anymore.

Though the punishment seems draconian, the point of bicycle licenses was to ensure that police could return stolen or abandoned bikes to their lawful owners, said Tom Smith, owner of the Great Northern Bicycle Co. and a well-known bicycle advocate in the area.

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Obsolete law

When he first started his business in the 1980s, Smith said, he was required to collect a $2 licensing fee and the bicycle’s serial number from each bicycle buyer, which went to police.

Erik Johnson, the city attorney, said he recalls that police actually had an officer for managing bicycle licenses, a role made obsolete by technology.

Nowadays, police have a website for residents to voluntarily register the serial number of their property and upload photos at MyProperty.CityofFargo.com.

Smith said bicycle retailers also track serial numbers so if a customer’s bicycle is stolen, he or she can call and get information for police.

The city of Moorhead does not require bicycle licenses. Moorhead law recognizes that licenses are a form of identification for bicycles and requires secondhand stores to use licenses or any other ID to track buyers and sellers.

The city of West Fargo does require bicycles to be licensed for a fee of $1.

Lighter fines

The really broad change to Fargo’s bicycle codes, though, is the big cut in penalties for most bicycle-traffic violations, such as failing to obey traffic signs and signals or riding a bicycle on a skyway or, if you’re a parent, allowing your 12-and-younger child to ride in the downtown area.

It used to be a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $50 or the impounding of the offender’s bicycle for at least 15 days. Now it’s not a misdemeanor and the fine maxes out at $5.

That’s the same as the state Century Code.

Moorhead’s bicycle laws do not have specific penalties, referring only to general penalties for all crimes, which can go as high as $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

West Fargo penalties for bicycle-traffic violations are the same as the state’s. City law also allows police to impound bicycles at a rate of 25 cents a week for lack of licenses and for failing to pay a fine.