It's like a scene from the circus: a big man rides a tiny tricycle, his knees bump against his ears.
But the big man's ride isn't a three-wheeled bike and this isn't child's play.
It's a miniature motorcycle, practically the size of a toddler's bike, that can travel up to 45 mph even with a 300-pound man's bottom crushing its puny seat.
When Jocelyn Velasquez steps outside her front door near Manhattan and Sligh avenues, she can hear the roar of the engines moving her way.
"They're huge guys on these wanna-be motorcycles," said Jocelyn, a Leto High School ninth-grader. "It's funny."
The latest craze to hit the teenage, early 20s crowd is the pocket bike, a motorcycle that looks like it was zapped by a shrink machine. The rage has spread from San Francisco to Philadelphia, Arizona to Boston, and is beginning to appear throughout the Tampa Bay area.
For some pocket bike retailers, its popularity has surpassed that of the electric scooter.
"I guess the scooters are too wimpy now," chuckled Jerry Garcia, the assistant store manager for Autozone in Clearwater.
Garcia estimates he sells about two or three pocket bikes a week, costing from the mid $300s to about $500 each.
They have taken over the streets around Leto High School, where on many evenings, they can be seen traveling in a pack. There are about five of them - these big guys on these tiny hogs, their knees bent to their ears, their feet just inches from the ground.
They have popped up in suburban neighborhoods flush with sidewalks and wide roadways. At the FishHawk Ranch community in eastern Hillsborough County, school resource officers are pleading with parents to keep the pocket bikes and motorized scooters at home.
It is against the law to operate mini motorcycles on public roadways, which includes sidewalks, streets and bike paths. The only place you can operate them is on private property, with permission.
Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Pete Maurer has been battling the issue for years. First it was the motorized scooter and now the pocket bike.
"They're pretty much death on wheels," Maurer said. "Motorcycles inherently are dangerous, even for the most experienced drivers. Anytime you get young kids on roadways in anything with a motor on it, it's a potential for disaster."
Breaking the law can net you a fine of $117.50.
"We're not in the business of issuing citations to children," said Maurer, who focuses on educating parents. "We want to keep them alive."
Dale Boardman, an assistant manager at Big Dog Motorcycles in Tampa, said he has seen kids riding their pocket bikes in the middle of the road and weaving between cars.
"Live one day at a time, man," Boardman said. "Because when you ride a pocket bike, it could be your last."
At Cycle Masters on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, owner Scott Bitman said he used to sell several bikes a week when they were harder to get - around $1,000 each.
Now that prices have dipped and competition has heated up, he does a lot of business selling parts.
"It's neat to watch people ride them," said Bitman, who keeps a couple of bikes on the floor to use as demos. "It's quite a sight."
The novelty has exploded in Europe, where riders race competitively. There, the bikes can zoom up to 90 mph, said Mike McLean. He exports several hundred pocket bikes a month overseas from his office in Tampa.
Seventeen-year-old Robert Moir is part of a subculture of pocket bike enthusiasts.
Moir, of Temple Terrace, goes by the nickname Rhino Rider and used to own a Blata - a top-of-the-line version that can go as fast as 45 mph. He would pop it in the trunk of his car and take it to car and bike shows.
He has crashed a few times, but said being low to the ground, wearing pants and a helmet has prevented him from serious injury. At 6 feet tall, he admits he looks funny doing wheelies and indos (wheelies on the front wheel.)
"They're as fun as they look to ride," he said. "They're only dangerous if you get stupid with them."
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