How Do Motorcycles Handle Electronic Tolls?

Going on a long-distance motorcycle ride can be a blast, regardless of the final destination. But it requires careful planning as well as the right gear and accessories. And while motorcycle safety gear is vital, that’s not the only gear you might have to bring along. Whether you’re going overlanding or simply touring the highways, at some point you’ll undoubtedly run into a tollbooth. Or, more likely these days, some kind of electronic toll collection array. Cars go through these easily—but what about bikes?

How does electronic toll collection work?

A tollbooth area with E-ZPass electronic tolls
A tollbooth area with E-ZPass electronic tolls | Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Whether it’s called E-ZPass, FasTrak, or some other name, electronic toll collection works in broadly the same way. And this method relies on a vehicle-mounted transponder.

Inside the average electronic toll transponder is a battery linked to a radio-frequency transmitter/receiver. The tollbooth area has special equipment that broadcasts an activation signal picked up by approaching transponders. When it receives this signal, the transponder sends back a reply identifying itself.

This signal is picked up by an antenna and sent to a digital database, RideApart explains. If the database matches the received signal with an active account, it tells the tollbooth to open up and let the vehicle through. At the same time, the toll charge is deducted from the transponder owner’s account. And to make sure the toll transponder’s owner is the one passing through, license-plate-reading cameras serve as additional ID verification.

Can motorcycles use electronic toll transponders?

A Smart Tag electronic toll transponder stuck to a car windshield
A Smart Tag electronic toll transponder stuck to a car windshield | Katherine Frey/The The Washington Post via Getty Images

Electronic toll transponders are generally reliable provided their batteries are in good condition. However, their radio signals can be scrambled or blocked by metal and metal oxides; some cars’ windshields contain the latter, FasTrak says. And, most importantly, they have to be in the vehicle for the whole system to work. To be sure, some electronic toll systems can use just the license plate data to deduct tolls. But as I discovered fairly recently, license plate cameras aren’t always reliable.

In short, paying electronic tolls means carrying a transponder, usually by mounting it to the windshield. And therein lies the problem for motorcycle riders. Bikes don’t have rearview mirrors, and some don’t even have windshields. So, how do you pass through the toll area? Well, besides avoiding it?

The simplest answer might appear to be holding the transponder up as you approach. However, that’s potentially dangerous, given that you’re taking your hands off the controls. Also, at least for FasTrak users, it’s illegal.

‘Keep it in your pocket’ can also seem like a good solution. And in many cases, it works fine, RideApart reports. Yet some electronic toll systems require the transponder to be in a certain orientation, and can’t ‘read’ it through a pocket, VikingBags notes. That doesn’t mean this won’t work, but it’s not a foolproof answer.

If you don’t want to put the transponder on your motorcycle’s windshield, whether to maintain visibility or not attract thieves, there are two solid alternatives. One is to put the transponder on top of a tank-mounted bag. And the other is to get a handlebar-mounted transponder holder.

How much do these holders cost?

Blackbeard Motorcycle Gear's Toll Pass Motorcycle Holder next to a Nite Ize Handleband Universal Smartphone Bar Holder
Blackbeard Motorcycle Gear’s Toll Pass Motorcycle Holder next to a Nite Ize Handleband Universal Smartphone Bar Holder | Blackbeard’s Motorcycle Gear and Nite Ize

Motorcycle toll transponder holders are similar to those used to hold phones and GPS units like the Beeline. But not many accessory companies make transponder-specific mounts these days, WebBikeWorld reports. So, getting one might require modifying another kind of mount.

However, there are still some transponder-compatible holders available. RAM Mounts’ Finger-Grip Universal Mount, for example, is available with your choice of handlebar-, fork stem-, and brake/clutch reservoir-compatible mounting options. Prices vary from $70-$76.

A cheaper alternative is the $18 Nite Ize Handleband Mount. It’s technically a smartphone mount for bicycles, but several reviewers claim they’ve used it on their motorcycles. Also, Blackbear’s Motorcycle Gear offers it—or a close replica—as a ‘toll pass motorcycle holder.’

In short, while it may require an extra accessory, there’s no reason you can’t go through electronic tolls on a motorcycle.

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