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Scooters & Mopeds

Scooters & Mopeds

There seems to be quite a bit confusion on what exactly the differences and similarities between scooters and mopeds are.

Main reason that contributes to this is the fact that "moped" has 2 different meanings. First, it's a small motorized two-wheeler, styled a certain way. Second, it's a legal vehicle category, which determines the way it has to be licensed and insured.

Let's discuss the style first. Classic mopeds typically have 2 designs:

  1. Gas tank in the frame, engine underneath, such as Sachs bike:

    The pedals may or may not be present. Even if they are installed, they are mainly used for starting, this kind of moped is geared too low for pedals to be usable for manual propulsion.

    Alternatively, there may be a top-tank design, like the Batavus moped in the following picture:

    Less common is the tank over the trunk look, like in Honda Express:

  2. Regular bicycle, which has a small motor attached to a front or rear wheel (via friction roller or direct drive). These are more often called "motorized bicycles" or "power-assisted bicycles", however one of the best known mopeds, Solex was exactly this kind of bike:

As far as style goes, a typical scooter more commonly has smaller wheels, gas tank under the seat and it has floorboards/front fenders designed to protect feet against the weather or accidents better than a regular moped:

These rules, however are not set in stone - for example there are scooters with larger wheels. In addition, the usage varies by location - in Hawaii, when a business rents mopeds, it usually refers to what we would normally consider scooters, style-wise.

So, as far as style goes, term "moped" or "scooter" may depend on who and where uses it. If you want people to know what you have in mind, have a pictire handy :)

Second, there is a legal difference. "Moped" is a legal category (at least in U.S.), while "scooter" is not.
"Moped" on most states refers to a small motorcycle, which has may relaxed licensing and insurance requirements.
The details vary by state, but the usual combination seems to be:
- Under 50cc
- Under 30 mph
- Under 1.5-2 horsepower
To find out what the local moped definition is, check the Moped Laws page.

As you can see, small scooters easily fit under these definitions and therefore are sold as "legally mopeds".
Large scooters, such as Honda Reflex or Suzuki Burgman, are not.
Thus, some people say that "all mopeds are scooters, but not all scooters are mopeds".

Third, I could venture a guess that some people prefer the term term "moped", because "scooter" may mean several additional things, such as "mobility scooter", "go-ped®" or even a "push scooter".
When you say "moped", people may misunderstand you, but not as much as when you say "I had a blast riding my scooter!" and someone imagines you zooming down the road on a mobility scooter which goes 5 miles per hour max :)

To add a but more confusion to the matter, there are bikes that look like mopeds, but are not, because of higher speed or engine size. There doesn't seem to be a consensus on what to call them but some of terms I've seen are "motorbikes" and "small motorcycles".

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