Ease of use, lower gas consumption, less maintenance, nimble size: There are lots of reasons many people look to motorized two-wheeled options such as scooters and mopeds for getting around short distances. Before you make the decision, however, it’s key to understand the differences between a moped and a scooter (they’re not the same) and their muscle-bound cousin the motorcycle and to familiarize yourself with regulations governing all three. Here’s what you need to know.
Moped vs. scooter vs. motorcycle
- What it is. First named because it was a bicycle with a motor (literally a motorized pedal vehicle), today’s mopeds have a step-through frame (with or without pedals) with a 50cc (cee-cee is moto-speak for cubic centimeter) or smaller motor.
- What you should know Mopeds top out at 40 mph (less with increased rider weight) and may achieve triple-digit gas mileage.
- What it is. A scooter has the same step-through frame as a moped but a more powerful motor, up to 250cc.
- What you should know. Scooters offer higher top speeds and lower gas mileage. For example, a 150cc scooter has a top speed of 60 mph and gets up to 70 mpg, while a 250cc scooter can reach 75 mph but will get fewer than 60 mpg. However, you may not be able to use a scooter on the freeway; check local engine size or horsepower minimums.
- What it is. The bike’s design is what distinguishes motorcycles. The engine is forward, between the driver’s knees, which differs from scooters and mopeds with a step-through frame. The driver sits upright with her back perpendicular to the road.
- What you should know. Motorcycles generally have an engine size that enables them to share all roads with all motorized vehicles.
Do you need a license for a scooter or moped?
Your state regulates the requirements. Check local regulations; they may not be similar from one locale to the next, and a scooter license age and requirements may not be the same as the moped license age. Your state may offer a two-wheeler education course and/or require a skill’s test.
- In most states, riders must be a certain age to drive a moped and — for any engine over 50cc — have a regular driver’s license or permit, often with a motorcycle license or endorsement. Some states don't require a motorcycle license under 50cc. It's best to check with your Department of Motor Vehicles about the requirement in your state.
- License plates and registration requirements may also be determined by engine size.
Do you need a helmet and insurance?
Many states do require helmets, but even when they aren't required it's always best for you and your passengers to wear one for safety reasons. Check your state and local laws for helmet and motorcycle insurance regulations.
The slower speeds of a moped mean it is not legal to ride on highways and is best used for shorter trips around town on low-speed-limit roads.
Depending on engine size, these can go faster and might join highway traffic, but it’s best to keep it to short distances. Why? On the highway you'd be sharing the road with much larger vehicles that go much faster than you are able.
While mopeds and scooters are rock stars on gas mileage, their emissions may be less than stellar. An article from Central South University states that in the US, motorcycle emissions are worse than their passenger vehicle counterparts. Carbon monoxide emissions are almost 5 times more, methane is 3 times more and nitric oxide is 45 times higher. Carbon dioxide is slightly better on a motorcycle than a vehicle. If emissions is important to you, ask before you buy.