Moped Vs. Scooter

by Johnno CaryUpdated July 21, 2023
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Often confused with each other, scooters and mopeds are quite dissimilar. Both are small motorized vehicles that operate on two wheels, but this is where the similarities end. So what is a moped, really, and why are scooters so different?

Defining the Moped


A moped is a bicycle-type vehicle, equipped with pedals and a low-powered motor, which provides an economical mode of transportation. The term moped, or motor-pedal, is derived from the bicycle-like pedals that the rider uses to propel the vehicle and to start its helper motor. Most states classify a two-wheeled vehicle with a engine displacement lower than 49 cubic centimeters as a moped. Certain states, such as California, require mopeds to be equipped with pedals.

Scooters Defined


Motor-scooters, are distinguishable by their step-through chassis and footrest platform. They are typically powered by a small motor with automatic transmission, unlike a motorcycle which uses a manual transmission, and displacements ranging from 50 cc to 650 cc. Scooters typically operate on smaller-diameter 10-inch wheels, have better gas mileage and have step through frames. Good examples of scooters are Honda's Spree, Yamaha's Vino, Suzuki's Burgman and the famous Italian scooters from Vespa.

Technical Differences

Mopeds and scooters both use smaller engines or even electric motors for propulsion. However, a moped's motor is designed to assist the rider when pedaling and provides only a portion of the locomotive power. A scooter uses its motor to provide all of the propulsion, all the time. The scooter uses an electrical and charging system, which powers the lights and ignition system, as well as replenishes the battery. Mopeds may be equipped with a basic electrical system, but many can still be ridden by sole use of the pedals. Mopeds may use small or large diameter wheels, such as a 36-inch bicycle wheel. Scooters use only smaller-diameter wheels, the largest diameter being 12 inches.

Legal Differences

Most states classify mopeds as motorized bicycles or motorbike and do not require the moped to have license plates, headlights and liability insurance. However, the rider must have a valid driver's license. Scooters are classified as a motorcycle, requiring DMV registration, motorcycle licenses (motorcycle endorsement), and in some states, motorcycle insurance. Mopeds are generally restricted to low speeds and engine displacement, with most states limiting engine sizes to 49 cc or less and maximum speeds of 30 mph. Though local laws differ greatly, Kansas, for example, allows moped engine displacements up to 130 cc. Scooters aren't limited in top speed or displacement, and can therefore reach higher top speeds of up to 80 mph.

Cultural Differences

Scooters and mopeds have long been entrenched in Europe's heritage, providing transportation to much of France, Spain and Italy. The moped moniker is commonplace and refers to many of the scooters and true mopeds that ferry motorcyclists across many European roadways.

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