Mopeds vs. Scooters vs. Motorcycles

June 07, 2019
Mopeds. Scooters. Motorcycles. They all have two wheels, a relatively light weight, and require the operator, or rider, to sit on rather than in them, as compared to cars and trucks. This transforms the experience and in the eyes of many enthusiasts, makes riding more fun than merely driving a car. But what actually sets all these vehicles apart from each other, other than their appearance and price? Scooters and mopeds especially are outwardly quite similar to one another, but one key difference separates them which we’ll elucidate shortly. For anyone interested in riding, no matter the type of vehicle, several important questions should be considered. How do the prices differ? What about insurance rates? How about safety and everyday practicality? These are the questions you should ask yourself when considering a purchase like this, as the fundamental differences between mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles result in drastically different riding experiences and will directly impact your enjoyment for years to come. Let’s take a look at some of the differences between these three similar but ultimately quite different vehicles, and make you a more informed buyer for your next big purchase.


Although commonly confused with scooters, traditional mopeds actually differ quite a bit in operation. First, a cursory history lesson. Mopeds traditionally featured two pedals, similar to a bicycle, which combined with an internal combustion engine to generate propulsion. These motors were low power, no more than about two horsepower and with a speed well under 50 miles per hour, or around 80 kilometers (modern mopeds are nearly identical in this respect). They used a frame very similar to that of a bicycle, called a step-through, with a small motor attached. Over time, mopeds evolved in frame design and now can feature fairings and large wheels, not unlike modern scooters, adding to the confusion. There is a complicating factor in defining what a moped actually is, however. As opposed to traditional mopeds, further evolutions in design resulted in modern-day mopeds eschewing these pedals for a design closely mimicking scooters. Now, most vehicles known as mopeds are essentially scooters with smaller, lower-powered engines. Indeed, some countries draw the legal line between mopeds and scooters by engine displacement and overall size alone. This results in different licensing and insurance requirements which may vary country to country. The Piaggio Zip is a modern example of a 50cc entry-level moped.


Unlike mopeds, scooters are universally regarded as two-wheeled vehicles which commonly feature a step-through frame, without the engine limits that are imposed on mopeds. This results in scooters being larger, faster, and more powerful. Scooters are well-suited for general commuting, combining an affordable price, good gas mileage, and a comfortable riding experience. Insurance rates are also typically relatively low. These factors make scooters an excellent choice for those who may not need the full utility of a car or simply don’t have the space or means to afford one. Scooters generally have motors ranging anywhere from 50cc to 250cc, although some of a larger size are available in Western markets. These vehicles are the middle ground between low-powered mopeds and motorcycles, which themselves differ from the two due to their variety in shape, size, and engine configuration. The advantage in a typical scooter lies partly in insurance rates, as they can be commonly insured for less than motorcycles while retaining a similar form factor. The Vespa Elettrica is a (uniquely fully electric!) example of a modern scooter.


Despite their slight differences in design, mopeds and scooters still fall under the motorcycle umbrella; they’re merely subsets of motorcycles. We’ll define motorcycles as cruisers, adventure bikes, standard bikes, sport bikes, and essentially any two-wheeled vehicle which isn’t a scooter or a moped. Motorcycles are generally larger, more powerful, and harder to learn to ride than mopeds and scooters. As noted before, unlike their moped and scooter cousins, motorcycles differ wildly in shape, size, and engine configuration. They range from the diminutive 125cc single-cylinder Honda Grom, to the monstrous Panigale V4, to the classic BMW R1200GS boxer twin. Versus their cousins, motorcycles offer the largest variety across many factors, meaning almost anyone can find the bike that truly speaks to them.


Teenagers looking to learn how to ride and get some experience before upgrading to something quicker may appreciate mopeds the most. Despite their relative lack of performance, mopeds are a great place to start. Scooters are the bridge between mopeds and more powerful motorcycles, occupying a niche which will appeal to commuters and enthusiasts alike. Those looking for a more specialized or faster tool; be it a dual-sport, a cruiser, or a sport bike for carving the canyons, should spring for a motorcycle: some of the most fun you can have on two wheels. No matter which you choose, all three categories will offer a type of fun that simply no car can match, so research, test ride, and find the perfect bike for you!
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