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Moped Riders

 

Mopeds - Basic Information and Minnesota Rules and Regulations

When one hears the word "moped" images of bicycle-like machines with small engines usually come to mind. That picture is pretty close to reality as the classic moped has BOTH a motor and pedals for locomotion. In this article we're going to briefly cover traditional mopeds. We'll spend most of our time taking about moped-legal scooters. Not because we don't like traditional mopeds (we DO like them very much) but rather because moped-legal scooters are much more common and readily available for purchase.

What is a Moped?
Puch Moped and Genuine Buddy Moped-legal ScooterAs the name implies, it's a two-wheeled conveyance that allows for both human (pedal) and petrol (motor) powered locomotion. In the early days of the internal combustion engines, it was pretty much a case of installing one of those newfangled motors on a bicycle. From the early 1900s until World War II, there was much more development in motorcycles than in mopeds. When WWII ended in Europe, the demand for simple and cheap transportation skyrocketed. Very few people could afford a car or motorcycle and a lot of people got around on bicycles. This resulted in prime conditions for moped development to say nothing of the iconic Italian scooters. Many bicycle makers started offering small auxiliary engines for their products. This included Ducati, Motbecane, Moto Guzzi, Peugeot and others. In 1952 the Austrian company Steyr-Puch (known by Puch in the USA, rhymes with 'book') introduced the MS-50. This machine departed from the bicycle-based design and included elements such as a pressed steel frame, fan-assisted engine cooling, 2-speed handlebar-shifted gears and an elaborate electrical system.

In the late 1960s mopeds grew in popularity and diversity. By the "energy crisis" of the 1970s, there were about 125 different models of mopeds available in the USA. The moped craze continued until the early 1980s when a combination of recession, mandatory licensing and insurance and other factors caused many brands to disappear from the US marketplace. Today, just a handful of traditional mopeds are sold new here.

What is a "Moped" Scooter?
In this case, 'Moped' is a regulated specification. Many people think it is simply a 50cc scooter which is NOT the case. In the State of Minnesota, a scooter can be licensed as a moped ONLY IF it meets all three of the following criteria:
     1.)  Electric motor or petrol engine with a piston displacement of 50cc or less.
     2.) Maximum of two brake horsepower (2HP at the drive wheel).
     3.) Maximum speed of 30 MPH on a flat surface.
Many current 50cc scooters are NOT moped-legal because they do no meet the second two requirements. These include the Yamaha Zuma, Vino & C3 and Vespa LX50 & Vespa S50 among others.

If you considering purchasing a used 50cc scooter, look at the license on the back. If it is legally registered as a moped, it will say "MOPED" on the license plate. If not, it's considered a motorcycle and you will need a motorcycle endorsement on your license and will NOT be able to park in a bike rack.  

In the State of Minnesota, a person can legally operate a moped-legal scooter with a valid driver's license. No motorcycle endorsement is required. All moped riders must wear protective eyewear. Moped riders under 18 years old must wear a DOT-approved helmet as well. All mopeds registered in Minnesota must have liability insurance coverage. A 15 year old can get a moped permit after completing a state-approved moped safety course.

What About Moped Parking?
This is a bit more complicated. The moped legal code, 169.223 (4) states: "the provisions of section 169.222 governing the parking of bicycles applies to motorized bicycles (mopeds)". Section 169.222 subdivision nine states that bicycles can park in racks on or near sidewalks unless said parking impedes pedestrian traffic or: "unless prohibited by local authorities". This means that local rules can supersede state parking regulations. For example, the City of Saint Paul only has a few designated parking areas downtown for 2-wheelers. The University of Minnesota is rife with mopeds parked in bike racks, BUT they require a permit. In a lot of cases, one can park their moped-legal scooter in a bike rack, but it's a good idea to verify this as opposed to just assuming it's OK.

This can be a very big deal. I have several friends who work in downtown Minneapolis and have free moped parking available to them. In one case, the use of a moped-legal scooter results in a savings of $289 per month in parking fees during the non-winter months.

30 Miles-Per-Hour? What the....
Yes, that's one of the requirements for moped licensing. If you commute between Minneapolis and St. Paul on I-94 during rush-hour, 30 MPH might seem fast. If you regularly ride on surface roads in the metro, you'll know that 30 MPH is slow. Pay attention next time and see what speed most of the vehicles are travelling at on a street posted 30 MPH (assuming traffic isn't backed up). If you want to keep up, you'll need to be able to go faster than 30 MPH.

Moped-legal scooters generally utilize three elements to restrict performance in order to meet the moped requirements:
     1.) The intake is restricted by a small carburetor jet or a plate or gasket between the carburetor and the intake manifold.
     2.) The exhaust is restricted by a cone or gasket.
     3.) There is a governor installed in the transmission.
Some scooters utilize two of these, some all three. The point being that it is possible to de-restrict your moped-legal scooter and give it a higher top speed and sometimes a little more acceleration. If you do this or have it done, you are supposed to re-register your scooter as a motorcycle.

Beyond de-restriction, there are numerous performance modifications readily available including "big bore" engine kits, performance exhausts, performance transmission kits and so on. I am not here to judge you or to suggest that you bend the laws regarding your moped. I'm just saying that you may not have to live with that 30 MPH limitation.

What Moped Should I Buy?
If you want a new pedal or motor moped, I think that Scooter Therapy in Madison Wisconsin still sells Tomos mopeds. That's about the closest I know of for new mopeds. There are lots of used mopeds in the Twin Cities and if you visit the Minneapolis Mopeds website these guys could probably point you in the right direction. This group has some VERY knowledgeable people in it and is a wonderful resource for all things moped.

If you are looking for a moped-legal new scooter. I recommend the Kymco People 50, the Genuine Roughhouse, the Genuine Buddy 50, or the Honda Metropolitan. The first three are sold in the Twin Cities by Scooterville and the Metro is available at Honda Powersports dealers. The Kymco People 50 is reviewed in this issue.        

David Harrington

                                                                                   

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