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The Scooter Defined

Despite what a lot of people will assume, a scooter is not a moped. I get it all the time too - ride up to a light and wait for it to turn green, some joker will stick his head out his car window and say "Hey! Nice moped!" It's not because they're all stupid (despite how easy it is to make the assumption sometimes) that the unenlightened make this mistake, but people are used to seeing the smaller, mass-produced 50cc scooters that make up a huge body of the scooter industry, which are frequently classified as "mopeds." However, these scooters are not actually mopeds, any more than a small 50cc dirtbike is a moped.

Please Note: There have recently been some conflicts with the VT DMV as to whether or not a 50cc scooter is in fact classified as a "moped." Read the VT "Moped" Definition section to learn more.

Mopeds are essentially motor-assisted bicycles. The frame is built like a bicycle frame, they have larger wheels that mirror those of a bicycle, and most have pedals that are used to start it or to give extra power when climbing steep hills. Mopeds have engines with a displacement smaller than 50cc, and the maximum speed is around 30 or 40mph. Scooters, on the other hand, are not built like bicycles. They have no pedals, the wheels are smaller, they do not use a bicycle'esque frame, and the engine sizes and top speeds vary widely. Other folks might say that a scooter is a step-through motorcycle, which is closer, but not exactly precise either, because scooters are their own thing.

Scooters have been around since the early 20th Century, and observed wide-scale popularity in the 50's and 60's, as a mode of affordable transportation in post World War II Europe. What set scooters apart was the step-through design which allowed for women wearing skirts to ride, a front legshield which kept the rider's legs safe from wind and debris, an axle-mounted motor which transferred power directly without the need for chains or belts, and smaller wheels which made maneuvering through city traffic much easier. As scooters evolved over the next 50 or 60 years the design remained largely the same, and they remain a major transportational vehicle in cities and towns throughout the world.

Scooter engines range from 49cc in displacement all the way up to 650cc, and though the basic scooter is intended for city transportation, models exist that can be brought onto faster highways and interstates, and even for off-road use. Scooters are often highly stylish, with more car-like bodywork (rather than pipe frames and exposed engines) they lend themselves more readily to a wider array of color and design, as well as personal aesthetic modification.

For more information about what the state of Vermont considers a scooter to be, read our The Vermont Scooterist article.

Article by Kevin Montanaro


The VTScoot InfoBase

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The Vermont Scooterist Spring Tune-Up
Scooter Buying 101 Tools to Carry
Riding Gear 101 Buyer Beware: Modern
Buyer Beware: Vintage VT "Moped" Definition
Tuning Your Carburetor Basic Maintenance
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