It was the summer of 2009 in Minneapolis. A friend told me he and his roommate just bought something cool. In his backyard, he showed me this bright blue machine that was too large to be a bicycle, too small to be a motorcycle. At the time, I only had a foggy notion of what a moped was. A week later, I was obsessed.
Two-wheeled motorized vehicles have long been associated with freedom, spiritual journeying and rebellion. (See: Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, Easy Rider, The Wild One, thousands of rock songs written about motorcycles.) With a moped, I’d found a way for meek nerds to experience their own version of that exhilaration. Mopeds are faster than bikes, almost as cheap, and you can show up places not covered in back sweat. You don’t even have to have tattoos and do meth! This article is for those who are too cheap and impatient for the train and too fat and lazy and sweaty for a bicycle. My people, I present you with MOPED 101.
What a moped is: a small, motorized bicycle, defined by having both a motor and pedals; hence the name.
Most mopeds are equipped with a small gas motor, usually a 50cc, two-stroke engine with a single cylinder. They can usually get to top speeds of 35mph, but modifications can take them to 50mph or higher. The average moped gets an incredible 100 miles to the gallon, (compared to an average 33.8 mpg for a car.) If you’re driving your car 15 miles every day, you’re spending about $720 and up every year on gas. If you’re riding a moped 15 miles a day, you’re spending about $240 on gas per year.
What a moped is not: A Vespa or other similar vehicles.. They are in fact scooters. Generally they have larger engines and require a motorcycle license. Now you know.
Those little electric bicycles you see guys delivering Chinese food on: not mopeds. Those are technically not even legal. Avoid.
If you’re thinking about buying a moped, there are some things to consider:
Mopeds are legal on all city streets and bridges. Believe it or not, it is legal and possible to take a moped over the bridge in the vehicle lane. If that’s too scary, you can also shut off the engine and petal across the bridge in the bike lane, but it’s effectively a 110-pound bicycle. You will be one tired pansy by the end of it.
In New York, a 50cc moped is usually classified as a Class B or Class C motor vehicle. Most people try to register theirs as a Class C, since it requires no insurance, but don’t sweat it too much; the insurance is cheap, around $80/year.
You will need a New York driver’s license (no motorcycle license) and you will have to register it with the DMV. For a list of the different classifications, you can go to the DMV’s website.
When you go to the DMV to register your moped, do yourself a favor and have all your documents filled out properly. The friendly folks of the DMV are generally unfamiliar with mopeds, so one blemish in your paperwork might make them panic and reject you.
If you’re buying your first moped, you probably want to buy used, and try to not spend more than $600.
Craigslist is a great place to look, as well as eBay, and an online moped enthusiast community, the Moped Army has a buy/sell section in their forums.
Most likely, you’re going to want to buy from somewhere in New Jersey or Connecticut and have a buddy with a van or a pickup truck so you can get it home. Most mopeds for sale here in NYC are marked up in price significantly. In NJ and CT the moped laws are much more lax, and everybody has a garage with rusty old crap in it, so mopeds are much more ubiquitous. If you’re registering the bike in NYC, get a bill of sale FOR SURE, and a title if at all possible.
The cardinal rule is never buy a moped that doesn’t run, especially if you’re a novice. You just never know what could be wrong with it. Might be a $10 spark plug. Might be a $300 engine rebuild.
Second Stroke Mopeds in Bushwick/Bed Stuy sells great, brand-new Tomos models, as well as beautifully restored used mopeds, generally $1,000 and up. They’ll also fix up your secondhand moped and sell you everything else you could need. Being the last-standing moped shop in NYC, they’re an excellent resource and community for moped riders. Owners Ari and Pete are super friendly and willing to help out moped riders of any experience level. They can give you a basic tune up starting at around $60 and can bring pretty much any moped back from the grave.
You’re now riding a bicycle that goes 35mph. For the love of god, wear a helmet. A lot of moped riders choose to wear full face helmets, especially if you have a souped-up moped that’s taking you to 50mph, a faceplant could be ugly. Eye protection is a good idea too. If you have glasses or shades those will work, otherwise get some of those badass Red Baron looking flight goggles. That will get you laid but quick. Stay to the right and let cars pass, but try to keep out of designated bike lanes, you are not a bicycle, you are a motor vehicle. Although you see delivery guys on electric bikes running reds and going the wrong way down one ways and running amok on the sidewalk, don’t do it. You can wind up with a ticket, and besides, the reason electric bikes are illegal is because everyone hates them because delivery drivers ride like assholes. Don’t be an asshole.
PARKING, CARE & FEEDING
Mopeds can be parked at bike racks or chained up on the sidewalk wherever it is legal to park bicycles. But a good lock is paramount; there is usually no ignition lock on a moped. OnGuard sells fantastic chain locks that are virtually indestructible, come with five spare keys, which can be registered and replaced, in case you are dumb enough to lose five keys consecutively. They also offer an insurance plan called the “Anti-Theft Program” in the unlikely event your lock is defeated and your shit is stolen. Kryptonite makes a good chain lock too, but their insurance plan isn’t valid in New York. Chain locks cost about $60 and up and are a very wise investment. With an OnGuard chain, the “Anti-Theft Program” costs $10 for two years and $15 for three. If you really want to baby your new baby, invest in a cover. Second Stroke sells quality moped covers for around $35; they’ll fit perfectly and keep your bike safe from the elements and from the covetous eyes of would be crooks. If you’re feeling cheap, a grill cover, which you can find for under $20 will work too. Make sure it’s heat resistant. Tarps and plastic drop cloths aren’t a good idea. They’re not heat proof and will melt into a goopy plastic mess on your exhaust pipe.
Mopeds are generally simple and well-designed, so someone who’s not even particularly mechanically inclined can learn to work on their moped themselves. For many riders, myself included, learning about the engine and workings of the bike is a part of the nerdy hobbyist appeal. You can find endless tutorials on YouTube and moped army forums. Don’t be afraid to tinker. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself talking about spark plugs and compression and and actually kind of know what you’re talking about.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
If you buy a moped, be ready to field questions from curious bystanders as well as a lot of 40-something guys who had mopeds 20 years ago. Seeing yours will fill their hearts with nostalgia. There might be good stories. There might be crying. There might be hugging. Mopeds are mainly an enthusiast market, and have a small but devoted cult following. There’s even a moped gang in Brooklyn.
Hit up Moped Army to find info on local events such as weekly rides and moped rallies. You’ll find that the spirit of moped culture is very independent, DIY and thrift-minded, making the moped community a very attractive place for the broke commuter to turn to. So you now know more than I knew when I bought my first moped. It’s warm out. You are ready.