Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What to expect when you are expecting (a moped)

I wrote this e-mail to a friend once who thought he might be interested in a moped, and at the time I felt like getting ambitious, so I started to write a big long thing, and then never finished. I saw it the other day in my drafts box and realized that even unfinished, it's got some decent information in there, so I thought I would post it up since I haven't had anything to contribute recently. Check it out, it's long and you know this already, but you are reading this at work anyway.

What is a moped?

A moped is a unique combination of bicycle, motor and freedom. They are lightweight machines (70-110 lbs) powered by 50cc 2 stroke engines. They have automatic transmissions with centrifugal clutches, meaning no shifting or clutching. Most mopeds are one speed, some are automatic two speeds, and some have a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The top speed of most mopeds is 30mph, although depending on the state were originally sold, they may be limited to 20, or 25mph. Most mopeds were originally manufactured in Europe and imported into the US during the 1970's, with sales and imports declining until the late 80's, although a few new mopeds are still imported today.

How is it different than a scooter?

A moped has pedals that alone can power the machine, and thus, can be ridden like a bicycle. This is the easiest and most definitive way to differentiate a moped from scooter. Scooters usually range from 50cc to 150cc, and with either have a CVT or a manual shift transmission. Scooters have smaller wheels than mopeds, usually 10"-13" compared to a mopeds 16" or 17" wheels. Scooters are usually legally classified as different than mopeds and are subject to other regulations and laws that are not always applicable to mopeds (such as registration, licensing or insurance requirements) but this varies from state to state.

What do I need to legally operate a moped?

This varies from state to state, but usually all that is required is a valid drivers license. Some states, such as California, require a motorcycle endorsement. Other states, such as Indiana, don't require a license at all. California requires registration and plates for your moped, but the plates requires no yearly stickers and are lifetime. Washington calls for mopeds to be titled, and plated with yearly tabs, unless the moped is 30 years old and applies for a collectors plate. Michigan requires only a bill of sale to be registered and a small fee for a 3 year sticker to be placed on the bike. Indiana, on the other hand, requires no registration and plate to operate legally on the road. Check your states requirements for mopeds, and print out those laws when you attempt to register your moped. They are also handy to keep on the moped to show to police officers in the event of a traffic stop, as most police don't know or understand the laws regarding mopeds.

What is a moped great for?

A moped excels in high density areas of major cities, because it is small, cheap, efficient and fun. There are virtually no parking problems, as a moped can usually squeeze into about anywhere, and in some states, such as California, they are legally allowed to park on the sidewalk. At 30mph, they navigate surface streets at the speed of traffic, and can carry a rider and cargo easily around traffic. A moped is a great supplement to a primary vehicle, because they usually are payed for all at once (not another monthly payment) they are easy on gas (usually between 80-110mpg) and in many states don't require insurance and are cheap to register. This supplement moped can be used any time to take one person anywhere within a 10 mile radius of home in an urban environment at the same speed or even quicker than a car. Going to the grocery store? Toss on the baskets and bring home a few bags. Meeting up with a group of people at a sporting event or outing? A moped cuts through traffic and keeps you from having to drive everyone else!

What is a moped good for?

A moped is good as a primary vehicle in many situations, and many people in urban areas make mopeds their sole transportation by choice. I personally use a moped as my primary vehicle and ride it every day of the year. With proper rain gear, a moped can even be ridden comfortably in wet weather, although sunny days are certainly the best. In Seattle, it's very possible and not uncomfortable to ride year round. Riding during the winter in colder climates is still easily accomplished using warm clothing made for snow-mobiles, but the ice does present a hazard and should be considered carefully. A moped is good as a primary vehicle because it can do most of the things a car can do with less of the hassles, but there are some things a moped doesn't do well.

What is a moped not good for?

Mopeds are not made to transport more than one person. The few and far between mopeds that have a long seat and passenger pegs usually still have a weight limit of 250lbs, meaning it's over loaded with two passengers. Most mopeds are not good at climbing large hills, especially from a stop. Most mopeds are one speed, and don't have lots of torque, making most power at upper RPMs which they can never reach going up hill. The exception to this is a moped with a Variated (cvt) transmission. They have incredible low end which can usually climb most hills with little to no pedal assistance. I will outline which mopeds are variated later on. A moped is not good for people who just want to put gasoline in a vehicle and drive it. Mopeds are very simple, small machines, and the vibrations of the motor and the bumps along the road tend to knock things around and cause bolts to come lose. A moped is not usually a vehicle that can just be ridden with no maintainence. Since one of the main draws of the moped lifestyle is low cost, it can be prohibitively expensive to pay someone to maintain your moped. Most motorcycle shops won't work on them, or if they agree to, its on a no-recourse basis and they charge usually between $90-$120 per hour. A simple problem on a moped fixed by a motorcycle shop will usually cost as much as the moped did originally! A moped is not a hands off machine. The cheapest and most likely qualified person around to repair or maintain your moped is almost certainly you.

I think I want a moped, but how will I know how to maintain it?

Mopeds need maintence and repair, and since it's not practical or always possible to pay someone to fix it, that means you are the head mechanic in your moped fleet of one! Mopeds require very few tools, and most were originally equipped with a small tool kit, although they tend to get lost through the years. All you really need are a few basic tools.

  • Spark plug socket
  • Adjustable Wrench
  • Flat head and Philips screwdrivers
That's a really short list! That is definitely the minimum amount of tools, and I would recommend the following tools for a person more serious about the moped lifestyle. I will outline where to get most of these wonderful tools at the end of this article.

  • 8,10,11,13,15mm box end wrenches
  • 5mm Allen key (or a whole metric set)
  • 1/4" drive Metric socket set with ratchet.
  • Vice-grip brand adjustable locking pliers, needle nose
  • Ignition points file
  • Piston stop (used for locking the piston in place to tighten and loosen certain engine nuts)
  • Flywheel puller (for your specific moped brand)
  • Feeler gauge
With these tools listed above, a person with no experience can usually accomplish about 80% of what usually needs attention and fixing on mopeds. Following is a list of things that you might already have around the house that are useful

  • WD40 or another multi-purpose lubricant
  • Electrical tape
  • Zip ties or cable ties
  • Steel wool
  • Sand paper
So you've got these tools, but you still have no idea what to do with them, right? Well, mopeds are incredibly simple machines, and really only require someone who doesn't get easily frustrated and can follow a process through logically in order to diagnose and fix problems.

I'm going to link to a very handy guide that will help you learn the logical process of solving moped mechanical issues. There are really only 3 things required for a moped to run. Fuel, Spark and Compression. So simply test to see if you have each of these three things. Find out which one you don't have, and you have an idea of what needs fixed. Make the missing element work, and your moped will run! Read this guide several times, it is very helpful.


So now you've got an idea if a moped is right for you, and you have a basic idea of what it will take to keep a moped running. The rest is wanting to ride a moped bad enough that you will stick with it.

1 comment:

Joel said...

I have another section to add to your guide.

Moped Curses
Sometimes, inexplicably, you will be cursed.
What causes a moped curse?
Nobody knows specifically what causes a moped curse. Most of the time a moped curse isn't really a curse but is really the result of impatience. When riders get busy with life, sometimes they forget to regularly maintain their moped or in the case of a new build, they will become careless in the rebuilding process. With each unsuccessful attempt at fixing a problem, they become more frustrated and careless, prolonging the problem. Beginner mopeders should constantly repeat this mantra: It's not a curse, it's because I'm a newb.
Where does the curse come from?
True moped curses are mysterious black magic. Some say that jealous mopeds require a blood sacrifice before they are appeased. Others say that when a perfectly running moped is sold for another, the spurned moped becomes jealous and sabotages the original owners mechanical attempts.
How do you get rid of it?
It's a curse. If there were a simple antidote then no one would ever get cursed. Repeat this mantra: Even though I'm a moped pro, I still don't know shit.