Of all motorized bikes, mopeds are the least powerful. Few are manufactured today; many of the mopeds on the road are leftovers from the 1970s moped craze. Traditionally, mopeds consist of a bicycle with an exposed, two-stroke motor attached to the frame to boost the pedals' power. Some "no-peds" leave off the pedals. Each state has its own legal definition of a moped, which may exempt the owner from inspection and helmet laws. Mopeds may also be restricted from some traffic lanes. Commonly, mopeds must not be able to go faster than 25 or 30 mph, although laws differ. A secondhand moped may cost $75 to $400, but owners caution that you'll probably wind up doing all repair and maintenance work yourself, as a mechanic might charge more than the bike is worth.
Scooters are more powerful than mopeds; 39 mph is a common top speed for a small scooter, which can cost less than $3,000 new. Classic scooters have small wheels, a frame covered completely by body panels, and a step-through design with a floorboard for the rider's feet (rather than an exposed frame that you straddle like a motorcycle). But some bigger scooters such as the Honda Silver Wing (MSRP: $8,500 to $9,000) have big wheels, very high step-throughs and top speeds of 90 mph or more, just like a motorcycle; these machines usually keep their scooter-esque footrests and automatic transmissions.
Some users say scooters are easier to drive than motorcycles, and their body panels provide convenient storage cubbies and protect the rider somewhat from engine heat and oil, wind, road grime and splashes, etc. However, all but the smallest scooters are subject to the same helmet, licensing and other laws as motorcycles are.
Scooters can get 50 to 80 mpg or more, cost less than $3,000 and can be easier to ride than a motorcycle, making them more popular in the U.S. than ever before. If you're shopping for a scooter, you'll be confronted with a wide range of prices and power. Here are some expert tips to help you choose the right scooter.
If you buy a scooter or motorcycle between Feb. 17 and Dec. 31, 2009, you can probably deduct the state or local sales taxes on your federal income tax return. The IRS provides details of the New Vehicle Tax Deduction, including income limits.
If the scooter you buy is electric, such as a Vectrix, you can probably take a federal tax credit for 10 percent of the scooter's cost (again, income limits apply). The Plug-In Electric Vehicle Credit applies to two- and three-wheeled electric scooters and motorcycles purchased after Feb. 17, 2009, and before Jan. 1, 2012.
Honda has announced it will start selling the Honda SH150i (MSRP: $4,500) in the U.S. in June 2009. This 153 cc scooter will fill a big gap in Honda's current U.S. scooter lineup, which has consisted of two small 50 cc gas scooters -- the Honda Ruckus (MSRP: $2,500) and Metropolitan (MSRP: $2,400) -- and the big, powerful, 582 cc Honda Silver Wing (MSRP: $8,500 to $9,000). Honda says the SH150i is the best-selling scooter in Italy. Read more here.
BMW is working on a scooter, a company official is quoted as saying at VisorDown.com. Bloggers and the European press speculate that three big-engine models are in the works -- 500 cc, 650 cc and 800 cc gas scooters. Rumored concepts range from a three-wheeled scooter with a roof (similar in concept to the short-lived BMW C1 that was discontinued in 2002) to a motorcycle-like sport bike. Read more about the buzz at Autoblog.com and MotorcycleDaily.com.