Mopeds were the riding buddy which marked a generation and helped pave the way for the new, lightweight transportation means of today like Swagtron scooters. Even though they started out in the United Kingdom as a way to fulfill a need, their popularity soon meant that the new, cool bikes were being sold all over the world.
Where Did the Mopeds Originate?
While mopeds are certainly modest rides, they were the proven appetizers for generation upon generation of long-term motorcyclists. Therefore, this history of this loved type of motorcycle is something every rider should know and cherish.
The term ‘moped’ comes from a mix of the words ‘motor’ and ‘pedal’, which comes as no surprise seeing how the earliest examples were nothing more than bicycles fitted with small engines and which still retained the pedals to be able to function properly.
In those days, the pedals would still be used to start the engine, pull away from traffic lights and even make it up a steeper hill if the need arose. While the term itself was coined somewhere in the 1950s, another two decades were needed for the moped mania to take over the world.
Anyone with an interest in the history of motorcycles will know that their popularity increased dramatically after the Second World War because people wanted cheap, reliable forms of transport. Motorcycles were cheaper than cars while scooters were cheaper than motorcycles but the question of fuel efficiency still remained.
Therefore, across the European continent, manufacturers began producing a new generation of small motors that could be made to work on a bicycle skeleton. Italy first had the ‘Mosquito’, Germany the ‘Hilfsmotor’ while France had the ‘Velosolex’.
The flexibility and the ingenuity of the new types of mopeds made them an instant hit and allowed them to rack up 100,000 sales by 1952 in the United Kingdom alone. When more people started affording cars and motorcycles again, sales naturally began to drop.
Therefore, a boost was needed to bring mopeds back into the public picture and this came with the U.K. government’s attempt to stop 16-year olds from being able to ride bikes as powerful as 250cc (cubic centimeters).
The manufacturers were obviously aghast because this signified the loss of an important source of income for them. Even though the government’s logic was that limiting first-time bikers access to high-speed two-wheeled vehicles is a good thing, what it failed to anticipate was the reaction of the private sector.
Losing this steady sales stream prompted the manufacturers to introduce a new breed of a moped which was essentially a cut-down but still highly tuned motorcycle with added pedals. This way, they could conform to the letter of the law while completely ignoring the spirit of it and keep making a lot of money in sales.
While a lot of fuss was made about this, the new type of bikes became terribly popular and an instant hit, like anything else that is both legal and illegal at the same time. The most popular of these was the Yamaha FS1-E, known to its legions of fans as ‘Fizzy’.
Equipped with a 49cc single-cylinder, it was capable of reaching 50mph per hour at top speed but the trick was that with relatively little effort, any owner could modify it to add an extra 10mph to that speed, which was obviously terribly illegal and we are sure nobody has ever actually done it.
Afterward, the whole world was waiting for this brand new type of moped. Manufacturers from all over the European continent and even Japanese ones were fighting for the top spot in a rapidly-growing industry.
While this was definitely a golden age, this was not what the authorities had in mind so moped restrictions were continuously introduced starting from 1977, even going as far as removing the requirement for pedals in order to be classified as one. As it stands right now, a moped cannot have an engine over 49cc and cannot be able to go faster than 28 mph.
Nowadays, motorcycles, mopeds, and scooters are all great ways to travel in an interchanging world which is always in a hurry and never wants to be stuck in rush hour traffic. However, few people know the exact difference between mopeds and, for instance, scooters.
Even though law-changing and technology advancements have rendered many differences between them obsolete, it’s still not that hard to distinguish a real, certified moped when you see one provided you have some basic information.
To be clear from the start, we’d like to point out that technologically speaking, the term ‘motorcycle’ is really an umbrella term. What this means is that while all mopeds and scooters can be defined as motorcycles because they have two wheels and an engine, not all motorcycles and scooters are also mopeds.
The re-emergence of scooters and motorized scooters has basically ensured that the ‘real’ moped becomes even more obsolete as time passes by. These days, even a motorized scooter with an engine below 50cc is legally classified as a moped.
However, in recent years we have seen the emergence of a culture called ‘alt bikers’’, basically a new wave of custom bike builders who like to spice up their work by offering it a ‘future retro’ approach. Old moped models have also been caught up in this and there are countless examples of extremely cool custom moped jobs being made.
Mopeds in the Future
Does this mean that there is no future for the classic, old-school mopeds in our world? That’s not exactly the case if you take a closer look at the industry. While this continues to be mostly a niche interest for an aging band of enthusiasts, the dream of a cheap and fuel-efficient way of transportation is still alive and this is everything a moped ever symbolized.
As such, we cannot say that the idea of a moped will ever truly die, especially since many of the manufacturers of old are still around, except now they are focused on electric bikes for the most part. What we are trying to say is that the moped was invented as a means to an end and since the law classifies electric scooters as mopeds, that dream keeps on living.
In many ways, this signifies that history has come full circle with manufacturers like Italjet and Puch returning to their bike roots after abandoning them in the second part of the 20th century to learn how to create a motorized one.
Everywhere around the world, especially in the USA and Europe, people become more and more aware of the dangers of fuel consumption and try to reduce it wherever they can. Therefore, the aura of popularity that is surrounding the whole phenomenon of electric bicycles nowadays is completely understandable.
While they may not yet become the next real big thing in cheap personal transportation until the manufacturers figure out a way to improve battery life and reduce production costs, there are still other options as a few companies out there still design and build some beautiful retro mopeds, with or without pedals.
Also, believe it or not, there are also people who are selling mopeds which are fitted with pulse-jet engines. While obviously extremely dangerous and only allowed in special events under a controlled environment, the fact that people have not forgotten about this gives aficionados a glimpse of hope.
What Should You Ride?
While it’s true that there are a lot of options available nowadays, some good old-fashioned research will usually flush out those that are not in your favor. Even though we encourage the use of mopeds, the new generation of powered two-wheelers proves that the market for small, lightweight, cheap means of transportation is still evolving.
While Europe has not yet been reborn as the moped breeding ground it used to be, there are signs that old school mopeds are undergoing a bit of a revival right now in the United States. If you think you’ve got the cool vibe required to ride one, by all means, go ahead.