Wikipedia states (at least temporarily) that mopeds are a class of two wheeled vehicles without enough power to render them subject to licensing and safety restrictions. It goes on to say that they are defined in various jurisdictions by either a maximum engine displacement, maximum speed, or in some cases, the presence of pedals. See Wikipedia entry for Moped
The name was coined by a Harald Nielsen in 1952 as an abbreviation of motor and pedal and unequivocally describes a vehicle that has both motor and pedals. "... Det riktiga ursprunget är mo(tor) + ped(al). Ordet skapades av motorjournalisten Harald Nielsen vid tidningen Motor 1952. På den tiden var det obligatoriskt med pedaler på motordrivna cyklar. " See article in DN.KULTUR. My rough translation: The correct origin is mo(tor) + ped(al). The word was created by motor-journalist Harald Nielson in a 1952 issue of Tidningen Motor (Motor Times). At that time it was obligatory that pedals be present on the motor driven cycle.
True mopeds are delightful little beasts that may be driven under motor power, or pedaled. As such, they are very flexible, generally very light and portable, and extremely energy efficient. In many states they may be driven without license or registration. It is this last fact that has caused all the confusion. Some states define any two-wheeled vehicle with an engine smaller than 50cc as a "Moped" and exempts mopeds from licensing and registration requirements -- this designation has been applied both to true mopeds and to the smaller minimalist motorscooters most of which do not have pedals.
Unfortunately, the confusion did not end there. The term "Moped" has also been adopted by dealers for use with larger 150cc and 250cc freeway-legal motorscooters. Most Motorscooterits dislike the term "Moped" when used to describe a motorscooter, particularly a large freeway-legal machine (See Basic Scooters, Performance Scooters, Luxury Scooters). This egregious misnomer has somehow stuck however, despite the resentment it has met with in the scootering community. Unfortunately, this term is very commonly used (arguably erroneously) by dealers in reference to Motorscooters. For example, the page at Tomali Scooters clearly designated "Mopeds" displays 150cc and 250cc performance and luxury motorscooters -- freeway legal machines upon which pedals would be as absurd as ... well, pedals on your family car, washing machine, or VCR.
I have driven mopeds and found them to be very practical and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, they do seem to be more dangerous than motorscooters. They can often not keep up with traffic and are therefore relegated to that rather hazardous area between the road and parked cars, where mirrors and suddenly opening doors can be a problem. I also nearly broke an ankle when aiming foot at pedal, missing and hitting the ground and having the pedal come up and hit me in the back of the leg. Quite painful but probably anomalous among expert mopedists.
For more about mopeds, see the excellent Moped2.org page.
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