What is the Difference Between a Moped and a Motorcycle?

Jeremy Laukkonen

The main differences between a moped and a motorcycle are typically licensing requirements and engine displacement. Mopeds will typically have motors that are under 50cc in size, while motorcycles can have substantially larger engines. In many jurisdictions, licensing requirements for motorcycles are related in some way to engine displacement, resulting in no special requirements to operate cycles with motors that are under 50cc. Mopeds are often much smaller than motorcycles, and may be required to travel at slower speeds.

Motorcycles are sturdier than mopeds and designed for use on open roads and highways.
Motorcycles are sturdier than mopeds and designed for use on open roads and highways.

In the early days of motorized transportation, there may have been less of a differentiation between a moped and a motorcycle. Some of the first motorcycles were bicycles that had some type of motor attached. These early motorcycles typically still had functional pedals. In later years, most large motorcycles no longer had pedals, but some smaller ones still used did. The term moped was first used to describe these small, pedal-driven motorcycles, though the presence of pedals is no longer a defining feature of mopeds.

Mopeds have smaller engines than motorcycles.
Mopeds have smaller engines than motorcycles.

Today, most vehicles that have two wheels and a motor that is smaller than 50cc will typically be referred to as a moped, and a motorcycle will often have a substantially larger engine. Legal definitions and licensing requirements vary around the world, though many countries and localities will require some sort of special license to operate a motorcycle. This is sometimes further split up based on engine displacement, so that riding larger bikes requires a different license endorsement than smaller bikes. In places with these sorts of extra requirements, it is often possible to drive a moped with no special driver's license endorsements.

Certain locations around the world have less stringent restrictions based on age regarding vehicles with smaller engine displacements, which can be another difference between a moped and a motorcycle. The age for operating a motorcycle is often the same as to drive any other motor vehicle, while some countries will allow younger people to use mopeds. Some countries allow people to operate mopeds with no license at all if they were born after a certain year.

In addition to the natural speed restrictions that result from their small engine displacements, many countries also have a limit on how fast a moped may travel. This is another potential difference between a moped and a motorcycle, since motorcycles are often restricted to the same speeds as cars and trucks. The maximum speed for a moped can differ between locations, though it is often no more than 30mph (48 km/h). Even if a moped is capable of traveling faster, it may have a governor installed to reduce the top speed, or the operator may be ticketed if he exceeds the limit.

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