MOPED – Defining the (E)quivalent

By Benjamin Piper (A.K.A The Wandering Pacer) - Published on: Mar 14, 2023 at 12:59

Preface: This document was written with the intent to find a starting place for discussing the future of E-Mopeds and how they pertain to current moped laws and definitions. It is not meant to be a definitive answer, nor should it be.

Before we begin this journey, we will need to get some definitions out of the way. We will need to also consider two important viewpoints with relation to the author:

  1. The writer is an avid rider of vintage gas-powered pedal mopeds
  2. The writer is a resident of the state of Nebraska

This is important to note because for simplicity’s sake we will be referencing Nebraska laws to aid in our definitions. I say “for simplicity’s sake” because we know that each state has their own laws, and it can over complicate this document to try and sort them all. It is also important because there will most definitely be some bias as we go along.

So, let us begin.

As space and time have changed, so too has the definition of the word Moped. In today’s world, the word moped, has come to be interchangeable with the term, motor scooter, However, for the context of this article we will be going back to the root core of moped history and its meaning. (There are plenty of documents out there that help clear up mopeds vs scooters, so we will be skipping that argument.)



moped noun
mo·​ped | \ ˈmō-ˌped \

plural mopeds

a lightweight, low-powered motorbike that can be pedaled

noun [ C ]

US  /ˈmoʊ.ped/ UK  /ˈməʊ.ped/

a small motorcycle with pedals (= parts that you press with your feet to move forward) that can be used when starting it or traveling up a hill


(The study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.)

The word moped was coined by the Swedish journalist Harald Nielsen in 1952, as a portmanteau of the Swedish words motor and pedaler. The claimed derivation from the term motor-velocipede is incorrect. According to Douglas Harper, the Swedish terms originated from "(trampcykel med) mo(tor och) ped(aler)", which means "pedal cycle with engine and pedals" (the earliest versions had auxiliary pedals). Like some of the earliest two wheeled motorcycles, all mopeds were once equipped with bicycle pedals.


Nebraska State Law


Moped, defined.

Moped means a device with fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, an automatic transmission, and a motor with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters which produces no more than two brake horsepower and is capable of propelling the device at a maximum design speed of no more than thirty miles per hour on level ground.


Next, we will need to define the human powered version of a moped normally called, a Bicycle. This will become an important piece as we continue down this journey.


bi·​cy·​cle | \ ˈbī-si-kəl  , -ˌsi- also -ˌsī- \

a vehicle with two wheels tandem, handlebars for steering, a saddle seat, and pedals by which it is propelled

Nebraska State Law


Bicycle, defined.

Bicycle shall mean (1) every device propelled solely by human power, upon which any person may ride, and having two tandem wheels either of which is more than fourteen inches in diameter or (2) a device with two or three wheels, fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, and an electric motor with a capacity not exceeding seven hundred fifty watts which produces no more than one brake horsepower and is capable of propelling the bicycle at a maximum design speed of no more than twenty miles per hour on level ground.


You will notice that the Nebraska State Law includes the mention of an electric motor. This helps lead us into our next definition.

We will need to add the current U.S. E-bike definition. We do this to assist in the placement of Electric Bicycles, and how it relates to the current migration from traditional to powered. This is also where we start to get a little more complicated. The laws can vary state to state like traditional moped laws. Again, for simplicity’s sake, we will stick to using one source, the federal guidelines, for our definitions.


National Parks Service Policy Memorandum 19-01

On August 30, 2019, the Deputy Director of the National Parks Service (NPS), Exercising the Authority of the Director, issued Policy Memorandum 19-01, Electric Bicycles. This policy satisfies a requirement in the Secretary's Order that all Department of the Interior agencies adopt policy and provide appropriate public guidance regarding the use of e-bikes on public lands that conforms to the policy direction set forth in the Order.

The Memorandum defines an e-bike as “a two- or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts that provides propulsion assistance.” This definition is consistent with the definition of “low speed electric bicycle” in the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2085) and the definition of “electric bicycle” in the laws governing the Federal Aid Highway Program (23 U.S.C. 217(j)(2), except that the definition in the Memorandum does not include requirements from those statutes that an e-bike may not exceed 100 pounds or reach 20 mph when powered solely by the motor. Instead, the Memorandum, consistent with the Secretary's Order and many states that have promulgated regulations for e-bikes, refers to a three-class system that limits the maximum assisted speed of an e-bike:


  • Class 1 electric bicycle means an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.


  • Class 2 electric bicycle means an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.


  • Class 3 electric bicycle means an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.


Consistent with the Order, the Memorandum announces a policy that e-bikes are allowed where traditional bicycles are allowed, and that e-bikes are not allowed where traditional bicycles are prohibited. The Memorandum refers to regulations for bicycles in paragraphs (f), (g), and (h) of 36 CFR 4.30 that relate to closures and other use restrictions, other requirements, and prohibited acts. The Memorandum requires that these provisions also govern the use of e-bikes so that the use of e-bikes and bicycles are generally regulated in the same manner.


The above is just a clip from the following document related to the definition. The document is quite long and can be read in full at the following link:

OK, so now that we have our groundwork in place, we can begin defining what a E-Moped should be. I say “should be” because this is also the part where most of the bias and opinion will be concentrated.



Typing in a Google search for E-Moped (or Electric Moped) laws is going to give you a mess of information. E-Moped, E-Scooter, E-Bike, E-Bicycle and even E-Motorcycles are all tossed into the same results. When reviewing the returned information, it seems like all our definitions overlap and become interchangeable with each other.

That being the case we are going to have to create a point of reference for this process and to help us create that point, we will be using the Nebraska State Law definition for Moped classification. To start, we will break the down the various parts of the definition to its raw components, and then try to analyze each piece as we place it in our definition requirements.

So, let the Bias and Opinions begin!


  • A device with fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power
    • This is probably one of the biggest identifiers in terms of the traditional definition of mopeds, but is also one of the most contested items between “moped/scooter” riders.
    • This is also a huge area of confusion, IMO, with regards to the separation of E-Mopeds and E-Bicycles. The biggest issue I find with this, is that several of what I would classify as an E-Moped manufactures are trying to market their E-Mopeds as E-Bikes. This is not only deceptive but also dangerous. This will be discussed more as we continue through the sections.
  • An automatic transmission
  • A motor with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters which produces no more than two brake horsepower
    • This would be the second core piece needed for an E-Moped definition. With this piece we will need to do a little bit of conversion from the traditional measurement of Horsepower to the current Electric standard, Watts. We can do this by focusing on the requirement of two (brake) horsepower (BHP is slightly different than standard HP but in this case is not enough to worry about). The standard that has been set states that 1HP is roughly equal to 750 watts. Which if you recall from our E-Bicycle definition is the max limit for all 3 classes of E-Bike. So, in our case we can roughly double that requirement to 1500 watts. This already would create a huge separation from the e-bikes, but I can tell you that there are already those E-riders / manufacturers who are pushing well past that wattage. I personally would be ok with upping that to at least 2000 watts to make it a nice even number.
  • A maximum design speed of no more than thirty miles per hour on level ground
    • This requirement already moves past the E-Bicycle limits of 20-28 mph. Older ICE mopeds helped regulate top speed this with restricted parts such as carburetors, intakes and even exhaust pipes, but with modern electronic components it can be simply programed in. Case in point, some E-Moped makers have different riding modes such as “eco” which then limits the bike to 20 mph. This of course would help it fall into the E-Bicycle class, but outside this mode the bikes can go well over 30mph, and some up to 60 mph.

OK, that should help flesh out some of the legal side of what an E-Moped should be, but we cannot stop there. That is because making some adjustments to a standard E-Bicycle could fit some of the previously outline Moped law requirements similar to how adding an ICE Motor to a Bicycle will help it fall within the standard moped laws. However standard bicycles were not built to handle adding a motor to them unlike E-Bikes that were specially built to have a motor.

So then, what else do we need? What else makes a Moped a Moped you ask?

The Look. A moped needs to look like a moped.

So, what does a Moped look like especially since there are so many varieties out there? Well, if you were to start putting them together side by side, you would start to notice that they look more similar than not. Let us start by classifying the two main styles of mopeds, the step-through and the top-tank.

To help with this step, I am going to borrow directly from the Moped Amy’s own wiki page since it has already been beautifully laid this out for us.


“A step-through is basically a moped where the frame proceeds downward from the triple tree and handlebars, and either levels off or begins to curve or angle back upwards towards the seat. Basically, this would allow someone approaching the moped from the side to 'step through' it by passing between the handlebars and the seat, stepping over the lower, leveled-off portion of the frame.”

Examples of traditional step-through mopeds include the Pacer Deluxe, Puch Maxi, Tomos Bullet, and the Vespa Ciao, to name a few. You will also find that most mopeds fall into this category.


“A top-tank has a frame component that directly connects the handlebars to the seat area, so that a person approaching the moped from the side would run into a frame component if they tried to step through it, so they'd have to climb all the way over instead.”

To add, the top-tank also typically has the gas tank mounted to the top bar making the moped look more like a motorcycle.

Some examples of a top-tank moped would include the Pacer Super Sport, Puch Magnum, General 5 Star, Motomarina Sebring and the Batavus Regency.

Aside from the two main types, I would also like to observe some other details that I would consider more moped than bicycle and these would include smaller wheels with larger tires, the frames are usually shorter and sit lower to the ground than bicycles, the seats tend to be larger/longer, and probably the most ironic part with relation, the pedals setup, they make lousy bicycles when trying to use the pedals to propel the bike. Mopeds were never meant to be bicycles and as such most have a terrible pedal, chain, and gear ratio for moving the bike forward. These bikes were meant to mostly be propelled with the motor.

Alright, so let’s try to pull this all together and organize it into something streamlined and coherent. We will start with what I think should be the lawful definition of an E-Moped.


E-Moped, defined.

E-Moped means a device with fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power, an electric motor not exceeding 2000 watts which produces no more than 2.5 brake horsepower and is capable of propelling the device at a maximum design speed of no more than thirty-five miles per hour on level ground.


You will notice that I have slightly changed some of the requirements. As an experienced moped rider, I can tell you with today’s traffic it would be nice to have just a little bit more power to maneuver around issues. I would even be more willing to up the speed to 40 mph but for this example I am trying to keep it as close to the original as possible. I am also trying to increase the max speed separation for E-Bikes and E-Mopeds.

As for the look, there are already a number of bikes out there that I would say fall into this category. Again, Using the two types of Mopeds, Top-Tank and Step-Through, I will place them into the area that I feel would best match the look.




How am I picking the bikes for the top-tanks and step-throughs? I am placing bikes where the batteries sit on the frame. If the battery sits on the top cross bar, then it would go in the top-tanks, and if there is no top bar then it would be a step-through, or if there is a top bar but the battery sits on the bottom of the frame, I would then liken this to a step-through that has a frame brace in place.

Again, these bikes are purely classified by look and not by the lawful definition. This is because there are only a couple that would even come close to matching our set definition.

So where does this leave us? I would hope this would leave us less confused and in a better place than we were when mopeds first came to the States.

When mopeds first came to the U.S., they fell into a strange gray area. They were new and didn’t fit any of the established norms. Are they a bicycle or a motorcycle, are they legal to ride on the streets, and are they safe? These are all headlines you can find in old newspaper clippings in those early days. I would say as we are finding ourselves today in a similar situation, with more and more types of E-Rides being brought to the market, this time around, we do have an established norm to help guild us along the way, the humble Moped.

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