Dear PoP – Scooter/Moped Advice

Photo by PoPville flickr user julia.m

“Dear PoP,

With the Metro fare hike looming, I am genuinely entertaining the purchase of a scooter/moped. I wanted to get a fair assessment from fellow PoP disciples on specifics like price range, insurance, DC rules on motorcycle licenses and potential places to, well, buy one. I have to commute to VA so foresee owning a 150CC (>40mph) with a rough budget of $1500 – $2200 if that seems reasonable.”

Any scooter owners out there? Would commuting to VA be a good idea on a scooter? Is it difficult to get a motorcycle license?

38 Comment

  • There’s a big scooter shop out in Northeast someplace. I passed it a couple weeks ago but can’t remember exactly where it is.

  • houseintherear

    Getting a motorcycle license in DC is cake. Easy written test for the provisional, and the “driving test” consists of you turning a few times in the DMV parking lot in front of a DMV worker, and demonstrating that your turn signals work, etc. My favorite part of all that is that you have to get the scooter itself to the DMV… um, without having a license. It’s a hilarious system.

    Insurance is expensive, but that’s expected.

    I would suggest finding a scooter with larger wheels than the standard 20ish”, or buying a scooter that can have different sized wheels (if that’s even possible)… the standard Vespa-sized wheels are dangerous. Others may not agree with me, in an effort to defend the traditional Euro-style scooter, but the wheels cannot handle local potholes and bumps. Take it from me- I had a very bad accident on Georgia Ave a couple years ago and lost a lot of skin and days of work, as well as the livlihood of my $2000 scooter, due to a small bump in the pavement.

    Another thing to consider is storage. The theft rate for scooters is astronomical.

    You can get around needing insurance and some other stuff if you have a moped as opposed to a scooter. If it has pedals (even if you never use them) it’s a moped, and then it does not require insurance under current DC law. Think Chinese food delivery boy scooters. They are hard to find, and will not be more than 50cc probably, so that may not be what you’re looking for.

    You may want to consider a small motorcycle. MUCH safer all around.

    • Insurance is cheap. You need to look around some more if yours is not.

      It’s pretty simple, really. An insurance company is going to be really worried about the damage you can do to others. You can’t do much damage to others with a motorcycle compared with a car.

      • houseintherear

        Comprehensive is expensive. Most people opt to get it because of the theft rates. Of course a person could self-insure that part of it, or take a huge chance and see what happens. You’re right, for the other stuff it’s not so bad, a couple hundred bucks a year maybe.

        I had insurance from the only company who would insure motorcycles/scooters within DC lines at the time, Geico. If there is another company insuring DC cycles now, you could post it here and potentially help others.

        • I’ve had DC motorcycle insurance from Markel for years. It’s quite cheap for liability insurance. I’ve never had a claim though, so the cost of coverage is all I really know about them.

        • saf

          Geico won’t insure DC bikes any more. Or at least, that’s what they told me.

          Allstate insures my motorcycle.

  • Not difficult to get a motorcycle license. And get a motorcycle over a scooter. Similar to same gas mileage and much safer then a scooter.

  • I think a good used model wouldn’t be hard to find around town. The whole Vespa thing was a big fad in DC about 5 years ago. There was even an official Vespa dealership on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park for a while! The fad has died down quite a bit, and you still see scooters around town, but not nearly as many as you once did. I think people got tired of having them stolen so often.

  • scooter shop is at 9th and V NE (about 5 min drive from Home Depot on RI Ave)

  • “With the Metro fare hike looming, I am genuinely entertaining the purchase of a scooter/moped”

    this is beyond silly. How many years of fare hike would it take to offset the cost of a scooter?

  • We have a 50cc scooter and love it, but we don’t use it to travel too far since it only goes about 35 mph. But, as you probably know, the under 50cc don’t require plates or a license. There’s a scooter dealership in Arlington that is very knowledgeable about all different types of scooters and motorcycles and their number is 703-243-8377. Also, one of our neighbors in Petworth is a very knowledgeable former scooter mechanic. I’d be happy to connect you with him if you’re interested.

    • Not true – DC law states everything with an internal combustion and two inline wheels needs registration/plates and insurance. The only real difference between sub-50cc moped/scooter laws and motorcycle laws is that you don’t need a motorcycle endorsement on your license and you can park on the sidewalk with a moped/scooter. Also, if your 50cc scooter can go over 35mph it’s then a motorcycle. The laws are here:

    • FALSE- under 50cc DOES require registration, license plates, license, and insurance. Operating a vehicle w/out registration = arrest.

  • Thanks for posting this POP and the comments thus far. I submitted this request. As for the distance, it’d be ~11 miles each way which I think is somewhat long.
    @Alex: I’d spend roughly $2400 just commuting to work 5 days a week so I think the cost can be recouped in 1.5 yrs.

    • ah

      But what is the incremental cost of commuting by Metro after the fare hikes?

    • You can find a good used motorcycle, which would be more comfortable and safer then a moped (better visibility to other vehicles, better acceleration).

    • That’s assuming you scooter to work every day for that year and a half. Torrential downpours, subzero temps, three feet of snow, parking restrictions created by events…

  • All scooters (including 50 CC scooters) MUST be registered and have plates in DC. VA and MD do not require plates for 50 CC scooters, but DC definitely does.

    Toughest part about scooter ownership in DC is storing it. If you park your scooter on the boulevard, to a lamp post, or on the sidewalk, DC treats that act the same as parking your car there. So if you’ve got plates, you risk a hefty fine for parking on the sidewalk. Problem is, if you just park it legally in the street, your scooter WILL get stolen. If you don’t have a garage, it’s a very damned if you do, damned if you don’t system. To work around the system, some people attach their plates with velcro while they are riding and then remove them when they lock up on the sidewalk.

    Lastly, for commuting to VA you’ll definitely want a 150 CC scooter.

    • My husband and I had a scooter last year before we were run down by an uninsured illegal immigrant (scooter totaled, we are lucky to be alive, guy took off but was later caught by citizens arrest!)

      Anyway, my point about parking is if you have a scooter (under 50 ccs) then you CAN park on the sidewalk in DC. It’s legal. We printed up the regualtions from the DC DMV site to have on hand in case we got a ticket, but we never did.

  • Stay away from scooters with two-stroke engines please. According to the EPA, one hour of operation by a 70-horsepower two-stroke motor emits the same amount of hydrocarbon pollution as driving 5,000 miles in a modern automobile. And please don’t drive in bike lanes.

  • What James and Cookie said. I looked into this a few years ago and those are the two big things I learned. And the plates/storage issue was enough to make me skip the whole thing.

  • Where are you commuting to exactly? I ride to work on my bicycle and it’s only about 11.5 miles each way. With all the bike paths in and around DC, this might be the more economical, environmentaly, and health positive choice. With your budget you could get anything from a laid back Electra Bike to a sweet full carbon. Let me know if you want to discuss, I’d be more than happy to work out a route for you as I’ve been commuting via bicycle to Belvoir, Falls Church, Rosslyn, Old Town, and Springfield for the past 7 or 8 years.

  • Ah: Probably $1.5/day but at some point one passes one’s threshold

    Jaynuze: Falls Church. I’m a spry 150#, but I seriously doubt I have the stamina for that long a daily bike ride.

  • Sounds like you’re right next door to me … I work in Skyline. The ride is real easy one … Mount Vernon trail, to four mile run, to South George Mason. It takes me about 43 minutes rolling. You should try it out, I think you’d be surprised – plus, I outweigh you by about 50 lbs!

  • If you decide to get a scooter, buy something of quality. For your budget and requirements you’ll likely end up with a used 125cc+.

    Stay away from chinascoots! They are unsafe and parts are cheap (read: wear out quickly). While these are inexpensive at first, you’ll spend way more money in the long run keeping yours running.

    Someone commented about the “fad” 5 years ago. The fad was with cheap Vespa clones. It seems like a fad because none of those scooters are on the road, and owners got tired of throwing money away. So, today, when you see a scooter it’s likely a quality bike.

    Consider Vespa/Piaggio, Genuine, Yamaha, Kymco, Sym, and Honda. And it will get stolen if not properly locked up.

    For shops I recommend:
    Modern Classics in NE
    Coleman Powersports in Falls Church
    Arlington Vespa/Genuine in Clarendon

  • You’re not going to be able to buy quality 125CC (non-Chinese) new for $2K. You can probably find something used on Craigslist…

    A few tips of advice from a city dwellin’ scooter-ist. Velcro on the license plate. Velcro on when driving, velcro off when parked on sidewalk to avoid $100 ticket (just don’t be an a-hole and block the sidewalk… chose a large area with lots of space for people to safely pass.)

    Also, be a good driver. Act as if you’re in a car, so don’t ride down the middle of traffic, pass illegally, use your turn signal, etc.

    I’m actually entertaining selling my Genuine buddy 125CC. I love her and she’s been a great ride, but I don’t know if she’s practical for me anymore… again, check craigslist, you might see her up there soon.

  • MopingAround said:
    “I’m a spry 150#, but I seriously doubt I have the stamina for that long a daily bike ride.”

    I think you’ll surprise yourself. Find a buddy and try the ride once. I’m sure there are people on the blog who would help you out with routing, or would even be willing to ride with you.

    You also don’t have to bike every day.

    • I like the Seattle approach, where they have a service to “ride match” you with someone else who has agreed to ride with you for the first few days. You might go on a Sunday just to scout the route, then they ride with you to and/or from work for a few days to ensure that you don’t get into trouble.

      Maybe other places do this, but I thought it seemed like a really useful service.

  • This is the DC law as written:

    In the District of Columbia, you must have a valid driver’s license with motorcycle (M)
    endorsement to operate a motorcycle.
    DC law refers to a motorcycle as a 2 or 3 wheeled motor vehicle that has one or more
    of the following characteristics:

    Piston displacement of more than fifty (50) cubic centimeters

    Capable of traveling over 35 miles per hour on level ground

    More than one and one-half (1.5) brake horsepower (S.A.E. rating)

    Wheels under 16 inches in diameter

    Manual transmission

    Note: If your 2 or 3 wheeled motor vehicle has none of the above 5 characteristics, it falls under the
    definition of motorized bicycle and may be operated by a person holding a provisional operator’s permit
    or a driver’s license (provided the vehicle passes inspection, is registered, and is insured).
    You may obtain a motorcycle (M) endorsement on your DC driver’s license if you:
    Are at least 18 years of age

    Have a valid DC driver’s license

    Pass the DC motorcycle knowledge test

    Pass the DC DMV motorcycle demonstration skills test or provide a motorcycle

    demonstration course certificate of completion approved by Maryland or


    More useful info to understand what falls under motorcycle :

    Most 50cc Scooters are 4.7 horsepower = Motorcycle
    Most Scooters have under 16inch wheels = Motorcycle
    Capable of traveling over 35 mph = Motorcycle

    Only one of these is needed to make it a Motorcycle.

    To this day I do not know of any 49cc Scooter that is not considered a Motorcycle by DC Law.

  • I love my scooter. I bought a fairly new used 125cc Yamaha last year for around 2k and use it almost every single day. We have some big hills in this area,a 50cc isn’t worth a second thought.
    After Plating, insuring, MC endorsement and I’ve still saved money- just on parking.
    1)Go to Modern Classics. Just talk to them.
    2)Wear appropriate safety gear (AKA, no flip flops and a proper DOT helmet)
    3)Secure your scoot
    4)Learn to ride the thing, they aren’t toys and they are no safer than a motorcycle. Don’t be fooled by the candy colors and step through frame.
    I think it’s worth taking an MSF course- you’ll learn on a motorcycle, but the riding principals are the same.

    • The motorcycle safety courses are great. They teach a lot of real world skills like swerving around obstacles and panic braking – these kinds of things can save your life. Most of the community colleges in the ‘burbs offer the classes and they’re usually just a weekend long. Some of the private schools, like Apex in NoVa, offer scooter-only classes also. Check out :

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