Dear PoPville – Owning a scooter/vespa in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I am thinking of getting a scooter for getting around DC (think vespa), and I’d like to ask your readers for any feedback or advice on having one in DC.

I currently use a bicycle to get around, so I have some “street smarts,” but my commute just got a little longer (and a little more up-hill), so I am thinking of switching it up. I am looking for some pros/cons/any words from the wise about scooters in the District.


We’ve had some general advice here and a discussion on where they should be locked up – do you guys have any other general advice?

68 Comment

  • Pro: small, fuel-efficient, easy to park.

    Con: need a motorcycle license in DC, requires fuel, exposed to elements, still have to find a parking spot.

    • Aren’t those all obvious?

    • Scooters aren’t that easy to park. It’s illegal to park a scooter on the sidewalk, or to drive it in the bike lane. You can’t legally park at a bike rack, either.

      Also, scooters must be registered and insured. And I believe there is a helmet law as well.

      Buy yourself a Dahon folding bike and be done with it.

  • Thats my bicycle (thanks city bikes). I also have a few motorscooters. The bicycle is much easier to get through traffic and park when at work. Vespa sits chained up at home now.

  • The big thing you need to know is that to be legal, you’re going to need a ‘motorcycle’ endorsement on your Driver’s License, and insurance (with a vague exception for ‘motorized bicycles’ – i.e. unless it has pedals too, DC considers it a motorcycle).

    I heartily recommend doing the Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes in preparation (sorry, but your bicycle doesn’t do highway speeds, and hubris is a good way to end up road pizza). As a bonus, doing the course can get you a discount on insurance with some carriers.

    If you don’t have an insured car, you may have trouble finding insurance, and may have to look at some of the 2nd tier insurance companies. Progressive, for instance, blacklists DC, and simply won’t write a ‘motorcycle’ policy, and many companies that will write a policy only do it if you have a car insured with them too.

    Get a proper Motorcycle helmet, sometimes expressed as: If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet. If you like the shape of your chin, buy a full face helmet.

    Wear quality leather gloves. When you eventually go down, you hands are typically the first thing to hit the pavement.

    Wear eye protection: either shatterproof lens glasses or a helmet with a face shield. The first time you catch a pebble in the throat – you’ll understand about never wanting one in the eye.

    Expect lots of people here to say lots of shady things are OK (like parking on the sidewalk, not getting tags, or insurance, not wearing a helmet)… they’re wrong, they just haven’t been caught/written up.

    • saf

      What s/he said.

    • Geico is the one big insurer that covers scooters and motorcycles in DC. Prices vary depending on coverage, the value of the scooter/bike and where it’ll be parked regularly. I believe I get a $25 annual discount because I completed an MSF course.

      anon is also right about the parking, tags, etc. Though if you do go the 50cc scooter route, you can always pretend you’re borrowing it from a friend in VA or MD, where registration, insurance and a motorcycle endorsement are not required.

    • I had a motorcycle policy with Progressive in 2008. Is blacklisting DC a new thing?

    • The vehicle in the photo above is a motorized bicycle, AKA a moped.

      A motorcycle/scooter requires a Motorcycle license; a motorized bicycle does not.

      Both scooters and motorized bicycles must be inspected and tested for emissions every two years.

      It is legal to operate a motorized bicycle in bike lanes, and to park at bike racks. It is illegal to do so with a scooter.

  • What about an electric bicycle?

    There are even kits to turn your current bicycle into electric to help with the hills.

    • As affordable as the “Volt” I presume?
      probably as practical too.

      • I’d welcome anyone who actually owns an E-bike to share about their experience. From what I’ve read, they can go about 20 miles on a charge, which should be fine for the majority of inner city commutes. A cheap one is around $800, which is certainly not the most expensive bike or scooter-type-conveyance in the store.

    • The Copenhagen Wheel.

  • Try to avoid buying a two cycle engine motorcycle or scooter. They produce more smog contributing exhaust than almost all modern cars.

  • I thought the DC law was that you didn’t need an endorsement and registration if the bike was 50cc or less.
    PoP – I have an idea for a future monthly (bimonthly?) column. Why not consolidate dear PoPville questions and then use them to interview folks that would know in DC gov’t or greater community. Certainly with your readership you could get a meeting with the head of Metro, DMV or the like. Perhaps prior to the interview you could solicit questions/concerns.

    • Common misconception. The law is very clear in DC; if it has an internal combustion motor it needs registration & insurance. There’s no 50cc [or less] stipulation in DC law.

      • Incorrect. According to Cmdr Solberg(5d), you don’t need registration for < 50cc.

        • me

          Correct. I went to the DMV to register my 49cc Vespa, and they wouldn’t do it because it wasn’t necessary. They looked at me as if I was crazy.

        • saf

          Well, he’s wrong. The law is quite unclear, but with careful reading, you can figure it out:

        • the link posted above (to the DMV “non-traditional vehicle” chart was very helpful.) It states that a moped/scooter is defined as:

          A motorized bicycle is a two or
          three wheeled vehicle with all of
          the following characteristics:
          1) wheels more than 16 inches in
          diameter, 2) automatic
          transmission, 3) piston
          displacement of not more than
          fifty (50) cubic centimeters, 4)
          incapable of maximum speed of
          over 35 miles per hour on level
          ground, and 5) not more than
          one and one-half (1.5) brake
          horsepower (S.A.E. rating). If the
          two or three wheeled motor
          vehicle does not meet one or
          more of these characteristics, it is
          a motorcycle. [4]

          these must be registered, but you don’t need a motorcycle endorsement. Seems clear to me.

  • I have ridden a 125cc scooter daily in DC for the past 4 years. Here are a few things I have observed/practice:

    I have insurance through Geico, and it is $31/month for liability and theft coverage. I do not have an auto policy through them.

    I have my scoot registered and insured, and have an ‘M’ endorsement on my license.

    I park on the sidewalk all the time and have never had a ticket or been bothered. This is not legal. I put my tag under my seat when I park and park out of the way of pedestrians. A DC parking attendent recommended this when I first moved here. I park in a secured garage at night.

    I had an attempted theft 2 years ago. Since then I have used “The Beast” lock from OnGuard and have not had a problem.

    I split lanes. I only do so when the other vehicles are stopped (e.g. waiting for a light, never at stop signs). This is not legal, but speeds up my commute considerably.

    I wear an expensive helmet that is the pinnacle of helmet technology (SNELL M2010 rated). I cannot recommend this enough. Get a full face helmet. Take the MSF class as recommended earlier.

    • This. All of this. Although I don’t remove my tags when I park and have also never had a problem. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

      The motorcycle endorsement is just not that hard to get, and I’d personally rather be safe than sorry on this front.

  • The ebike comment should be taken seriously.
    I commute on an electric assist bike.
    Basically, it takes the edge of hills. Still pedals, still regulated as a bicycle, just easier. (and you can decide how much or how little help to get)
    Check out the Green Commuter in Takoma Park.

  • make sure it’s super loud and then do laps around my apartment building late at night on week days.

  • You don’t necessarily need the M endorsement. See

    • Yes, you do. Even for a <50cc. Scooter wheels are nearly all under 16 inches, which means you need the M endorsement.

      • me

        Just saying that that’s not what the DMV told me. Even the supervisor. No registration and no MC endorsement. So I left without spending any money… which was pretty awesome.

      • Scooter wheels generally may be under 16 inches, but moped wheels generally are not. The moped in the photo above has 16+ inch wheels.

  • I just hit the thousand mile mark on my Buddy 125 and spent a whopping $65.10 for it 🙂

    I think there are better values out there than Vespa. The Buddy has gotten scooter of the year a couple times in a row, it’s a great, reliable scooter and looks nice too, for a couple thou less than Vespa.

    I recommend Modern Classics on V St NE – those guys are great, no pressure sales, tons of knowledge, discount for paying cash, and they do all the tuneups and stuff there as well.

    Get one! It’s fun 🙂

  • +1 for Modern Classics. Good people.

  • Progressive wouldn’t write me a policy for my scoot in DC. I don’t know whether it would change things if I had a car, but I don’t.

    • I have mine through Statefarm, same as my homeowners. I keep getting ads in the mail from GEICO but when I try to run a quote online I get told that they don’t serve motorcycles in my area. But I’m happy with statefarm – about $400/year and that includes full loss coverage.

  • Con of scooters: you can’t flaunt road laws the way you can on a bicycle.

  • Super fun and the best value for people not interested in bicycling, the only down side is when you get hit or crash (not if but when) you will likely get seriously hurt.

    Cars don’t treat you like a vehicle, more like a bicycle which often puts you in great danger.

    I’ve also known people who have a hard time with the police when they get hit because the cops don’t respect mopeds or their riders and tend to side with car drivers.

    Full face helmet is a must if you like your teeth.

    • “Cars don’t treat you like a vehicle, more like a bicycle which often puts you in great danger.”

      I don’t find this to be true. You need to be aware that people cannot see you as easily as a car, but I find cars give me a wider berth in general.

      • we have had very different experiences, especially regarding turning lanes.

      • saf

        If you are not a car, car drivers do not see you. Doesn’t matter what you are, unless you are a car, they cannot see you.

        • “Cannot see you” is an odd thing to say.

          they do have a legal obligation to see what is there in front of them on the road be it a car or otherwise.

          The problem is that they don’t give you room or wait for you as they would a car.

          for me its a case of the problem drivers becoming that much more dangerous.

          • saf

            Yes, they have an obligation.

            No, seriously, you don’t know how many times I’ve been told “I didn’t SEE you there!”

            That is usually followed by the accusation that I was splitting lanes, cut them off, “came out of nowhere…”

            Dudes, really, I’ve been here all along.

            And I ride a Bonneville – not a small invisible bike!

  • Here are the DC regulations regarding licensing, insurance, helmets, etc:

    And here’s an interesting article about the widespread regulatory confusion (on the part of scooter riders and DC police, in some cases):

    And a good local source of advice and community is

  • I’ve had my Vespa for ten years; prior to that I biked all over the city.

    Each has its pros and cons, obviously, but for me one of the big things in the Vespa’s favor is that I feel safer on the Vespa than on the bike. In both cases you have to assume that cars can’t see you, but at least on a scooter you’re in your own lane of traffic, not sharing it with anyone and in much less danger of getting a door opened in front of you. I echo all of the other comments about getting a great helmet, taking training, etc (it’s not that hard), but for me I feel much less exposed to other peoples’ bad moves when I’m on my scooter than when I’m on my bike. Which makes me feel safer.

    The biggest thing in the Vespa’s favor, though, is that they’re just really, really fun. On a warm Summer evening there’s nothing better than going for a spin around the Mall on a scooter. It cools you off (unlike a bike ride) and gives your passenger the best, hands-down, way of seeing the city. Bikes are a great form of exercise, but when you have out-of-town guests and they’ve never been to DC before, giving them a nighttime tour of the Mall and the Tidal Basin on the back of your scooter is something they’ll never forget.

    Ten years ago one of the biggest challenges with riding a scooter in DC was the sorry state of many of the roads. But with road conditions so much better than they were, that’s really not an issue anymore.

    Oh, and Markel is a great insurance company for Vespas. Coverage runs a couple hundred bucks/year, I think.

    My scooter has been one of the few purchases I’ve ever made that was both fun and practical….I highly recommend them.

  • I have owned several scooters and totally agree with 1st time caller’s post. It can make commuting fun as opposed to a chore.

    I would recommed getting a good brand; vespa, buddy, honda, or yamaha. The cheapos can break down at the worst times and usually look kinda stupid. Welcome to scootering, please be safe and respectful but you’ll totally have fun. Oh, and get an onguard chain lock and ALWAYS lock it up.

  • I think it’s important to consider the safety aspects of riding a scooter.

    Everyone I’ve known who rides motorcycles says that you will invariably ‘drop’ or wreck your first bike.

    I’m not sure if this is true of scooters as well, but it’s something to consider.

  • I’ve got a 50cc vino (ok it’s a 49cc) and love it.
    There are a few misconceptions in these comments.
    1. ALL scooters in DC need to be registered, regardless of the engine size.
    2. In DC, less than 50cc scooters you do NOT need a motorcycle license.
    3. In DC, less than 50cc scooters you ARE ALLOWED in the bike lanes.
    4. In DC, less than 50cc scooters you ARE ALLOWED to park on the sidewalk.
    5. ALL scooters in DC need insurance. I got mine from Geico.

    • the misconception that you are spreading is that the 50cc rule is the sole litmus test. there is also the 16″ wheel rule. and the top speed rule. and the braking power rule.

      All of these come together to define a motorcycle or a motorized bicycle.

      You can’t say “In DC, less than 50cc scooters you ARE ALLOWED in the bike lanes.” b/c if the wheels are 15.5″, then you CANNOT ride in the bike lanes, even if it’s 49cc.

  • Make sure if you buy a scooter to buy a japanese one. Its impossible to find places that work on them. We had one for a while, then it got really messed up when some people tried to steal it on 3 seperate occasions. Each time they couldnt figure out how to get it started, because it was so messed up. Eventually we gave it away, because we got a 2,500$ ticket for driving without a liscense (that later got dropped) and we couldnt find a place that would work on it. Im not saying you wont be able to, but i would do research on where to have it fixed before purchasing.

  • I meant, DONT buy a japanese one!

    • Was the $2,500 ticket for not having a license in DC?

      I’ve had my Vespa without a license in DC for over 3 years and have never been stopped. Over 2,000 miles, all in the district.

      The 3 years have been a lot of fun, but I’m thinking of hanging up my helmet and sticking with the bus/Metro. Got the Vespa thing out of my system, you know?

    • Was the $2,500 ticket for not having a license in DC?

      I’ve had my Vespa without a license in DC for over 3 years and have never been stopped. Over 2,000 miles, all in the district.

      The 3 years have been a lot of fun, but I’m thinking of hanging up my helmet and sticking with the bus/Metro. Got the Vespa thing out of my system, you know?

    • What are you talking about. The Japanese ones are the best. The Honda Ruckus, Yamaha Zuma, etc. are bullet proof reliable and everyone works on them.

      Perhaps you were referring to the cheap Chinese ones? What you said is true about those.

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