Your First Moped
So you've started checking out different mopeds; you're looking at pictures, reading forum posts, but it's still all so confusing. There are so many brands and models to choose from, and now you may find yourself asking, what should I look to get? And where?
This guide will outline the Moped Army general consensus on which brands and models of moped are the best for first-time owners.
This guide works under the assumption that you, the first-time buyer, are probably not that experienced with small engines. It also assumes a budget of around $400, although this figure tends to vary depending on local market conditions, the time of year, and the method by which you are acquiring your first moped. If you live in a major metro area and are looking for a very well maintained puch in perfect running condition, you should expect to pay over $1000, though a well maintained moped is the exception, not the rule.
Two other points. You need to be patient and you need to be willing to drive. Waiting a few months and driving 90 miles to get a beautiful well maintained moped is better than buying the first thing you find on craigslist within 10 miles of your house. You can always rent a van for like $30 if you need to pick something up.
The Rules for a First-Time Buyer
Before you even begin looking for a vintage moped, commit yourself to three simple rules.
- I will not buy an exotic, rare, or no-name brand of moped.
- I will not buy a non-running moped.
- I will not pay more than about $600 (unless you're buying a brand-new or nearly-new Tomos. Other exceptions might be a very well maintained stock moped in a major metro area)
1. Buying an exotic or no-name brand of moped can be a problem unless you are highly experienced. Although most mopeds are very similar in design, owning a rare moped and keeping it running frequently demands that you acquire parts that are simply no longer available; if your moped is rare enough, there may be few or no parts bikes available, and you may have to fabricate parts yourself or adapt parts designed for other mopeds, and other local moped riders may not be able to help you very much with repairs.
2. Buying a non-running moped may seem appealing at first if the price is right and the seller claims that 'it was running last fall' or 'it should be a simple fix.' However, attempting to identify even a basic problem can prove difficult for a new rider and often leads to frustration and eventually giving up before the moped is running again. Avoid this, suck it up, and pay an extra couple hundred for a running one.
3. The vast majority of vintage mopeds are simply not worth more than about $600. They have dents, dings, scratches, and rust. They could be missing sidecovers, fenders, decals, reflectors, fairings or luggage racks. The tires might be worn out. Seats could be torn. Lights could be burnt out. Seals may leak. All of these things lower a moped's value and most vintage mopeds have at least some of these minor problems. In some markets, especially New York City and the Bay Area, $700-800 is a more typical price.
4. For a very well maintained stock moped with a title, prices can go over $1000 for the most desired brands and models in major metro areas in the US (as of 2015). This price would be on the higher side, as many mopeds sell for a fraction of this cost in excellent condition. In the section below are items you should look for if you're going to pay a $1000+ price for a stock moped.
5. If there are significant running issues with the moped, you should try to get the price as low as possible, if you buy it at all. For example, if the moped will not idle, or the moped runs very slowly or not at all, there could be significant mechanical issues. With these mechanical issues, someone with experience may be able to fix these for very little money in an afternoon, but a first time buyer may have significant struggles. Many people have reported buying mopeds around $50-$300 in poor running condition (some people are even given mopeds for free). Other people have reported significant damage found later, including blown piston rings, damaged carburetor parts, and damaged engine seals. A good suggestion is to not pay more than what the moped would be worth in parts if you do find mechanical damage that you do not want to fix. Again, for a first time buyer it is probably better to spend more to buy a moped that starts, idles, and runs at least 25mph.
Indications of a well maintained stock moped
If you are going to pay over $1000 for a stock moped, the moped should be in very good running condition, and good cosmetic condition (taking into account the age of the moped). You should take similar steps in buying a moped to that of buying a car, motorcycle, or scooter. You can find steps online for purchasing a used motorcycle or car. For a moped, if any one of these points is not met, there is an issue, and you should haggle accordingly. Do not assume that a repair will be quick/cheap if you are not experienced with moped/motorcycle/scooter repair.
1. Title. The moped should have a clean title and you should see the VIN on the moped (the serial number is the VIN, and it will likely have fewer characters than a modern VIN on your car or motorcycle). If you're buying without a title, you run the risk that the moped was stolen. You can replace a missing title, one way is to go through the Vermont DMV, or use a service like Moto Recycle to do it for you. The Moto Recycle service cost is $75+sales and use tax, and the cost of going directly through Vermont is a bit less. Again, it's your risk to buy without a title, but theft is common and if you go to register your moped and find it was stolen, you just wasted your money.
2. Starting. Ask them to start the moped on the kickstand. Before the moped is started, place the back of your hand on the exhaust near where it connects to the engine, and also touch the fins of the engine. These should be completely cool. If they are warm, ask the seller to wait until the engine has cooled off. Once the engine is cool, have them show you the starting procedure before they start the engine. As an example, for a Puch Maxi, the starting procedure for a cold engine involves turning the run switch to on, turning the petcock to the on position, depressing the choke on the carb, holding down the carb primer until gas drips from the carb, pulling the starter lever, and stepping down on the pedal to start the engine. The moped should kick over on the first try. Multiple attempts to start indicate that there is a problem.
3. Idle. Once the moped is started, the moped should idle at what seems like a normal speed. The rear wheel should remain stationary and should not be rotating. The engine should also not be racing. If the rear wheel starts to spin or the engine races, there is an issue.
4. Top Speed. You should ask to ride the moped to get up to top speed. The moped should get to at least 25mph. If at any point the engine cuts out, or you cannot reach 25mph, there is an issue. If you don't know what a moped should sound like, watch some youtube videos of mopeds running. One reliable way to check top speed is to download a free speedometer app for your phone. Open up the app, reset the counter, and put the phone in your pocket when you ride. Once you're done riding, the app will indicate the maximum speed you achieved. All speed tests should be done on flat ground, as going downhill will obviously give you faster speeds.
5. Braking. When you apply brakes, you should not have to pull the brake levers more than about 1" on either side, and there should be good braking force. The moped will likely not brake as well as your car, as mopeds often have drum brakes, and cars disc brakes. The moped should come to a stop and idle nicely. If the moped cuts out at any point or will not idle at a stop, there is a problem.
6. Throttle. When the moped is off, roll on the throttle fully and release. The throttle should immediately snap back. If it will not snap back, there is an issue. Watch youtube videos to see how a properly functioning throttle should operate on a motorcycle for examples.
7. Tires. Inspect the tires closely to look at tread depth. There should be tread on the tires, and there should be no cracking.
8. Vibration. While you are riding, some vibration should be expected, but if the moped is vibrating strongly, there is a problem.
9. Lights. When the moped is running, verify that the lights are all working. Have them show you the brake and turn signals (if they were originally equipped with turn signals). Also have them operate all switches.
10. Chains. The chains should not have heavy gunk on them and they should be well greased. When you press down on the drive chain, there should be around 3/4" of movement in it. The pedal chain should also be well tensioned.
11. Overall appearance. Looking at the moped will give you an indication of how well it was maintained. The moped should include fenders, fairings, and side covers. Look at the fasteners and see if they are heavily rusted, or if the heads of the fasteners are stripped. When buying a moped that's 35+ years old (as many are), you should expect some wear on the wheels, body, and handlebars. Items like the cables, chains, fasteners, spark plug and wire, and fuel line should all look to be relatively clean and in well maintained condition.
12. Owner interview. You should ask the owner about how they've used the moped and how they have maintained it. One issue, many mopeds are only meant for one person, and running a moped with two people can cause damage. Ask them if they've followed all recommended maintenance items listed in the service manual.
Recommended Brands and Models
There are well over a hundred brands of mopeds available in North America, but a few stand out as particularly reliable, simple to work on, inexpensive to maintain, and easy to find outside help for. These brands are also notable for having a wealth of aftermarket performance parts available. If you're unhappy with going 30 mph, then you've got options.
- Puch (or in Canada, Bombardier) mopeds equipped with the E50 engine, especially most models of Maxi (and Newport), and close cousins, such as the JCPenney Pinto (and Swinger), the Sears Free Spirit, and the Murray.
- Tomos mopeds equipped with the A3, A35 (A5) or A55 engine, such as the Silver Bullet, Targa, ST, or LX. Tomos mopeds are also available brand new from Tomos USA dealerships (for a price premium).
- Minarelli engine mopeds, particularly those with the V1, such as the Cimatti City Bike, General, Motron, some models by Gloria Intramotor, and many other generic Italian mopeds. Very simple bikes with high parts availability. Note that some models, like the City Bike, have their engines mounted in a way that prevents many Minarelli intakes from being used. The 'A' version of the AMF Roadmaster also has a V1 (the technically-unrelated McCulloch 'C' version should be avoided at all costs).
Models with Performance Options
Along with the mopeds identified above, these models below have many good performance parts available, but tend to be somewhat less common and slightly more complex to work on, as many are variated or have other oddities such as rubber clutches or have low parts crossover with other brands. These models make a good second moped!
- Honda PA50II (also known as the Hobbit in America, and the Camino in Britain). Avoid the PA50I. Many performance parts for the PA50 will also fit Honda nopeds like the NC50 (Express), NA50 (Express II), NU50 (Urban Express), and NX50 (express SR) while the exhausts might need modification to fit
- Motobecane and MBK Mobylette mopeds, such as the 50V and AV88.
- Peugeot mopeds, such as the 103 SP, as well as others with Peugeot engines like the Batavus Mondial and Grand Prix.
- Derbi mopeds, such as the Variant and C-5.
- Vespa (Piaggio) mopeds (Ciao, Bravo, Si, Grande) and their close cousins, such as the Kinetic TFR.
- Garelli mopeds, such as the SSXL or VIP.
- Sachs mopeds, and others that sometimes use Sachs engines such as Eagle, Hercules, Clinton, Sparta, DKW and Flying Dutchman.
- Morini Franco Motori engine mopeds, of which there are many. Pacer, Negrini, Scorpion, Cimatti, Gloria Intramotor, Motomarina and Malaguti are just a few.
Models With Few or No Performance Parts
These models are pretty reliable, but are somewhat less common and have some parts (especially performance parts) that are difficult or impossible to find anymore.
- Batavus and their close cousins, Trac, that are equipped with the Laura M48 or M56 engines. Some Trac mopeds use an uncommon two-speed engine called the DM50 and DP50.
- Solo mopeds, such as the Odyssey, and other mopeds with Solo engines like certain models of Columbia.
- Honda four-stroke mopeds, such as the P50, PC50/P25, etc.
- Nopeds such as the Suzuki FA50 Shuttle and Yamaha QT50 Yamahopper. Honda's nopeds are a bit easier to make fast because of a fair amount of parts crossover with the PA50.
Models for Beginners to Avoid at all Costs
These mopeds are more rare in North America, tend to not share parts with other mopeds, and are generally impractical for a novice to keep running due to very low availability of parts.
- AMF Roadmasters with McCulloch BHE900 engines ('C' version)
- Moto Guzzi and Benelli
- Rizzato Califfo
- Roketa, SSR Wildfire, Lazer, Jialing, or any other Chinese rebadge, especially ones with clones of horizontal Honda four-stroke engines.
Know What You're Getting
- Some brands of moped used different engines in different models. For instance, Gloria Intramotor used Minarelli, Sachs, Morini, and Verona engines on different models. Some moped models even switch engines for certain years.
- Some models come in different configurations that are nearly identical in external appearance, like the Puch Maxi or the Honda PA50.
- Some mopeds known for their stock reliability may be upgraded with exotic parts and can be hard for a beginner to keep running well. Avoid a water-cooled 90cc Simonini for your first moped.
Where to Buy
- Garage sale / swap meet
- Moped Army Buy/Sell Forum
- Various moped Facebook groups
- Brand new from a Tomos dealership
Note that private party sales carry the risk of not obtaining the proper paperwork, leaving you unable to get it titled or registered.
I've got my first moped, now what?
Check all fluids, lights, tire pressure, wear a helmet, read Fred's Guide, and go have fun! Abide by your local moped laws.
For a Puch Maxi or Newport, also refer to the Puch Maxi Maintenance and Tools Guide in addition to Fred's Guide.