Endless Cycles: Classifying Vespas Under the Law

    A highly popular choice of transportation for those seeking inexpensive means of travel, the Vespa has quickly become a citizen favorite. The scooter rose to popularity around 1950, becoming a cultural icon and a symbol of Italian preservation.

    Yet owners of these magnificent beasts may run into a conundrum whenever the law squeezes its way into their lives: are Vespas and electric scooters considered motorcycles or bicycles?

    The answer determines everything from where it can be driven to if the vehicle requires insurance, and those utilizing any electronic scooter are sure to run into the same question.

    Which do you think is right?


    The answer isn’t clear-cut. It largely depends on your location and the scooter’s components.

    However, most laws follow similar patterns. Let’s begin with the motorcycle. In order for a vehicle to be deemed a motorcycle, it should:

    • Be a two- or three-wheeled motor vehicle
    • Have an engine size over 150 cubic centimeters
    • Produce over 2 brake horsepower


    More and more states are differentiating between motorcycles, scooters and motor-driven cycles, also called motorized pedal cycles and mopeds.

    In many states a moped is considered any vehicle that meets the following criteria:

    • It reaches a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour
    • It has pedals for propulsion or contains an electric motor (for which pedals aren’t necessary)
    • It has an automatic transmission
    • The engine doesn’t exceed a 1.5 brake horsepower rating
    • The engine is 50 cubic centimeters or fewer

    Keep in mind this is where distinctions get muddled. Some states have different criteria that may label your Vespa as a moped or a motor-driven cycle. Rather than categorizing these together, they are considered separate and distinct classes.

    For these states, most consider a motorized pedal cycle to be a moped with 1.5 brake horsepower or fewer.

    Motorized Scooters

    Some locations do not permit scooters to be driven on roadways. While it is easy to determine if you own a scooter because of its unique features, it’s best to check state laws to understand where you can drive it.

    Generally, a motorized scooter:

    • Has two wheels
    • Is motor-powered
    • Has a handlebar
    • Contains a floorboard upon which the driver stands

    State Regulations

    Each class contains unique requirements according to state laws. If a Vespa is considered a moped, for instance, some states may require it to be registered with the DMV. Likewise, most states have specific areas where mopeds and motor-driven cycles can and cannot be driven.

    Further, don’t assume a scooter won’t require insurance. Pennsylvania, for instance, requires motorized scooters to be insured and registered.

    What Class Do You Have?

    So what class does your electronic scooter or Vespa fall into?

    If you feel lost, you’re not alone. Due to the intricacy of state laws, many individuals seek advice from lawyers about their beloved scooters.