Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 20th August 2015

Three broad terms that cover a wide range of two-wheeled machines – but what are the actual differences between them? How is a moped different to a scooter, and can a scooter become so big that it’s not really a scooter anymore? Many of these terms are used interchangeably, which doesn’t help, and vary pretty wildly around the world. So let’s bust some biker lingo and take a look at the differences between the three.


First of all, ‘motorcycle’ is essentially an umbrella term. All scooters and mopeds are motorcycles, but not all motorcycles are scooters and mopeds: a motorcycle is simply any two-wheeled motor vehicle, regardless of design, regardless of engine size. This covers cruisers, roadsters, supersports, off-roaders, tourers – the whole lot.

Mopeds and scooters are just different enough, in their own ways, that they are usually kept separate from other motorcycles by name. But these two terms are so often used interchangeably that the specific differences can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated.


Historically speaking, ‘moped’ is a portmanteau of ‘motor’ and ‘pedal’ – so the earliest mopeds were motorbikes that also had bicycle pedals, usually used for emergencies. A rare sight on the roads these days, the design feature fell out of favour in the 70s, and legislation around mopeds changed in 2013 so older models don’t have to have them anymore.

However, powered electric push-bikes have become a more common sight on the road lately, and some of them even look a lot like the old pedalled motorcycles of old. Although they can produce a similar amount of power, they are not classified as mopeds.

Now, a moped is legally defined as any low-powered motorcycle with an engine capacity no greater than 50cc, and a max speed of 28mph. They can legally be ridden on the road with L-plates once you have passed CBT training, rather than needing a full motorcycle license.

Not all mopeds are scooters, but the most common type of moped you will see on the road nowadays is likely to be a scooter. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that all scooters are mopeds.


Despite the fact that you will almost never see a non-scooter moped on the road anymore, they have a very distinct definition. While moped has gone from being a stylistic term to a technical one, what makes a scooter a scooter remains in the design.

Opinions differ as to what exactly makes a scooter a scooter – some would say it’s an automatic ‘twist and go’, whereas others would say they are any motorcycle with a step-through frame – which means that you can step into them rather than having to climb aboard and swing a leg over – and a platform for the rider to place their feet.

A scooter with an engine capacity of 50ccs or less is legally classified as a moped, whereas a scooter with a higher engine capacity isn’t. You can find scooters that will go all the way up to 900cc, but if it’s got a platform for your feet then it’s still technically a scooter.

Further differences

Scooters and mopeds differ from the broader category of motorcycles in more than just classification and design. Mopeds will be cheaper to tax, and insurance premiums can differ too. Investigating some specific scooter insurance or moped insurance policies could see you save.