Improvements in the price and weight of lithium-ion batteries have made it practical to supercharge bicycles with powerful motors and battery packs boasting support for hundreds of miles. As the technologies underpinning e-bikes has improved, innovators are pushing the limits of what is possible within the framework of the 3 generally accepted e-bike classes in the United States, making many early adopters wonder when a new class of bikes will arise to embrace the challenge.
The next class beyond a Class 3 e-bike, which in the US can use pedal assistance to boost riders up to 28 miles per hour (no throttle), is a moped. These strange hybrids were a stepping stone in the evolution of the bicycle to the motorcycle and sport both an engine or motor and a set of pedals. In California, mopeds require a bit more formality than e-bikes, which require no licensing, registration, or insurance, without requiring the annual registration or insurance that comes with a motorcycle:
- Also known as a motorized bicycle, a moped has 2-3 wheels and an electric motor with an automatic transmission that produces less than 4 gross brake horsepower.
- Some mopeds have pedals so you can ride them when the motor is off. Show Citation 33
- You must have a motorcycle license (M1 or M2) to drive a moped.
- You must be at least 16 years old or older to drive a moped, and you must wear a helmet while you ride.
- You do not need insurance to register a moped, but you do need special license plates and an identification card, along with a one-time $23 registration fee.
Requiring a single registration and no insurance makes mopeds an affordable means of transportation that adds a significant amount of capability beyond what many e-bikes are able to achieve today. The design of the Juiced Scorpion mimicked many of the signature characteristics of popular mopeds from the 1970s and 1980s in the US. It pulled me straight back to long days in the back yard working on my father’s old Puch moped.
Electrifying a New Segment of Transportation
Embracing the classification as a moped would enable many 2-wheel electric vehicle builders more freedom in the design of their vehicles, while building practical solutions for their customers. In California and many other jurisdictions, mopeds require a motorcycle license and a single initial registration with the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), but those are both very easily acquired after spending a few hours with the rule book and an appointment at the DMV.
In exchange, owners gain legitimacy in the eyes of regulators and confidence in their place on the road. The ability to add a throttle to a 2-wheeled vehicle that can achieve 30 miles per hour with or without any input from the operator is also a massive benefit, as manufacturers can design mopeds to haul people around or as more robust electric bike incarnations. They do lose the ability to ride in dedicated bike lanes, but with many bike lanes sharing the shoulder of the road, this does not seem to be a major tradeoff.
Silence is Golden
In Southeast Asia, these 2-wheeled mopeds are already surging in to replace the obnoxious scooters that haunt many urban centers, transforming concrete jungles into echo chambers for the clattering exhaust tones they emit. In a visit to Shenzhen in 2018 to interview the founder and CEO of BYD Wang Chuanfu, I noticed a profound difference in the noise levels on the streets due to the proliferation of electric buses, electric taxis, and electric 2-wheelers.
Replacing combustion-fired scooters with modern electric mopeds or scooters will transform cities around the world. Outdoor cafes will be transformed from eardrum-shattering echo chambers into pleasant places to take in the sights. Upgrading to electric vehicles not only eliminates noisy exhaust pipes, but it cleans up the air, making it safer for citizens and tourists alike to enjoy the city
New Use Cases For Businesses
Paving a clear path for manufacturers to quadruple the amount of power in motors in mopeds from 750 watts to up to 2,984 watts (4 horsepower) has the potential to drastically improve the utility of 2-wheeled electric vehicles. That translates to a better riding experience, more safety as riders can more easily dodge out of the way of traffic or obstacles, more capability to haul heavier riders or more cargo, and more comfort. It’s a win across the board for manufacturers and can drastically increase the number of businesses that can adopt 2-wheeled electric vehicle solutions for their business.
Mopeds not only allow manufacturers to pack more power and utility into the vehicle, they allow riders to use the throttle alone to get up to speed and to get around. While it does decrease the potential health benefits of electric bikes, it also opens the door to businesses looking to deploy them in even more applications. If the fitness of the employee does not dictate how far or fast they can ride, why not add an electric moped to the delivery fleet?
If Dominos is already adopting Rad Power Bikes e-bikes for its delivery operations, how much easier would that be with an optimized electric moped? Grocery delivery services would rapidly add an electric moped fitted with a cargo box or bags to deliver groceries to customers. In urban environments, 2-wheeled mopeds would be able to deliver parcels, groceries, and more even faster than any other mode of transportation.
The electrification of transportation is here to stay. The only question that remains is how fast the transition will happen and what shapes it will take? All sorts of new vehicle formats and use cases are surfacing as the world continues to push forward into electrification and the lower price point, increased capability, and the fun that can be had on an electric moped makes it all but certain they will become a part of the transportation landscape of the future.