While there is no clear definition of a motorized bicycle, by most law enforcement standards a motorized bicycle is a bicycle that’s been equipped with an engine. But the problem about laws around motorized bikes is that what's considered a motorized bicycle varies. That’s why we wanted to break down what a motorized bicycle is (and isn’t) so you get an idea of what a motorized bicycle truly is.
A motorized bicycle by definition is just that: a motorized form of a regular bicycle, the keyword being “motorized”. That means that a motor- whether electric or gas-powered- is attached to a regular bike that propels the bike just by pulling on a throttle.
What sets a true motorized bike apart from a scooter or a moped is the do-it-yourself aspect of it. Unlike other vehicles that come with farings, lights, speedometer, and everything else you’d expect coming out of a factory model, motorized bicycles are built by hand. They can be as simple as an engine kit mounted to a bicycle and as complex as a factory-built moped, but what a major aspect that sets them apart from other motorized vehicles is the assembly.
Exact definitions of a motorized bike vary from region to region, however, which makes motorized bicycles unique in their classification. For example, some regions will allow you to install any size motor onto your favorite bicycle and consider it a motorized bicycle, while others consider any bike with a motor larger than 50cc’s a moped, scooter, or motorcycle.
So in short: if you’ve taken a bicycle and attached a motor to it, guess what? You’ve made a motorized bicycle! No matter how many parts you add to the motor and accessories you do/don’t add to the frame, you have a motorized bicycle.
A moped is similar to a motorized bicycle, as it is equipped with a low-powered engine (usually around 48-50cc’s) and pedals. The term moped is derived from the pedals that are used to propel the vehicle and help start the motor (which is why lots of people get confused between the two).
One of the biggest differences you’re going to see between a moped and a motorized bicycle is the way a moped is assembled. Not only is there no do-it-yourself installation for moped, everything you need for a completely safe build (lights, turn signals, mirrors) are pre-installed. All those extra accessories and parts mean you need extra power and protection, which is why mopeds come stock with batteries, more complex engine setups, and faring kits.
Moped frames and wheels also tend to be larger than standard bicycles, which is why mopeds are closer to scooters and motorcycles than to motorized bikes. Whereas DIY motorized bikes can be used for commuting and riding around town, mopeds are designed to do just that.
Unlike motorized bicycles and mopeds, a scooter has no pedals. Additionally, scooters can travel on the streets and in some cases, they can even drive on the highway. Scooters can have a piston displacement of 50 to 250cc or higher, or even a battery powered electric scooter that provides all the propulsion.
Scooters also have a step-through chassis and floorboards to rest your feet. Just like a moped, a scooter is fitted with safety equipment and accessories, which makes scooters more bulky than their counterparts. That gives it a little more weight and stability to the ride.
Most people easily confuse motorized bicycles and electric bicycles. This confusion is understandable, as electric bicycles are a subset of motorized bicycles. The difference will vary by state. Motorized bikes can have a gas or electric engine, so it makes sense that e-bikes are regular bicycles equipped with an electric motor.
Getting a Motorized Bicycle
Now that you know what a motorized bicycle is, it’s time to do ask some important questions on how you’re going to get the motorized bike you’ve always wanted. Here are just some of the questions you should be asking before you click “Buy”:
- Do you want to assemble a motorized bike or have it pre-assembled?
- If you’re building your ride, do you want to use a bike you already have, or are you planning to buy a whole new beach cruiser or mountain bike?
- Are you interested in a gas engine or an electric motor?
- How fast do you want to go?
- Will this be ridden off-road or in the streets? If riding in the street, will your laws allow you to do so? What will it take if they do?
- Are you willing and able to perform maintenance on your motorized bicycle? If not, do you have anyone who can?
These questions and more should be answered when trying to find the best motorized bike or bicycle engine kit for your needs. If you need help figuring out what’s best for you, drop a question for us in the comments!