Nifty, Thrifty and Quiet; Moped Means Milage

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Nifty, Thrifty and Quiet; Moped Means Milage

Postby Micronaut » Mon Aug 07, 2006 8:12 pm ... 70321/1002

Moped means mileage
By Joel Banner Baird/staff

They're nifty and thrifty and quiet: And who can argue with no license, no registration, no insurance and 100 miles to the gallon?

But as more and more moped riders mount up, the challenges to law enforcement — and to other motorists — mount, too.

The moped's identity crisis is largely to blame. Is it a bike or bona fide motor vehicle? Original designs for mopeds suggested it could be both: It had pedals that, in a pinch, could harness human, rather than horsepower.

"They're treated almost like bicycles," said Mitch Troyer, general manager of Blue Ridge Power Sports in Harrisonburg. "Parents buy them for their kids instead of cars; it gives them mobility to get to team practices and so forth. There's no parking issue — you can park them at bike racks. And they're just fun."

But they're a growing worry to non-riders. This year, the Virginia General Assembly, responding to pressure from law enforcement and dealerships, passed legislation to clarify what a moped is, and who's entitled to ride them.

Basically, Va. Code 46.2-100 says a moped must be limited to 35 mph and have a seat at least 24 inches from the ground. Riders must be 16 or older — and carry the ID to prove it.

Sgt. Monty Sellers of the Augusta County Sheriff's Department said word hasn't reached the streets. He has kept track of the growing number of calls from residents concerned by under-aged drivers on residential streets.

"Some of these mopeds are so low that you can't see them if you're driving an SUV," he said.

Sellers is serving on a county committee that is studying the problem of enforcement and safety.

"It's not to punish the kid," he said. "We're out to prevent problems. We'd like to make it safer for everybody."

As often as not, safety doesn't have the same appeal for those caught up in the moped's promise of wind-in-the-hair thrill and adult-free independence, said Greg Hensley, the general manager at Wayne Cycle Shop in Waynesboro.

"Anyone can buy something off the Internet with a credit card that calls itself a moped that'll go 50 mph, and they'll deliver it to your door," he said. Without motorcycle registration, owners of those bikes face stiff fines. Parts and services for those mostly Chinese and Korean models are likewise problematic, he said.

Hensley pulled out a sticker that dealers must affix to mopeds in order to verify its special legal status. He said he always reviews regulations with new customers. And he talks to them about safety.

"We discount our helmets," he said. "We're trying to keep our customers on the road."

Local jurisdictions have the authority to legislate helmets for moped riders, but so far, Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County have only studied the idea. Charlottesville and Harrisonburg have taken the issue head-on; both cities require helmets.

For Dave Munn, who works at Vespa Charlottesville, it was a no-brainer.

"It doesn't need to be a law to be a good idea," he said. "Everyone should wear one."

Originally published August 7, 2006
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