But there was a time in the 1970s when mopeds were all the rage.
Yes – mopeds – as in those small motorized bicycle-like two-wheelers with pedals (hence the name).
In this special 150th blog post, we’ll examine:
- The background of how the moped won the hearts and minds of many Americans in the 1970s
- 8 moped brands that were available for the U.S market -and address for each one
- Some vintage moped books and films worth checking out
- “Don’t Be Fuelish”
- The Moped Comes to America
- The End of the Moped – At Least For Now…
- Brand #1: Puch
- Brand #2: Batavus
- Brand #3: Tomos
- Brand #4: Motobecane
- Brand #5: Peugeot
- Brand #6: Vespa
- Brand #7: Malaguti
- Brand #8: JcPenny
- BONUS: Books and Videos about Mopeds in 1970s America
“Don’t Be Fuelish”
And keep in mind – electric vehicles hadn’t caught on back then – if you had a vehicle, it had to run on gasoline.
And as most American cars at the time weren’t known for their fuel efficiency, it was a huge price to pay just to run your car.
As a result, scenes like the picture displayed below in Maryland in 1979 with cars lining up at gas stations were all too common:
To bring awareness of this issue, The Office of Energy Conservation released this PSA, which features none other than Academy-Award-winning actor George C. Scott delivering the memorable line “I suggest we don’t be fuelish.”
The Moped Comes to America
And one of the main reasons was because of legality. The problem was that these new things had no precise classification.
They weren’t bicycles – but they weren’t motorcycles either.
But now, with fuel prices being as high as they were, the moped had an attractive selling point – and it was spelled “100 MPG.”
In 1974, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (or NHTSA) officially recognized the moped as a vehicle under the legal name “motorized bicycle.”
Later the same year, the Motorized Bicycle Association was formed.
Headquartered at 1001 Northwest Connecticut Avenue, Washington D.C., the goal of the Motorized Bicycle Association was to, among other things, to:
- Serve as an information source about mopeds and a council which governmental agencies could consult with about laws affecting mopeds
2: Promote a better understanding of governmental regulations that affect mopeds
3: Educate people on the safety and utility of mopeds
The story of how mopeds arrived on American oil is rather interesting – just like Lady Liberty, it was a gift by the French.
A French gentleman named Serge Seguin had travelled across the U.S. promoting the moped – (specifically, a Motobecane.)
This new “moped” had a small size (and often the pedals) of a bicycle but the motorized capability of a motorcycle – albeit a tiny one.
After much lobbying, Seguin managed to get 30 states to create a specific moped classification.
Moped Laws by State
Generally speaking, back in 1977, you had to be a certain age to ride a moped:
- 14 years old: Iowa, Kansas
- 15 years old: California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas
- 16 years old: Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusettes, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia
- 17 years old: Pennsylvania
However, some states, like Indiana, Ohio and South Carolina, had no age restrictions.
And the news of this traveled fast, and above all, far – as far away as Sweden.
This issue of the Swedish moped magazine PuchJournalen from 1978 even mentioned that mopeds had caught on in the US – specifically the Puch Maxi:
The End of the Moped – At Least For Now…
Eventually, the price of gasoline dropped. And when it did, most people ditched the moped and returned to cars.
Despite its great gas mileage, it seemed like the moped had run its course in America. But not quite.
It would take until 1997 when the Decepticons (the predecessors to the Moped Army) was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But that’s a story for another day.
Instead, let’s look at 5 common moped brands that were available in the 1970s and who sold them.
Brand #1: Puch
With its bicycle-like handling, the Maxi was the most common Puch model, available in the colors red, white, blue, and gold.
Aside from the color schemes, the Maxi also had 8 different models of it.
Some noteworthy examples included the Maxi Newport, identifiable by its reflective whitewall tires, and the Maxi Sport, which had an extra long motorcycle-like seat.
As for the Magnum, it was first sold in 1978 and was styled more like a motorcycle than a moped.
Brand #2: Batavus
In the U.S, their most common models were the VA-Standard, VA-Deluxe, and the HS-50.
Finally, the HS-50 (pictured below) looks more like a motorcycle. According to The Moped Handbook from 1977, Batavus also had plans to make a trail version of the HS-50.
However, it’s unclear as to what happened to this project.
Brand #3: Tomos
The American affiliate Tomos America was established in 1976, and in just a few months, they had sold 2,000 mopeds – particularly on the East Coast, with their two best-selling models being the A3S and the A3S Super Sport.
The “A3” refers to the two-stroke single-cylinder engine that Tomos used for most of their mopeds at the time.
The A3S Super Sport, on the other hand, was faster, with a top speed of 30 miles per hour (or 48 kilometers per hour).
Its higher top speed made the A3S Super Sport only legal in states allowing mopeds to have that top speed, like Nevada and Connecticut.
Brand #4: Motobecane
The most noteworthy model was the Mobylette – a moped sold in the millions worldwide between 1949 and 1997.
The Motobecane 7 (pictured below) was another noteworthy model – most of which had a blue color scheme.
“Motobecane” is a combination of two words:
- “Moto” = “Motorcycle”
- “Becane” = French slang term for “bike”
Brand #5: Peugeot
In the US, Peugeot had one moped model – the 103-LVS-U3 (or just the “103”), available in both red and blue.
Beyond that, not much separates the 103-LVS-U3 from the other available mopeds.
Brand #6: Vespa
But interestingly enough, we’re NOT talking about the scooter (remember, there are differences between a moped and a scooter).
And in terms of mopeds, Piaggio stood strong with the Ciao – which had an astonishing production run of 39 years.
Aside from the Ciao, Piaggio also had another moped model made exclusively for the US market called the Vespa Grande (pictured below).
Most likely, this is because the brand was more recognizable in North America than “Piaggio.”
Brand #7: Malaguti
Similar to Tomos, many Malaguti dealerships were East Coast-based.
The most common model was the “Commuter” – sometimes known as just the “Malaguti.”
If you’d like a detailed walkthrough tour of a 1979 Malaguti Commuter, check out this video from the TravisTutorial YouTube channel:
Brand #8: JCPenny
Let’s finish off our list of 1970s moped brands with a wildcard.
Because yes, that’s the JCPenny’s department store franchise.
But despite this, they didn’t actually build them – instead, they imported mopeds from other brands, gave them new badges, and then sold their mopeds through their well-known catalogs.
Technically, it’s hard to count this as its own brand since their moped were just rebadged, but in all seriousness – when will you get to talk about a series of mopeds branded after a department store?
Either way, their most known model was the JCPenny Pinto (no relation to Ford’s disastrous compact car).
The JCPenny Pinto was a rebadging of an Austrian moped maker called “Kromag” with close ties to Puch.
Kromag even used the Puch E50 engine for many of their mopeds.
If you’d like to know more, the owner’s manual for the Kromag/JCPenny Pinto is available at Archive.org.
BONUS: Books and Videos about Mopeds in 1970s America
Mopeds – Paul DuPre (1977)
It talks about moped maintenance and moped laws for each state and covers the history and other facts about the moped makers – even the addresses of their U.S subsidiaries.
The Moped Handbook – Terry Arthur (1977)
For the price of $2.95 in 1977, this book is your best friend as an introduction to mopeds.
The Moped Handbook covers the things a brand new moped owner would want to know:
- The different moped brands available for the U.S market
- How to choose your first moped
- Basic maintenance
Aside from that, it also covers how you can assess whether a moped dealer is trustworthy or not. Rather unique since this is not typically found in books about this topic.
“Moped Safety” Instruction Video (1979)
And unlike the typical safety video shown in Driver’s Ed (like, say, Red Asphalt), Moped Safety has no graphic accident footage – even if some riders in the video could do with a basic crash helmet.