What license do I need to operate a motorscooter?
August 3, 2005 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I am a licensed driver in California, with a valid Class "C" license. I am thinking of buying a "Vespa" type motorscooter. Do I need to get a special motorcycle license, or does my current license cover it?
posted by Futurehouse to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If California is anything like Minnesota, it depends on the engine displacement of the scooter you're planning on purchasing. In MN, any 2-wheeled motor vehicle under 50cc's does not require a special endorsement to your driver's license (as long as its top speed is not greater than 35 mph). Anything above 50cc's requires a motorcycle endorsement.
posted by ScottUltra at 9:03 AM on August 3, 2005

I repair and ride vintage Vespa scooters. I'm not 100% certain what California's laws are, but in almost every state, you will need a class M on your license to ride a scooter, as they are over 50cc and have manual transmissions. You will also need insurance, and - if California is anything like Texas - medical insurance.

The plus side is that police officers don't know how big your engine is and always want to refer to your scooter as a "moped." Virtually everybody I know gets by with a class M that's restricted to moped (usually this entails just taking the written portion of the class M exam and not the driving test).

If you want information specific to your state, check out scootbbs, an online community of scooterists with a heavy emphasis on the Italian brands - classics, especially. Somebody there is bound to know.
posted by kaseijin at 9:21 AM on August 3, 2005

You might find this page helpful, which purports to summarize all California laws with regards to motorcycles and whatnot.

Most important seems to be section 12804.9 (b) (3) (I) of the California Vehicle Code, which says that "Class C does not include a two-wheel motorcycle or a two-wheel
motor-driven cycle." So that'd imply that you'll have to get a class M1 license.
posted by delfuego at 9:25 AM on August 3, 2005

(Sorry about the ridiculous line break there, don't know what happened.)
posted by delfuego at 9:26 AM on August 3, 2005

Here's the CA DMV Motorcycle Handbook, which describes the different classes of Motorcycles/Motor-driven Cycles/Mopeds/Motor-Scooters. Your Vespa will (hopefully) be capable of more than 30mph, so you'll need an M1 license.

Getting the license is pretty easy. If you have a class C license, you should already know how to drive well enough to pass the written test. If you take an MSF course (and you really should) and pass their final exam, you won't have to take the road test.
posted by aneel at 10:06 AM on August 3, 2005

aneel has it. An M1 license gets you the ability to ride any motorcycle - the M2 restricts you to 149cc or less. The cheapest new Vespa - the ET2 - is 49cc. The ET4 is a 150. The new (and very cool) GT is 200. Vintage Vespa's usually have the size of their engine in the name - P200, Rally 200, 150 Sprint, 50 Special. All the other "Vespa-like" bikes are usually less than 150cc. Under 50cc and they can be 2-stroke - over 49cc and new scooters in CA must be 4 stroke.
If you get your schnazzy new scooter and go to the DMV to take your test - you will only be licensed for the size of the bike you're on. If you think you might ever want to "upgrade" to a bigger bike - my suggestion would be to borrow a bigger bike or scooter on which to take the exam. This is not an issue if you take the MSF class (and I'll second that you really should) and get your license this way. They provide bikes for you and all of their bikes are over 200cc.
You didn't ask for this advice - but I'll give it anyway. Just because its a scooter - and isn't some big sport bike - doesn't make cars hurt less when they hit you. The number of people I see riding around SF in skirts or shorts and half helmets on scooters is appalling. Buy and use good gear - leather gloves, boots and a leather jacket. Have fun - its hard to imagine until you start riding how much fun two wheels and a motor actually are.
posted by Wolfie at 11:12 AM on August 3, 2005

I actually just took the MSF because my wife is on the brink of buying a scooter (probably a Stella), and I'd want to be able to ride it. I would also recommend the MSF course, if for no other reason than to escape the following catch-22: if you take the practical test at the DMV, you need to bring your own ride. But you can't even test-ride a scooter without a license. If you take the course, you're on someone else's ride, and you can skip the practical exam at the DMV.

Seriously, though, the course was helpful (although Wolfie--we were riding 125-cc Eliminators). Now she has to contend with the fact that the Stella dealer won't let her test-ride a bike because she doesn't have 1 year of experience.

Kaseijin--I'm in Austin--where are you? You can find my e-mail via my mefi profile, I'd be interested in talking scooters with you.
posted by adamrice at 11:44 AM on August 3, 2005

adamrice -- I'm up in Denton, but sorta know a few of the Austin folks. Where were you looking at getting the Stella from? If you have the time to make a day trip of it, I know that Randolph Garner is transforming his vintage scooter parts business into a Stella retailing business. He runs his shop out of his house in Cleburne, and would most likely let you test out a ride in the field behind his house.

I'll shoot you an email tonight.
posted by kaseijin at 11:54 AM on August 3, 2005

afaik, you can ride a scooter in CA without a motorcycle license as long as 1) you don't go on the freeway and 2) you do not ride at night.

Of course, my friend (who owns and rides a vespa according to the above rules) may just be full of shit; I've never really bothered to check up on it.
posted by fishfucker at 12:05 PM on August 3, 2005

From all the links above, fishfucker, your friend does indeed appear to be full of shit.
posted by delfuego at 1:45 PM on August 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

from the PDF link,

"Class C - You may operate a motorcycle with a sidecar attached, a three wheel motorcycle, or a motorized scooter", the last of which should cover the vespa.

So surprisingly, my friend is actually not full of shit.
posted by fishfucker at 2:08 PM on August 3, 2005

* uh, as long as the scooter can be propelled by humans, which hey, it could, just very slowly.

(ok, my friend is full of shit).
posted by fishfucker at 2:10 PM on August 3, 2005

Thirding the MSF course recommendation. Step-through design and small tires aside, you're riding a motorcycle, and you've got the same problems the rest of us have dealing with maneuvering and traffic and emergencies -- and doubly so, since accelerating away won't be as common an option for you.

(Similarly, please don't skimp on motorcycle gear just because you're on a scooter, or because of scooter vs. motorcycle image, etc. You'll be going the same speeds in traffic as the motorcyclists and it'll be as if the same belt sander was applied to your body if you go down. Icon's gear has a good "street" style if you don't want to look like a bike gang member or a MotoGP racer. Remember to protect your face!)
posted by mendel at 10:05 PM on August 5, 2005

M2 doesn't actually allow you to ride a Vespa-style motorscooter under 150cc. Those are "Motor-Driven Cycles", and still require an M1.

The only thing an M2 qualifies you for is a "Motorized Bicycle", which limits you to vehicles that can't go above 30mph. Even the 50cc Vespas (I'm looking at the ET2 on Vespa's website) claim a max speed of 40mph.

What the DMV calls a "Motorized Scooter" isn't a Vespa. It's the kind of scooter that you ride while standing up.
posted by aneel at 9:53 PM on August 7, 2005

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