What to Know Before Riding Scooters on Vacation
The biggest challenge of traveling to a new country or a new city is finding a way to see all of the sights in a short period of time. Getting around in a new place can be a challenge. There’s walking, but it’s slow and can be hot in the middle of summer. Public transportation can be difficult to navigate and is often time-consuming. Then there’s hiring a driver or relying on a ride service like Lyft or standard taxis. But where’s the freedom in that? Renting a car in a foreign country or big city can be a hassle, or even dangerous if the road rules are different or the steering wheel is on the other side of the car. The perfect solution is often renting a moped or a scooter, which gives you fresh air and motorized travel without the stress of operating a full-sized vehicle.
Scooter or Moped?
Technically, mopeds and scooters are different vehicles. The word “moped” originated from the combination of the terms “motor” and “pedal” and was used to describe any motorized bike that could be pedaled. Real mopeds are not as common now and, instead, the term is often used to describe a motorized bike that has a small engine (less than 50cc) and only moves at low speeds (similar to the speed of a regular bicycle). In some states, it’s the size of the motor that dictates what is called a moped and what is a scooter.
A scooter is a motorcycle with an opening in the frame for a rider to step through and a platform for their feet. Scooters also have smaller engines (50cc-250cc) and, therefore, less power and lower speeds than motorcycles.
In some ways, scooters and mopeds are considered safer than motorcycles because the driver is limited by the engine’s capability. Larger motors displace more and therefore produce greater power and speed. The small engine sizes of mopeds and scooters prevent the driver from hitting highway speeds. They’re also lighter and simpler to operate than a motorcycle, which makes them convenient for running errands around town and renting in a foreign country where the ability to travel by vehicle is convenient.
In the US and Canada, age requirements for operating a scooter vary by state or province, but usually allow people aged 14 to 16 years of age to drive either a moped or scooter. There are other restrictions that vary by location in North America, such as whether you can drive at night, what lights are required, and if you need to pass a specific test to get a license; be sure to look up the local laws regarding mopeds and scooters if you’re looking to drive one in a new region.
In many countries, operating a scooter or moped doesn’t have the same driver’s license or age restrictions as driving a motorcycle. For international use, operating a moped or scooter requires having an international driver’s permit (IDP). An IDP isn’t its own license – having one requires having a valid driver’s license in your home country – but they are really easy to obtain; you can get an international driver’s permit from AAA for less than $50. Some countries, like China, don’t recognize IDPs, while other countries will let you skip the IDP if you obtain a local tourist license; always check the list of participating countries before traveling and never leave home without your driver’s license.
How to Rent
If you’re planning to rent a moped or scooter while traveling internationally, be prepared to present your IDP (or local license), your driver’s license from your home country, and your passport. It’s common in Southeast Asia for scooter rental companies to require that you leave your passport with them as collateral. Parting with your passport while traveling internationally can be nerve-racking, especially if you’re in a country that requires tourists to carry their passport at all times while visiting. You can sometimes agree to leave a cash deposit or a photocopy instead of the actual passport.
As soon as you’re given your rental, use your phone or camera to film or photograph every part of the scooter. This is a quick and easy way to document the original condition of the bike; if the rental company questions whether you scratched the paint or broke any pieces, having photos is a good way to show any pre-existing damage.
Body: Is the scooter frame or body in good shape? Note any scratches or damages with a photo before leaving the rental shop.
Tires: Are they properly inflated?
Brakes: Do the brakes work? Test them before leaving. If the brakes touch the handles without being squeezed, ask for a different scooter.
Ignition: Is the ignition damaged? Does the scooter turn on?
Lights: Test the turn indicators, high beams, and gauges.
How to Drive
One of the perks of renting a scooter or moped is that they’re easy to operate and handle. The first step is to take the bike off its center stand, which keeps the scooter stable while not in use (similar to a kickstand on a motorcycle). The rental agency will show you how to take the scooter off its stand and start it. Practicing a few times at the rental store is a good way to get comfortable starting the scooter before you’re on your own. If you’re never been on a motorcycle, moped, or scooter before, consider asking for a ride with someone before you try driving on your own. Being a passenger will give you a good sense of how the scooter handles and how it differs from driving a car or riding a regular bike.
Where to ride?
While renting a scooter has many advantages over other modes of transportation, there are some places where it’s not the best option for a tourist. Large cities in Southeast Asia are a great example: in Kathmandu, Nepal, the roads are choked with vehicles all moving as a clump, rather than in neat lines. Vehicles use horns instead of blinkers to indicate that they’re passing or that you should pass them. While it’s a system that can be learned, jumping in as a first-time scooter-driver can be dangerous; you’re better off using taxis and other local transportation. Rome is another city where you should avoid renting a scooter because of its narrow roads, fast traffic, and unpredictable layout.
This being said, there are countless regions and cities that are perfect for a first-time scooter driver. Areas with flat roads and slow and minimal traffic, like Hawaii, Bali, Greece, and the Italian countryside, are just a few locations that are ideal for scooter use.
Scooters and mopeds have a reputation for being safer than other vehicles because of their small size and lack of power. However, driving a scooter comes with as many risks as driving a car. Because of their size, scooters are hard for automobile drivers to see, so stay visible, move with traffic, and avoid roads where you are unable to go the speed limit because of the bike’s power.
Overall, scooters are a safe, inexpensive, and fun way to explore a new place. Next time you’re traveling, get out on a scooter!