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I bought my first moped in January 2015, and I used one to get to work in central London pretty much solidly until September 2018 – and I’m about to tell you whether it’s been worth it, and what mistakes to avoid if you go ahead and take the plunge.
- Why should you get a moped?
- What you need to know
- How much does it cost to get started?
- Who shouldn’t get a moped for commuting?
- What about the Ultra Low Emission Zone?
- Negatives to using a moped
- The final scores
Why should you get a moped?
They’re cheaper than the tube. When I sold my moped I was spending as much on public transport per day as I did on petrol for a week.
You’ll get The Knowledge. I now know my way around London better than most people who were born here. Using the tube disorientates you, and most of the time you have no idea of whether going one stop is taking you 3 miles away, or if it’s within walking distance.
Tube strikes don’t affect you.
The scenery is beautiful. I LOVE London, and driving down The Mall or over Westminster Bridge on a summer’s day with the wind blowing in your hair is such a treat – not many people get to do that!
You won’t drink as much. Forget Sober October, nothing gets you out of obligatory work drinks better than “I’m driving”.
Everyone looks cute on a Vespa.
It’s quick. Once you get used to navigating, 9 times out of 10 you’ll beat your friends doing the same central London journey taking public transport.
You don’t need to pay congestion charge.
If you buy second hand, they resell for about as much as they cost. I bought my third moped for £750, and sold it a year later for £650. Which really isn’t bad seeing as I used it almost every day.
What you need to know
When I initially thought about getting a moped I had a few questions that weren’t really answered anywhere on the internet, so I’m going to try and address them here.
How much is parking?
In London motorcycle parking is free in designated bays, except in Westminster where it’s £1 a day, which you can pay by phone. The sign by the parking bay should tell you whether you’re in Westminster or not. You can get apps that’ll show you where all the parking spots are, I have Motobay.
How easy are they to ride?
Really easy. If you can ride a bike, you can use a moped. The brakes and steering are exactly the same, the only difference is you don’t pedal, you just use the throttle with your right wrist.
Can you ride a moped in a skirt?
YES you can, horrible patronising male bikers might make comments but it’s doable. I wouldn’t recommend wearing maxi skirts, because they can get tangled in your feet. I prefer to wear flat-ish shoes that are firmly attached to my feet, ankle boots are good!
Can you listen to music?
Yes, you can get expensive helmets with built in bluetooth, or normal earbuds will fit under your helmet.
What about bad weather?
If it’s snowing I would NOT get on your moped. Being on two wheels means you’re much more likely to skid on ice, and visibility is poor when you don’t have windscreen wipers. Rain isn’t too bad if you’re suitably dressed. Watch out for strong winds though, as you might need to countersteer to avoid being knocked off course.
You’ll see couriers with cradles for their phone, but I use Google Maps through my earbuds, it’s a bit touch and go sometimes, but I get to most places on time.
How much is petrol?
Driving 25 minutes to work and back, plus a bit of extra driving means I use about 3 tanks per fortnight, and a tank costs me about £5 or £6 to fill up.
How can you carry stuff?
Mopeds have three places to stow your bags:
- Under the seat
- A hook between your legs
- A back box/top box (only if your scooter comes with one, or you buy one)
I’ve bought a back box for every moped i’ve owned, and it’s well worth it if you’re ever plan on using it to go food shopping. You can also safely wear a backpack for extra storage.
Can you use bus lanes?
Mostly yes, but check signage. I’ve had tickets twice in almost 4 years of riding for being in a bus lane, annoying, but it happens! Pay particular attention around the Piccadilly Circus/Oxford street area.
Is it dangerous?
Only if you drive it dangerously. I’ve never had a crash, but I’ve seen horrible moped accidents on the road. I’d just go slowly, don’t be cheeky and do not be afraid to beep your horn if someone is indicating to change lanes into you (this happens A LOT). Black cab drivers love to do a U turn in a queue of traffic while mopeds are overtaking, so watch out for them as well.
How much does it cost to get started?
If you want to start commuting in London on a scooter, you’ll need the items listed below (at the very least). I’ve estimated how much you should spend on them too!
A CBT certificate
Each one lasts 2 years, or until you pass a moped or motorcycle test, you can redo it at any time, and it takes a day to get (usually). You’ll need a provisional licence in order to do the training and it costs about £125.
Once you have your CBT, it’s legal to ride your scooter without a passenger, as long as you have a learner plate on the front and back of your moped, and don’t go on the motorway.
Mistakes to avoid – don’t do your CBT course just after Christmas as it was FREEZING and when you redo it you’ll also need to do it at that time of year.
Mopeds can cost from around £500 for a 2nd hand model from a cheap brand, to £7,000 for a top of the range Vespa. I highly recommend buying one second hand, I bought my first one new (it was about £2k) and it was stolen within 6 months. I’ve had great success with my second hand Vespas bought from Gumtree for around half the price of my brand new Honda, although one of those was also stolen (!!!).
As I stated above, I’ve had two mopeds stolen, as well as a helmet, my back lights and indicators, someone took a flamethrower to my lock, and somebody snapped off my ignition switch. A few of these aren’t preventable unless you have a private garage, but having a heavy duty lock on my wheel is a huge deterrent to human scum.
I’d completely skip cheaper locks and go straight for the Kryptonite New York lock. It withstood a flamethrower!
Legally, you only need a helmet – and those go from £50 upwards. I’d also recommend getting specialist motorcycle gloves, as in a crash it’s often instinctual to put out your hands first. If you’re a lady (like me hehe), then ladies gloves are a must. I bought cheap mens gloves to start off with and I could barely use the indicators. My favourite brand is Spada, it’s not too expensive. Gloves go for around £30 – £40. I also bought a moped skirt (the bike wears it, not me) to keep my legs warm, they’re about £70.
The cost of this isn’t easy to estimate because it will depend on your personal circumstances, but £200-£300 per year is typical for a less expensive bike. If you’re going to use it for your job (i.e doing deliveries) this will be quite a lot higher. Road tax for my old Vespas is about £30 a year.
All in all, if you have £1,250 you should be able to set yourself up with a decent quality second hand bike and all the gear and qualifications necessary to get on the road.
Who shouldn’t get a moped for commuting?
I’ll give some examples of a couple of my friends, and whether or not I think getting a moped is a good idea for each of them.
Friend 1: Lives in Chelsea, works at Heathrow Airport
Heathrow is 14 miles away from his house, and the most direct route is on the M4. You aren’t allowed on motorways if you only have a CBT, and even A roads with multiple lanes can be quite terrifying. I also don’t like to ride my scooter for more than 10 miles at a time, it gets cold! I would not suggest that he buys a moped.
Friend 2: Lives in Muswell Hill, works in Farringdon
Muswell Hill is one of those weird London neighbourhoods that isn’t that far out, but has no connection to the tube whatsoever. Her commute consists of a bus and a couple of changes on the underground. The route to her house by road doesn’t involve any fast dual carriageways, just a lot of gridlocked traffic around north west London – which is easy to bypass when you’re allowed in the bus lane. I think a moped would make her commute considerably cheaper and easier.
Friend 3: Lives in Walthamstow, works in Soho
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere like Walthamstow that has lots of different tube lines connecting to central London, then I wouldn’t suggest you spring for a moped. It only takes my friend half an hour to get into Oxford Circus. He works at a nightclub, and obviously drinking and driving don’t exactly mix, either.
What about the Ultra Low Emission Zone?
From the 8th of April 2019, vehicles that don’t meet the standards of the ULEZ will be charged £12.50 PER DAY for entering the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London.
Which is this:
So basically, the entirety of central London. Unlike congestion charge, which moped riders don’t have to pay anyway, the ULEZ charge will apply at all times. So it is very important that you find a scooter that is ULEZ compliant.
You can check the registration number of your bike here. My 2009 Vespa is okay, so it’s not just brand new vehicles that are exempt.
Looking forward even further, the Ultra Low Emission Zone will be expanded to fill everywhere between the north and south circular roads from the 25th of October 2021. It really is important that you check the status of any scooter you’re considering buying now, if you ever want to enter central London on it.
Negatives to using a moped
Not to end this blog post on a downer, but there are always drawbacks, it isn’t too good to be true!
I went into this before, but moped theft is a serious problem in London. If you live here you’ll probably know, or have heard of someone who’s had their phone nicked by a mugger on a moped. Most of the time, that moped will also be stolen! Talk to anyone who’s owned a scooter or motorbike in London and they’ll probably have a story about someone attempting (or succeeding) to steal their bike.
Every time you leave your bike – lock AT LEAST the back wheel with a strong D lock or chain. Ideally you’d lock it to something that can’t be moved. If you can put a disc lock on the front wheel with an alarm, that’ll also deter potential thieves. If you have a choice, parking your scooter on a busy street is a better idea than a quiet back alley. Just trust me that this advice comes from experience.
You’re not allowed to take passengers when you’re riding a moped on just a CBT. That means it can be a little bit anti-social at times. However, you can always leave the scooter at home and take public transport if you know you’ll be travelling around with a friend on a particular day.
The possibility of getting a ticket
It’s very easy to accidentally be in a bus lane that you’re not supposed to be in, not even notice it, then two weeks later have a letter from the council through the letterbox.
I’d keep an emergency fund of £100 or so to deal with these sorts of things, because not paying council issued fines can lead to serious problems later on.
Drink driving is illegal for a good reason – so moped drivers have to be careful with spontaneous trips to the pub. What I tended to do is leave my scooter parked overnight, then take the bus to collect it in the morning. It isn’t exactly a nice hangover activity, but it’s one of the prices you pay for having a moped in London.
The final scores
So, is it cheaper to use a moped than take the bus or tube? Pretty much, yes, it’s half the price!
Here’s how much a scooter could cost you over two years:
£1,250 (start up costs) + £300 (another year’s insurance) + £624 (£6 a week petrol for two years. = £2174
But if you sell your moped after two years for £650, like I did – that’s a total of £1524 for two years of moped travel, that’s £762 a year, or £2.92 per work day (based on 261 work days). The longer you keep your moped running, the cheaper it’ll be per year on average, too.
If you’re using public transport in London (based on 2018’s prices) here’s what that costs you.
A yearly TfL zone 1-2 annual travel card is £1,364, or 1-6 is £2,492 – if you’d like to compare. Monthly is £131 for zone 1-2, or £239 for zone 1-6 (it works out as £63.50 a month with a moped).
So, what do you think? Could using a moped to commute into work be an option for you? I’m certainly glad I did it, as it definitely helped me save up money to buy a house, while living and developing my career in one of the most exciting (and expensive) cities in the world.