50cc Scooters - A good idea or not?

Many first time buyers look at 50cc scooters for their first purchase, but are they a good idea? Well they have a number of pros and cons:


  • They are inexpensive compared to scooters with larger engines.
  • They can be very economical on gas.
  • They are easy to ride, especially for beginners, since acceleration is slow and top speed is low
  • Many states allow them to be ridden by anyone with a driver's license. A separate motorcycle license or endorsement not being required.


  • Their lack of speed and acceleration makes them somewhat dangerous in situations where they can't keep up with the speed of other traffic
  • Their lack of power can mean very slow speeds (20mph or less) up steeper hills
  • Their lack of power means carrying a passenger (when licensed to do so) can be a problem
  • Their lack of power means that if you need to accelerate out of a dangerous situation, you may not be able to do so

I've ridden 50cc scooters on 50 mile trips though urban and suburban areas and my feeling is that the ones I've ridden aren't a good buy for anyone who wants to ride in traffic on suburban roads. They simply don't have the speed to keep up with traffic at 40mph, especially if there is even a slight uphill gradient or you're riding into a headwind. Under those conditions most 50cc scooters won't make it past about 25-30 mph. On a steep hill I've ridden 50cc scooters that struggled to keep up 20 mph. Cars don't like to wait behind a slow scooter and so will often overtake when there really isn't enough room. It's no fun to have a car whiz by 12" from your elbow.

In a highly congested urban situation, where traffic barely makes it to 30 mph much of the time a 50cc scooter can be OK. They're also very easy to learn on if you ride in an area where there isn't a lot of traffic - though once you have learned you'll probably want something with a little larger engine.

The difference in power between a 50cc scooter and a 125cc or 150cc scooter is significant. A 150cc scooter should be able to keep up with traffic on suburban roads. 40-45mph shouldn't be a problem, even on hills, so you won't have cars lined up behind you waiting to pass. I've even taken a 150cc scooter on the interstate. I wouldn't recommend it, especially not for any great distance, but they can stay above 40mph (the minimum legal speed) and even hit 55 mph on the flat. However they aren't so powerful that they are hard for beginners to ride and they can also be very economical on gas. While a 50cc scooter might get 100-110 mpg, a 125/150cc scooter should still get 80-90 mpg.

If you are looking at the low cost Chinese built scooters, the 150cc models don't cost much more (maybe a few hundred dollars)than the 50cc models and so I think they are a significantly better buy. If you're looking at Yamaha or Honda scooters then the price difference is a bit higher (up to $1000) so the decision is a bit harder.

My advice would be to go for at least a 125/150cc scooter if you want something that's truly usable on suburban and rural roads. If you want to ride the Interstate, you should be looking at 250cc or larger.