With mopeds, students have found a trendy new way to get to class
Perhaps you’ve seen them streaking across campus. Maybe you’ve heard their horn, an angelic call, a divine “beep beep.” Maybe you’ve heard their 4.4 horsepower engines roar. It’s talking about mopeds. These little motorbikes of glory have become quite the Wheaton trend.
A moped is a scooter with an engine that seats one person, although some Wheaton students fit multiple people on the seat. The first mopeds were bicycles with a small motor in the 1910s,but later models in the 1950s, derived from motorcycles by German and Czech engineers, became what we now consider mopeds. They were popular in the United Kingdom and Europe until the 1970s energy crisis increased their popularity in the U.S. If you are still struggling to visualize, picture Skinner, the angry chef in “Ratatouille,” who chases the rat Remy on a moped across the dimly lit alleyways of Paris.
Faster than bicycles but slower than motorcycles, most mopeds can reach up to 40 mph. Their engines range from 49 to 278 cubic centimeters (CCs). By comparison, the engines of many Harley Davidsons are well over a thousand CCs. In other words, mopeds alternate between going really slow or only kind of slow.
In any case, mopeds and scooters have become increasingly popular, with a 50 percent rise in sales from 2019 to 2020. Popular models like the Honda Monkey and Kawasaki Z125 have a retro look with a 125 CC engine. Mopeds are cheaper than motorcycles — prices range from $700 to $3,000 — and much more practical for quick trips around campus. For some students, it’s a perfect method of transportation for the beginning and end of the school year. Only three students currently have parking registrations for scooters with the college, but parking coordinator Jill Carr said she assumes there are unregistered scooters being driven around campus.
Jack Ryken, a senior business economics major living in a house by Fischer, drives a sleek, navy-blue 2014 Honda Metropolitan, at 49 CC. Its name? Griff. Ryken likes to joke that Griff is “cousins” with junior Audrey Sexson’s moped, Tiff.
The moped community rolls deep.
Sexson did not know the make and model of her moped, but feels that the deep-blue color is iconic enough to make up for that. In fact, it inspired the name, Tiff.
“I painted her blue,” said Sexson. “You know the jewelry store Tiffany’s? It’s expensive like that, it’s kind of a little boujee. I was like ‘oh my goodness’, she’s Tiffany blue. So that’s where her name comes from.”
Junior Ben Haase has no idea what make or model his swag machine is either — “it’s old,” Haas shrugged.
Wheaton doesn’t have a large campus, but for many students, especially those in apartments like Terrace or Michcrest, the walk to class can feel long, especially when they’re running late.
“One time I was in my house near Fischer when I woke up at 9:14 a.m. and was my 9:20 a.m. class in Memorial Student Center on time,” said Ryken.
“She’s great for living in Terrace,” said Sexson, who used to take the notoriously long walk from the Terrace apartments.
More than a symbol of suave campus transportation, however, mopeds save time, according to Ryken.
“It’s much easier to get around campus than in a car,” Ryken said.
Moped drivers still need college parking permits, but because mopeds are so small, it’s easy to find a place to park them. For engines under 50CC, you only need a standard driver’s permit, while anything above 50 CC requires a motorcycle endorsement on your license. On campus, registered scooters are intended to be parked next to bike racks.
Haase agrees. “It’s super nice to get around campus quickly,” he said. “It’s easy to park anywhere.”
But are they safe? Despite their relatively slow speed, crashes on mopeds can be dangerous. In 2022, 40% of moped crash injuries resulted in bone fractures. And motorcyclists in general are 27 times more likely to die per mile driven than someone driving a car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But the risks do not deter Wheaton’s moped drivers from hopping on the scooter whenever the weather allows. “If one wears a helmet, keeps their eyes peeled for bad drivers and any wandering freshmen, then any accidents at Wheaton can be avoided,” Ryken said.
While Ryken has never crashed, he knows friends who have — including Sexson, who crashed in front of the Chrouser weight room windows while learning to maneuver her moped.
“I was learning to drive Tiff my freshman year,” explained Sexson. “It’s hard to drive. I wasn’t used to braking with your hands.”
Although not a painless experience, embarrassment was a bigger injury than any physical damage.
“I was really embarrassed,” laughed Sexson. “That was my crashing experience, just a few scratches on my leg.”
While the ride from MeySci to Saga might not be quite as romantic as the cobblestone streets of Paris, mopeds still manage to elevate Wheaton transportation.