I know a moped is not that sexy but the nice thing about them is that if they are under 50CC many states do not require registration (which is expensive). Alaska considers the smaller bikes to be "motor driven cycles" and the tag fee is $15 with a registration of $60 every other year which is pretty cheap.
My commute right now can pretty much be done all on smaller roads with speed limits of 30 MPH or so. There'd be one short stretch on a two-lane divided highway but it is only about 100 yards after a protected turn so I think it'd be ok. That seems do-able with a 50cc class bike.
The issue is that the math doesn't really work out great.
- A new quality Honda moped runs around $2-2.5K.
- Currently with gas at around $3.70 I pay around $0.176 per mile to commute in my larger car. I also figure my car will last around 150,000 miles and will cost around $30K to replace for a depreciation of around $0.20/mile.
- A moped would get around 100 MPG for a cost of 0.037 per mile. It looks like with proper maintenance they will last 20K miles or more. That is a rough depreciation of around $0.1/mile.
- That is a total savings of $0.239/mile.
- My commute is about 12 miles round trip and I tack on another 4 miles or so for lunch about twice a week. Sometimes I have to make two trips in to work as well each day (double shifts with a break in the middle). That'd be almost 100 miles per week. Then again, I would not want to ride every day if the weather is bad, if I needed to haul stuff in a trunk, etc. All told I think I'd probable be likely to put around 50 miles per week on the moped.
I'd have to put 10.5K miles on the moped to make it pay for itself at just over a dime per mile ($2500 / $0.239 per mile). At 50 miles per week that'd be 210 weeks or 4 years of commuting.
I am hesitant to get a cheap cruddy moped with maintenance issues although a used quality one wouldn't be a bad deal. I suspect the $600 scooters from China cost that little for a reason and won't hold up to regular commuting miles. As someone who is not particularly mechanically minded I appreciate a good warranty and no headaches. Then again, the breakeven point on a $600 scooter is around a year, which is much faster.
Then again, the Honda warranty is good for five years. So I'd be basically guaranteed to break even assuming I enjoy riding on a regular basis. Even if it totally breaks down I'd be able to get it fixed with basically no out of pocket expense. The Chinese bikes have ZERO warranty.
Not anything I'm going to pull the trigger on soon but could be fun in a few months. We'll see.