I still remember the first time I rode a moped. Rather vividly, at that. It was a Kinetic Luna; I pedalled it while holding the decompression lever until a certain speed, let the lever go, and with the tiniest of jolts was delivered into the world of internal combustion commanded by a throttle. It wasn’t the first powered two-wheeler I rode, having learnt to ride on my father’s old Bullet. But for a 13-year-old, the fun of managing something his size instead of a corpulent contraption was a source of great freedom and confidence. I can still recall the cool wind on my face, the warm morning sunshine on my back, and the eager-to-please motor smoking out a lovely tune.
At one point in India’s two-wheeled history, mopeds were everywhere. Kinetic Engineering was the runaway leader of this diminutive category, producing numerous mopeds based on the Piaggio Ciao. However, there were at least six other manufacturers selling mopeds in India including Hero and TVS. I still remember lusting after the gloriously-named Hero Puch Turbo Sport, though I never got to ride one. But, much later, I did get to ride a TVS racing moped (yes, that was a separate class in the national championship) clocked at 110 kph at the MMRT. Never mind that I burnt its clutch with multiple standing starts. But then, seemingly all of a sudden, the mopeds disappeared. Or maybe I spent my time lusting after proper motorcycles, I can’t be sure.
Today, as it has been for many years, only one company makes mopeds — TVS. It has persisted with the XL Super, sort of like erstwhile partner Suzuki persisting on another plane with its GSX-R 750. Of course, the XL lost its pedals a long time ago, but for the sake of history and for the convenience of avoiding the word ‘mokick’, we shall stick to calling it a moped. Even though I remember how cool I thought mopeds with motorcycle-like kicks were.
Anyway, the XL is a 99.7cc 4.3-bhp workshorse that weighs 80 kg. Rated payload is 130 kg, but millions of eyes have seen otherwise. And obviously, it is still profitable to make a moped; TVS doesn’t release exact numbers, but I understand that the XL sells around 50,000 units per month. And there’s a new version coming soon, too, headlamp fairing, dual-tone seats and all. I hope TVS gives it an outrageously cool name, too. But the question here is, why doesn’t anyone else make a moped?
There are many virtues of this type of two-wheeler. Of course, it doesn’t belong on the highway, holding up traffic for kilometres, but you have to ride one in the city to believe how good it can be. Anyone can ride one, irrespective of age and gender. After all, light weight is appreciated by everyone except maybe professional weightlifters. Also, only a bicycle is cheaper to run and maintain than a moped. Maybe. Plus there might be a case to be made for mopeds as enablers of grassroots motorsports.
I’ve started looking rather fondly at the XLs I pass on the road, and I suspect it won’t be long before I’m doing the same to one standing in my garage. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have around, to run errands on, and so on. There’s a new dirt track close by and it’d be interesting to see how it’d fare on it, too. Commuting, erranding, racing, no reason why a moped can’t do it all. But I suppose there’s just one reason why no one else makes a moped anymore — they’re not aspirational enough, the very bottom of the two-wheeler hierarchy. But cool is as cool does. Hang on — I’m just recounting the past, aren’t I?