Mopeds, mopeds everywhere. They are half bicycle, half motorcycle—and the fastest-growing fad on wheels since the skateboard. The marketing genius responsible for launching the lusty $50 million-a-year industry in the U.S. is a 30-year-old French expatriate named Serge Seguin. He parlayed a master’s thesis into a $50,000-a-year executive vice-presidency with Motobecane, France’s largest exporter of mopeds to the U.S.
The idea for the great invasion of motorized bicycles—more than a quarter of a million Americans are buzzing around on mopeds now—dates back to the fall of 1972. In this country to get a graduate degree in business administration, Seguin chose mopeds as the unusual subject for his thesis at the University of Florida. “I knew,” Seguin says with a hint of chauvinism, “that there were a number of good European products that were unavailable in the U.S. I wanted to find out why.”
For his field work, Seguin persuaded Motobecane in France to stake him to two sample mopeds and $1,000 in expenses. During the winter of 72 he traveled nearly 24,000 miles crosscountry, interviewing 1,700 people about the light-framed, 150-miles-to-the-gallon bikes that have been popular in Europe since 1946. Then Seguin turned in a statistical, scientific report to the university as his thesis and a more readable and pragmatic study to Motobecane in Paris.
The following September Seguin moved to Quebec city to teach. While there he helped change Quebec’s laws, which had forced imported mopeds to conform to standards designed for heavier domestic motorcycles. The same safety regulations were keeping mopeds out of the U.S. too. With support from Motobecane and the French moped industry, Seguin soon moved to Washington to lobby for a national model moped law. “My friends told me I was a fool,” he says. “They thought I could be wasting two or three years of my life.”
He hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to petition the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In September 74—on the heels of the energy crisis—the Department of Transportation agreed that mopeds should have a separate classification.
That battle won, the lean young Frenchman took on the contradictory maze of state biking laws. As chairman of the Motorized Bicycle Association representing 100 European and American manufacturers, distributors and dealers, he pressed hard for uniform state laws. And again the persistent and charming Seguin triumphed: 31 states and the District of Columbia have passed moped legislation. Seguin is jubilant. “In Europe,” he says, “change takes much longer.”
A native of Vernon, a small town in Normandy, Seguin was a restless teenager who spent summers hitchhiking through the U.S., the Middle East and Europe. He met his wife, Christine, when her stepfather picked him up thumbing from Le Havre to Paris. At first Christine paid no attention to the young hitchhiker, who was festooned with rings and necklaces he had bought in his travels. “Then after 50 miles,” Serge recalls, “Her Majesty finished her newspaper and inquired about who was in the back.”
Married in 1974, they have a 2½-year-old son named Aldric and live in Ramsey, N.J., only 12 miles from the Motobecane executive offices. Seguin is still overwhelmed by the miracle of his success. Outside his window he can watch nine of the 12 families on his block tooling around on mopeds. “There is a freedom to succeed in this country no matter what your age or nationality,” he exclaims. “There is no chance I could have achieved this in France.”