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The moped gangs of New York

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You could say they’re born to be mild.

North Brooklyn’s two moped gangs — yes, there are rival groups of men and women who sputter around the borough on the rickety pedal- and gas-powered motorbikes — have pulled the retro rides out of the trash heap and brought them to the streets.

In doing so, they’re more than just getting around town — they’re resurrecting the 1970s-era pint-sized two-wheelers that are commonplace in Europe but never merged with the American mainstream.

Two self-described gangs — the Orphans in Greenpoint and Mission 23 in Bushwick — spend long hours tinkering on their low-speed vehicles, which are powered by the same engines as lawnmowers and weed-whackers and require constant repairs to keep running.

“Most of the time, we spend three or four hours fixing everything before we go for a ride,” said Ryan Due, 29, a Greenpoint resident and member of the Orphans, who often cruise en masse to destinations as far as Coney Island.

“These things are all from the late ’70s, so they require a lot of maintenance — but working on them is half of the fun,” he said.

There’s a good-sported rivalry between the 12 Orphans and the 10 Mission 23 members, but the moped crews claim they are easy riders — not Hell’s Angels.

Unlike the biker gangs that have long been linked to violence, noise, leather and, lest we forget, methamphetamine, Brooklyn’s mild-mannered mopeders insist they are law abiding.

But that doesn’t mean they’re slow-pokes.

Many mopeders convert their “stock” bikes into custom rides, kitting out the vehicles — which average about 70 miles per gallon — with larger cylinders, carburetors and exhaust systems, that allow the bikes to reach speeds of 50 miles per hour.

Even though the gangs are more like social clubs than criminal organizations, that doesn’t mean that police aren’t a problem.

“Cops never know what a moped is — or what the law is — but they never want to be told anything,” said Peter D’Addeo, 25, of Bushwick and the gang Mission 23.

D’Addeo carries a printout from the Department of Motor Vehicles Web site in his wallet to prove that his moped doesn’t require a special motorcycle license or insurance — which are the very reasons why many moped riders turn towards the antique vehicles instead of motorcycles or Vespas.

“I wanted to have more mobility than the subway and I got tired of biking to parties and showing up soaked in sweat — but I wanted something cheap,” said Mission 23 member and Bushwick resident Alan Gamboa.

Most moped manufacturers stopped making the machines decades ago, and used vehicles can range from $50 for a broken beater to more than $1,000 for a Magnum Limited.

The vehicles might not be popular with cops — but their old school looks are a blast from the past for many passersby.

“Most people get really pumped when they see me on a moped,” said Greenpoint resident Jason Schymick, 30, of Mission 23. “People say, ‘I haven’t seen one of those for 30 years,’ and I tell them, ‘This thing is 30 years old, so maybe it’s the one you saw.’”

Though they’re popular with pedestrians, aggressive drivers, manholes and potholes can buck a moped rider from his (or her — both gangs are one-third women) vehicle.

But hardcore moped riders say they are always comfortable behind the handlebars of their undersized hogs.

“It doesn’t really feel unsafe to me. It feels just as safe as a bicycle — you’re just going faster,” said Due, who in April is planning to open the Orphanage Moped Shop, the city’s first moped emporium, on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.

But riders of bigger bikes — like Harley-Davidsons — say that moped riders are putting their lives on the line every time they get onto their minuscule motorbikes.

“Being on such a tiny-wheeled machine is not very conducive to one’s longevity — and with the way the taxi cabs drive, you might as well wear a target on your back if you ride a moped,” said Tom Smith, of Motorcycle Works on Carroll Street in Carroll Gardens.

But even though Smith considers the members of the Orphans and Mission 23 to be risking their lives, he respects their bravado.

“Gang is not the right word for those guys, but they are kind of outlawish,” he said. “They definitely go by the bang of a different drummer.”

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Reader Feedback

John from Greenpoint says:
This article neglects to mention that these guys lock their mopeds to the bike racks on Franklin Street, so there's never any place to lock my bike near my apartment! Bike racks are for BICYCLES, hippies!
Feb. 26, 2009, 4:24 pm
Jason from Williamsburg says:
douches
Feb. 26, 2009, 5:21 pm
orphans from Franklin street says:
Wrong.
Feb. 26, 2009, 5:22 pm
A moped from bushwick says:
"kind of outlawish"
Feb. 26, 2009, 5:25 pm
Albo from Bushwick says:
Psyche!

It is legal to park mopeds on sidewalks and bicycle racks though.
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3507/3312576724_8792cf1d15_b.jpg
Feb. 26, 2009, 5:33 pm
magic johnson from greenpoint says:
Even I can tell that there are no mopeds on the bike racks at Franklin and Green, and I have AIDS.

Also, you're complaining about not finding a place to park your bike and at the same time calling someone else a hippy. How's that glass house treating you, homo?
Feb. 26, 2009, 7:44 pm
Carroll Gardens from Carroll Gardens says:
STOP GLORIFYING HIPSTER TRUST FUND DOOFUSES, PLEASE!
Feb. 26, 2009, 9:43 pm
Hipster Trust Fund Doofus from Red Hook says:
Cuz Carroll Garden is the REAL Brooklyn, where —— is tough. Isn't that where Biggie and Tupac are from?
Feb. 26, 2009, 9:59 pm
triumph110 from wisconsin says:
Great article I have linked it to www.oldbikenews.com
Feb. 26, 2009, 10:10 pm
Carroll Gardens from Carroll Gardens says:
I don't think that Carroll Gardens is better than any other neighborhood in the Borough. Back when New York still was inhabited by low key, respectable New Yorkers, a neighborhood wasn't viewed with disdain by the "locals".
Today, the problem with places like Williamsburg, West Bushwick, Greenpoint etc...is the people from the Midwest and other non-nyc locales who have invaded these once authentic and respectable neighborhoods and tried to get them to reflect their own bohemian and sloppy existence.

I have yet to meet a native New Yorker who has much respect for these neighborhoods new denizens or their attitudes.
Feb. 27, 2009, 10:45 am
j wang from chinatown says:
trust fund? how do you know it's not "hipster hard working doofuses?"
Feb. 27, 2009, 11:15 am
Carroll Gardens from Caroll Gardens says:
It's possible they are hard working and not connected to a trust fund.
Feb. 27, 2009, 11:43 am
George Willard from Winesburg, Ohio says:
What's wrong with the Midwest? A little reverse migration never hurt anyone, right?
Feb. 27, 2009, 1:48 pm
Hardworking Hipster Doofus from North Brooklyn says:
Sounds like Carroll Gardens / Old New York is getting JEAL-OUS. Instead of complaining, why not try and get fabulous? It's not too late to do something with your life.
Feb. 27, 2009, 2:01 pm
steve from some little chicken town says:
lol @ "authentic neighborhoods"

DUDE THIS NEIGHBORHOOD IS TOTALLY VINTAGE!
Feb. 27, 2009, 2:19 pm
Carroll Gardens from Carroll Gardens says:
Not jealous - I suppose it is good that the hipsters have been able to create "alternative" forms of media and act in "aternative" ways and dress in only what the latest blog says is good for them. Must be great to have such little room for being and individual or having the ability to express oneself. It takes a lot of insecurity to think that you're superior to any "average joe". We didn't all get to go to Kenyon or Wesleyan and major in creative writing.
Feb. 27, 2009, 2:39 pm
steve from flyover country says:
Please, describe to me an authentic neighborhood. I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
Feb. 27, 2009, 5:37 pm
Average Joe from Anytown, USA says:
Ms. Gardens. Carroll. Can I call you Carroll? Carroll, you seem to have a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be hipster. We've forged our identity through years of mighty struggle. Remember the early 90's when America didn't know what good coffee was? Who do you think you have to thank? That's right, the Starbucks Generation: hipsters. Plus, hipsters result in a decrease in crime and an increase of property values. And who do you think helped elect Barrack Obama, America's first hipster president? Duh! US! We're the rising tide, so better get used to it, mister, or move to Queens.
Feb. 27, 2009, 5:53 pm
A O from BKLYNZOO says:
Just watch out when all 3 of them rip down these cobble stone roads and have a face off.... scariest biker group out there lol People let them have their fun they aint hurting no body and you never know might start a new trend... maybe not but more power to the 3 people!
ride on!

A O
March 2, 2009, 10:27 am
SO AUTHENTIC from greenpoint says:
ms. gardens:

are you a "native new yorker"? while you ponder that, let me go ahead and establish my credibility. i am a native new yorker. hey look, a soapbox!

what i DON'T have respect for are self-righteous, whiny "natives" (or "people who've lived in the city longer than two years and think they've earned the right to be snotty and possessive about it") who complain about the ever-changing demographics of our city. if you've lived in new york for any reasonable amount of time without your head firmly shoved up your authentically-clad ass, you recognize that this city is a mutable entity and its 'denizens' have a high turnover rate. get over it.

also, having lived in both, i can state with authority that greenpoint is, like, TOTES more authentic than carroll gardens.

pffff.
March 6, 2009, 2:07 pm
moped maniac from old school says:
Mopeds are just as fun when you work on them too!
also STOP THE HATE
moped riders are people too!
Oct. 28, 2010, 12:14 pm
moped maniac from old school says:
Mopeds are just as fun when you work on them too!
also STOP THE HATE
moped riders are people too!
Oct. 28, 2010, 12:15 pm
tuftobeme from soho says:
I hate hipsters so bad you all say your doing something different but you keep moving to the city just like every one else did before you I was born in 82 and you are what my generation get remember for ill be pissed ... oh and mopeds are cool
Oct. 24, 2011, 3:23 pm
Chris from Nassau says:
Just got a 2006 Tomos Revival a couple months ago and I've had the joy of zipping round Manhattan a few times since I got it. At around 7 cents of gas per mile, it is by far the cheapeast mode of transportation hands down. Yeah, you can ride a bike, but 30mph's better than 15mph and an engine doesn't get tired. There is, however, no room for relaxation while riding; especially in mid-town. One must be very alert as a 4000 pound automobile, let alone a CDL class truck, can send you to the hospital quite quickly. I have 2 broken ribs and a torn rotator in my left shoulder from an "accident" December 10th, 2011. Still ridin though!
Dec. 23, 2011, 6:13 pm
HoboCode from BillyBerg says:
I can't stand all of this hipster bashing. I am most certainly not a hipster.

...I do however spend lots of money to look like I have my older brother's wardrobe from 1982 and a girlfriend who is only interesting because she is trying to look ugly instead of painfully below average and dumpy. Truthfully, she isn't really dating me, so much as my scraggly beard.

I will probably dump my current friends if I ever gain the acceptance of a social group in Manhattan, but I tell everyone that I wouldn't, just to make the pain of rejection bearable. I just pretend to pretend that I don't have a trust fund, so my hobo shoes have context.

I live in a horribly aromatic, fetid apartment on top of a Polish sausage factory and the only thing that keeps me from jumping into the sluice is my vintage PBR collection.

So to all you h8r's, before you bash somebody, just remember that no matter how ironic the moustache, or how huge the giant big wheel old-timey bike may be, just remember that hipsters have feelings too. -sniff

Oh, and that I am not a hipster.
Feb. 5, 2012, 2:05 pm
Rambo from Vineland, nj says:
I've owned several mopeds over the years in Ca Nv, Co, boston, Philly, and all over nj and ridden with a variety of people.. The point is wether it's a mid 50's married doctor, a 20 something colledge student, construction workers, farmers, or a 16 year old they all enjoy riding. No need to mention the annual caust of inshurance is about $80 and a bike as low as $250 in running condition pluss 100 miles it seems like to a tank of gas makes this a very fesable mode of transit. Yes it may b dangerous but so is crossing the street on foot. If you don't take risks in life it's boring. If you still insist on bashing a moped or it's rider I invite you to try mine and let's see you come back without wearing a smile. Thanks for reading. Tomos lx 80cc kit tecnigas exhaust speed sprockets carb jeting custom intake spectra filter rear dual strob costom under glow kit and 63 mph of fun!!!
March 4, 2014, 12:45 am
Matt from Greenpoint says:
The Orphans are so far down they are not even on the map.
Aug. 8, 2015, 2:20 pm
A person from Bushwickish says:
I like mopeds. I got a 78 stock tomos . it being older than me is cool i guess. I live in a van. why do people care so much about other people they don't know well. Kinda funny these comments. Makes some people look dumb.
April 19, 11:39 am

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