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.”
©2009 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not BrooklynPaper.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to BrooklynPaper.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.