Vintage mopeds are slow, noisy and frail-looking. So why do they seem to pop up wherever stylish people gather?
Moped enthusiasts in Austin, Boston, Brooklyn and many other hipster hotspots are turning wrenches, pulling pistons and tightening spokes to bring models from the Puch Maxi to the Garelli Super Sport back to life. Networks of clubs, parts suppliers and online forums have developed to offer tips and morale support to people who want to use bikes for commuting, racing and even long-distance travel.
The bikes have undeniable retro appeal, with their wonderful colors, shapes and names, from the macho-sounding Puch Magnum to the nerdy Honda Hobbit. They are also simple enough that owners can maintain and repair them without engineering degrees.
The moped boom in the U.S. got going during the energy crises of the 1970s because the bikes, which have small engines (displacing 49 cubic centimeters or less) that the rider starts by pedaling, can travel more than 100 miles on a gallon of fuel. For a time, they also gave teenagers a motorized alternative to riding bicycles and walking long before they were old enough to drive cars.
By 1980 mopeds were buzzing all over my New Jersey hometown and anyone who was 14 years old could ride one. You didn’t need a motorcycle license or a helmet. Crazy times.