The Moped Army


Everyone now knows the Toyota Prius, despite the launch brouhaha and Hollywood celebrity endorsements, is about as green as napalm.

Sure, it doesn’t use a lot of fossil fuel when it’s rolling to and from Waitrose, but the rare elements mined to produce the admittedly clever technology pillage the earth like meth-fuelled Vikings. Simply considering how much fuel a vehicle burns while completing a journey is too simplistic when considering the environmental impact of the machines we love (or even a Prius). It’s all about cradle to grave, the overall environmental impact. That’s the real measure of a vehicle’s eco credentials.

So, with that incontrovertible truth on the table, it becomes obvious there are few machines greener than a 30-year-old moped. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the explosion in moped gang culture across metropolitan America in the last couple of years.

If we’re are considering how ‘eco’ a vehicle is, a Puch Maxi – the machine of choice for the burgeoning Moped Army – is as green as it is cabbage-looking. It didn’t require a lot of energy or raw material to make it in the first place. It is a motorised praying mantis, so slight that owners all over the world have taken to riding with their legs crossed at the ankles and their feet on the bike’s spine.

Secondly, because the machine was made decades ago it has more than done its duty in terms of raw material payback. The young American hipsters are recycling machines that have been left to rot for decades. They’re not buying new machines that have used more fresh kilojoules to produce. Anyone who takes the time to keep an old vehicle on the road, even if it uses a little more unleaded than a Prius, truly is an eco-warrior. Remind the ill-informed of that when you’re doing a burn-out in your V8 Trans-Am. And when the underground lakes of fossilised gloop we so crave do run dry the clever Mopedistas can still pedal their machines. Try that on your Fireblade.

But sustainability is only part of the story when it comes to the rise of the old moped. This is a bona fide cult. It’s completely divorced from mod and scooterboy Lambretta and Vespa scene that was exported from the UK. It’s also a backlash against the prevalent Harley culture of North America.

The infantry of the moped armies are predominantly university age and a bit older and it appears that the architects of the style looked at every aspect of the Harley culture: goatees, leather, bigger is better and brash is best, aspects of mainstream Harleydom and thought how they could be the complete opposite. The Moped Army is a legion of the middle middle class, where Harley culture is rooted in working class 20th century history.

Strange that. Even a cheap Harley  will cost you 20 times the amount commanded by an average used moped.

The Moped Army’s uniform is skinny jean, plaid shirt, cheap pumps and bum-fluff moustache. And the scene is, like the uniform (sans moustache), is encouragingly unisex. Women moped gang members are riders, not pillions. This all takes the confrontational, ‘bad boy’, outlaw image Harley, and its riders, have been propagating for the last 20 years, and does the polar opposite. Another reason for the popularity of Moped is the fact that Americans don’t require a license or insurance to ride them. Don’t forget, dear reader, that is not the case in these islands.

The moped culture hasn’t caught on in the UK yet, so Tomos, Puch and Piaggio Ciaos can still be found for nothing. Here comes the clarion call. Hoover them up on ebay while you still can!

And yes. The Moped Army knows they look a little silly buzzing on the highway like so many evening starlings. But know this: they don’t care.

‘You can’t take someone on a moped that seriously,” moped rider Steve Acevedo told the LA Times. “And we don’t take ourselves that seriously. That’s the whole point — it’s all about having fun.’