50 Cubic Centimeters of Death

Published  January 2013

Moped Order of New Orleans member Eric Russell signaled the start of the moped rally’s big ride by circling his finger above his head and yelling “15 minutes!” Moped riders from across the nation exercise-biked and sprint-started their two wheeled instruments with hungover fervor. As the chainsaw symphony warmed up, two-stroke smoke began to roll through performance compression chambers and escape from tallboy-sized muffler baffles. The Irish Channel side street was soon covered in a knee-deep fog that would split open as riders blasted their way up river. The MONO garage and headquarters had become a momentary moped mecca. The garage doubled as the starting line for the multi-parish tour that had innocent pedestrians inhaling hot tire incense and exhaust, while motorists waited for a mosh pit-influenced caravan to clear major intersections. The MONO rally was a torqued out display of antiquated small engine mechanics driven by a collective of enthusiast that, for one southern Saturday afternoon, owned the road, the sidewalk and the neutral ground.

The moped riders ranged in appearance from doom metal grease monkey to fresh-off-the-bar public defender types. Like any other social grouping, personal styles varied; but there was always a constant bond and amongst this breed it was small, economical 50cc motorcycles, usually with pedals. Old forgotten garage or barn-hidden bikes by Puch, Derbi, Motobécane, Peugeot and Tomos are sought after, exhumed, rebuilt and often modified and tweaked. Overclocking these small, usually vintage motorbikes will jeopardize the structural integrity of the machine but will maximize performance. Because of this tinkering and the age of the bikes, a proper moped weekend consists of riding, “wrenching,” drinking, and eventually, drunken wrenching.

The mopeding world has an online presence at mopedarmy.com. The website has rally information, lists of moped-friendly garages and squat spots and message boards where moped knowledge is discussed and dissected. Part of the Moped Army’s mission statement reads: “More than just an easy and inexpensive way to get around town, members uphold the moped as a way of life. Although the advantages as a mode of transportation are many, a similar mindset is what brings us together. We see the moped as more than a means of travel, and truly believe in the lifestyle that accompanies riding one. It’s all about the moped’s aesthetic, its marginalized status in our society, the friendly traveling, easy stop communication, and our ability to enjoy the trip, as well as the destination. 2-Stroke Power. Swarm and Destroy.”

The Friday night before the big ride, the MONO crew hosted a bounce night meet-and-greet at Parasol’s. The dining room was the dance floor and the residual crank grease on people’s clothing and bodies perpetuated the wobble. Crews or gangs mingled together, talked shop, practiced mimicking moped engine noises and partied hard. Gang insignia and crew logo adorned t-shirts and patches on denim vests explained the origin and attitude of some of the crews. The Blk Blk crew from Denver, the Motion Left crew from Indiana, the Austin City Rockers and the Hot ‘N’ Readyz from Chicago all made the trek from their home turf to experience the thrill of swarming into New Orleans and committing minor traffic infractions.

There was more alcohol consumed than petro during the weekend and the late start of the rally was proof. Bikes and riders slowly trickled in from the homes and crash houses. There was a few hand-drawn maps of the route (nowhere near to scale) being passed around. I was given the first page of one of the route maps and realized that this was going to be a 30-plus mile Looney Toon tussle of a parade. When the chase vehicle, a blue Ward school bus, made the corner, the throngs of cyclists cheered and rushed the soon-to-be rolling garage and downed soldier recovery vehicle. Hippy, the bus driver, was a long-hair wearing a marching band-styled hat that looked as if he had every intention of taking the bus the Furthest. There was now a buzz amongst the riders other than the sound of their engines. They knew the MONO clan wasn’t going to leave anyone behind and that if jetted engines failed and tires blew, the party was going to be on the train rounding the bend.

I did the rally on my 2005 Vespa GT200, a machine frowned upon in moped circles because of various modernized luxury accoutrements and its aristocratic, more mainstream status in the two-wheeled motorcycling world. It was also explained to me that while riding a scooter, one looks as if he or she is piloting a giant commode. I planned to do the ride on a borrowed moped but was denied access to one as the rally turned into a flagship event and summoned moped enthusiasts from far beyond. Family first. The influx of riders and miles traveled made moped carry-ons impossible. The MONO organization tooled and arranged loaner bikes for fellow riders on a first-come, first-serve basis. I was in a proverbial Vincent Black Shadow amongst American choppers situation and reveled in the fact that my Italian scooter could out run, out stop and cross the Crescent City Connection with ease. It was similar to how I assume Harley riders feel as they pass me on steep on-ramps as they bomb their way to Daytona. Haters will always hate, but they can do it while double-pedaling home as I enjoy my Whole Foods prepared couscous and sip Sumatran rat monkey coffee. There is an unspoken pecking order amongst the motor displacement set that usually reveals itself at traffic lights, but is really nothing more than light-hearted ribbing.

I checked my turning signals, tire pressure, horn, all illuminated gauges and brake light, then took off in a civilized manner behind at least 60 moped maniacs. I soon found myself caught in the moped madness and wished a shredped had been available for me. The swarm mentality was immediately felt: buzzing, breaking without warning, crashes in the River Bend, 45 mile-per-hour hot pursuits through old Metairie, rattling through a daylight Celebration in the Oaks, booming towards the map-indicated lakefront “Chill Spot.” After an hour I really wished I were on a moped because of a few reasons: the rogue, unlicensed motor clan element and sense of unknown mechanical roadworthiness and the probability of my weight and mass straining a 50cc engine to the point of implosion. The fallen members of the moped armed forces seemed to be enjoying their inactive status as they finished the rally being medicated and numbed in the safety of the giant blue battlefield ambulance.

The rally ended at Checkpoint Charlie’s and was a success, since no one was seriously hurt, jailed or left on a Jefferson Parish roadside. It was also a triumphant achievement for the guys and gals of MONO. Using their resources, they were able to assemble, quarter, feed and entertain a 100-plus member moped militia. While the moped way of life might not be for everyone or a prefered means of transportation for those on a tight schedule, it is obvious a moped clan ain’t nuthin to fuck with.

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