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Storming the streets with the Moped Army

Easy Riders
By ERIN BALDASSARI  |  September 9, 2010


Friday night. It's the start of Moped Massacre II, a three-day-long, all-moped, all-metal, two-stroke-engine spectacle hosted by Boston's only moped gang, the kHz. We're standing outside a bowling alley in Davis Square, and I'm about to take off on my first foray into their world. The bike doesn't look like anything to hold onto. It's a heap of metal held together by hand-welded parts, and I'm about to propel myself down the back streets of Somerville at 40 mph. The engine sputters. I tug on my helmet straps for good measure, crank the handlebar clutch, and I'm off.

"The first time I rode, I was hooked," said Andy Lauzier, a kHz member and moped aficionado. "I always thought they were really lame, but then I got on one."

Riding with the Moped Army — a national online (and actual) community of moped heads broken up into regional branches, or "gangs" — it's easy to see the vehicle's appeal. At 100 miles to the gallon, these babies are no gas hogs. Massachusetts doesn't require a license or insurance to drive one, you can park on the sidewalk and blast by traffic in the bike lines. There's also an unofficial camaraderie between mopedists.

"We're pretty accepting of anyone with a moped, but to get invited on rides, you have to get into a gang," said kHz captain Josh Aigen. "Each gang operates as an independent state. Boston's is like the bastard step-child."

Only the second of its kind, last weekend's Moped Massacre II attracted over 60 devotees from as far away as Kentucky and Michigan, as well as central Massachusetts, New York, and elsewhere. They all came together to ride, talk shop, and drink cheap domestic beer.

For all the glory of ripping through downtown Boston and weaving between cars as passers-by gawk, camera phone in hand, the glamour starts to fall apart when your ride breaks down. Mopeds are usually relics found from the '70s that have been given a new life, and require constant maintenance.

For enthusiasts though, that is the allure. "I like the idea of knowing what every part does," said Max Levy, a Boston kHz member. "There are still parts that are a mystery to me. But that's the beauty of having the shop — it gives you the courage to go beyond your means. If I was on my own, I might not be willing to tear my bike to pieces."

Shops like kHz's Allston garage — stocked with parts, know-how, and a genuine passion to soup-up the vintage vehicles — are watering holes in an otherwise barren desert. Rallies like this past weekend's bring the out-of-towners and help foster the larger national community.

"It's like a brotherhood," Christopher Henshaw, a kHz member said. "If you see someone on a moped breakdown, you don't have to know them, you just lend a hand."

"I remember breaking down the other day near the John Hancock building, so I called up a buddy of mine and he was right there with a tank of gas," said Aigen. "Those are the best of times, when you're in a bind and you know someone will be there for you. It's like a family."

Related: Roller Derby: TNG, Cycle killers, Bike Week and beyond, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Sports, CULTURE, bikes,  More more >
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