Our writer overcomes his fear of mopeds by riding the streets with one of Reno’s fiercest clubs, Los Dorados
Lunch or a gallon of gas? That’s what it comes down to these days. At four bucks a gallon and rising, it’s ridiculous to imagine driving any more than the absolute minimum necessary.
Except for the 40-mile joyride I took on a recent Saturday with Los Dorados, Reno’s own moped club.
I don’t own a moped. I had a pretty gnarly accident after I swerved a scooter into a Saturn sedan heading toward me during a family vacation when I was 13. I flew over the car, tearing apart my right knee and cutting my face. It only took a month for a full recovery, but I have some scars to remind me of the event, and my knee still makes a clicking noise.
The scooter I was driving in that accident, a 100-cubic centimeter Honda, was a lot faster than the moped I borrowed for this daytrip. Mopeds are more like bicycles than motorcycles. Most mopeds don’t even have keys to start the engine—they have pedals. The word “moped” combines “motor” and “pedal.” Basically, you pedal as hard as you can for a few seconds until the moped fires up. Los Dorados tells me that if a moped has a kick-starter, then it is technically called a “noped.”
Who gets to make up these names, anyway?
I tried to push the memory of the accident out of my mind as I took my loaner moped, a 2004 Tomas, and fell into formation with Los Dorados for a round-trip ride from downtown’s Java Jungle to the south end of Reno.
The Hells’ Angels of mopeds
Los Dorados is a loose group of 20- and 30-somethings who just like to go cruising. Troy Elizares, 26, who has been riding for four years, started the group last October. He was registered on a national website, www.mopedarmy.com, and emailed other registered moped owners in Reno and asked if they would be interested in riding together.
“It’s more fun to ride as a group,” says Camille Torres, 30, who has been riding for five years.
“Especially because someone will break down, so it’s nice to have a team,” adds Elizares.
Also riding with us that day were a few of the other members of the club: Mary Liz Magee, 39, who has been riding for 15 years; Jon! Studebaker, 25, who has been riding for two years and spells his name with an exclamation point; and Justin Weber, 30, who is knowledgeable but has only been riding six months.
Before the ride, sitting outside on the patio of Java Jungle and looking over the mopeds, I’m reminded of my first car, a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. I remember hanging out with other kids who had VWs for the sole reason that they had the same kind of car as me. It was like a geeky bond of some sort. I ask Los Dorados if it’s the same bond for moped owners.
“I’ve met several people who just have one but aren’t really into the idea of riding with other people, or enjoy mopeds on the level we do—which is extreme,” says Elizares.
I feel a bit nerdy sitting in public with the group of moped riders. Not that nerdy is necessarily a bad thing.
Travel on the cheap
Contrary to popular belief, one can’t legally drive a moped on a Nevada road without a Class C driver’s license. A Class C license is a regular driver’s license. According to the DMV’s website, a moped is defined as “a vehicle which looks and handles essentially like a bicycle and is propelled by a small engine.” A moped must have an engine no larger than 50 cubic centimeters. Anything larger is considered a motorcycle and requires drivers to have a motorcycle endorsement on the driver’s license. In order to be street legal, mopeds must have lights, reflectors and mirrors. Drivers don’t have to wear helmets while riding.
Helmets are a good idea, though. When I flew over that car as a teenager, my helmet saved my life. But I didn’t wear one on my recent joyride. Why? Because I am trying to convince myself that I am invincible.
Now for the cool part: Mopeds don’t have to be registered or insured. As long as your moped meets the requirements, and you have a driver’s license, you’re good to go.
The members of Los Dorados all say they got their mopeds for $100 to $300.
“Never pay more than $100 for a moped if it’s not running,” says Elizares.
“Mine was in perfect condition, and it was $175,” adds Torres.
Now factor in that mopeds get anywhere, according to Magee, from 80 to 120 miles per gallon and you have a pretty cheap means to get from point A to point B.
One thing to consider before buying a moped is maintenance.
“You have to be willing to get your hands dirty and work on your bike from time to time,” says Elizares. “There’s no mechanic that’s going to help you. They might laugh at you.”
Los Dorados recommend websites like www.mopedarmy.com for maintenance advice forums and reno.craigslist.org to purchase mopeds. Also, Los Dorados will probably help you if you join their club. They’re nice people.
Pedal to the metal
After coffee and a bit of small talk, it was time to ride. Los Dorados walked me through the basics of moped driving—hand signals for turning, stopping, handling traffic. Torres, who kindly let me borrow her spare moped, had to come over and kick-start it for me, and we were off.
Driving down First Street at 10 mph is terrifying. I felt kind of silly as I turned south on Arlington Avenue, following the group. Not silly because I was on a moped, I felt silly because I was shaking with fear.
A few minutes later and we’re on Plumb Lane at a red light. I pull up next to Studebaker.
“Hey man,” I say to him. “You ever pick up any chicks on this thing?”
After we get further south, we take a rest.
“How you feeling?” Torres asks me.
“Tough,” I respond. “I have conquered my fear of mopeds.”
By that point, I was having the time of my life on that little 50 CC moped. It seemed like an hour ride, but it must have taken at least three hours because it was dark by the time we finished. As we made our way back toward downtown, a guy on the street waved at Torres. She then told me that they dated in high school and that he would pick her up after class on his moped.
I wanted to go back and give the dude a high five.