Riders help each other out with the finicky bikes. All photos copyright C. Schreck unless otherwise noted
Live Fast Ride Slow, some intricate moped art.

Mopeds have enjoyed a resurgence in popular culture you’re probably tired of hearing about. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, close your eyes and picture a Vespa, now stop thinking about that because that’s not a moped. Mopeds are small motorcycles that are built stock with 50cc engines, and they have pedals (= Ped.) Vespas and the like have floor boards and tiny handle bars, the posture of the rider is decidedly toilet-like. Mopeds are loud, greasy, generally built in the 70's and 80's (although there are some still built and sold today.) For the enthusiast they are temperamental labors of love, tinkering puzzles, and- with the new availability of aftermarket parts- modular mechanical performance beasts where the sky’s the limit.

Danny in full tuck at the San Diego Skunks’ moped rally.

Around these bikes grew a culture of clubs and gangs. Riders wrench, party, throw rallies, organize races and events. It’s a self-governing international family called Moped Army and for many years the riders in and around it supported and communicated with each other with the goal of getting their janky little bikes to run long enough to get through the meet-up and most of the ride. Now as the members grow and mature, the focus shifts to tuning and performance, what can a 50cc engine really do? The mad-scientist aspect begins to grow, pushing the limits is addictive, so... could you ride of these things across the county? To the state line? To the Ocean?

Zach and Graham in South America. Copyright G. French.


You may have heard about Zach Levenberg and Graham French’s exceptional adventure from San Francisco to South America on a couple of Puchs nearly a decade ago. I still remember the rumors about their plans around our old neighborhood in the Mission, when San Francisco was still chock full of ballsy adventure-seekers and not bland tech-bros. I doubted them because to me those bikes I knew nothing about yet couldn’t make it through the city reliably, let alone to another country. They proved with the right tools and knowledge you can get just about anywhere, and you can do it off the free ways, community-to-community, they way someone who wants to taste every town along the road has to.

Nowadays there is a much larger community and many more people in that community who can fix a seized engine (or swap a new one entirely) with relative ease. With older members comes the knowledge and disposable income to modify and fabricate parts, try new things. Enter the Pinball Run, an event where riders and teams could test their mettle on a cross-country run. A few things: unofficially it’s a race, there are rules, strategies, finish lines and awards, it’s a competition. Officially and legally, it’s a nice group ride. Like the Canon Ball, Burt Reynolds would have to do some questionably legal shit to hit the finish line. So if anyone asks, it’s just a ride.

Ashlee is definitely not riding illegally over the Coronado bridge on her team’s monster racing franken-bike.


Teams start lining up around February for the mid-July start. The community is small so friends within gangs, people who talk often on the forum, first-timers who got wind of the last one, people looking to go it alone begin to line up their bikes and strategize. Registration is paid, the route is announced (2015 official route is announced as Gold Rush: Seattle to San Diego.)

Matt adding the final touches to his race bike.

The prep time grows short, some drop out, and one-by-one teams begin to converge on Seattle. A local moped shop has opened its doors to the final prep day, race meeting, and evening party. Bikes are assembled, support teams show up with chase vehicles (you’re gonna want to check out the last-minute 90's stretch limo chase car, apparently cheaper to purchase than renting an RV) and riders to their final hail Mary.


I’ll be posting 2 albums daily for each day of the race along with stories and extras, check back daily and enjoy.

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