Moped Culture for the LA Times

I wrote this for the LA Times.

It's sunset on a Tuesday and members of L.A.'s biggest moped gang, the Latebirds, have gathered at Choke, a Silver Lake shop, for their weekly ride. They lean against their motorized steeds -- Tomos, Puchs, Motobecanes and Peugeots -- on the sidewalk, brooding, smoking and shooting the breeze, looking cooler than Bob Dylan and his Triumph Bonneville. They are artists, would-be novelists, bike messengers, stylists, a mortician and the intermittently employed; twenty- and thirtysomethings for whom riding and restoring vintage 1970s mopeds has become a lifestyle. Some call them "dirt wizards," but their casual-yet-carefully wrought aesthetic -- raw skinny denim, Vans and mucho plaid -- betrays undeniable hipster leanings.

They're joined by members of other, more recently formed gangs, the LA Tigers, the Woolly Bullies and the HalfWits. Cruising through the hills and canyons of Los Angeles County, 15 to 50 of them at a time, they fall just short of magnificent, thanks to the tinny, high-pitched "waaaa" of their 50cc engines -- a migraine-inducing whine that's less "Easy Rider" than it is "angry chain saw."

"You can't take someone on a moped that seriously," says Steve Acevedo, a member of the LA Tigers. "And we don't take ourselves that seriously. That's the whole point -- it's all about having fun."