VIDEO: Portland to Key West on mopeds

Cloaked in a cloud of blue smoke, buzzing like a herd of indignant chainsaws, the riders rattled up Brattle Street astride their machines in Portland Friday at the start of the Pinball Run. They’re headed for Key West. They plan to be there in nine days. They’re all riding mopeds.

And they’re serious.

“This is pretty much the most epic moped ride that’s been created,” said run organizer Rob Burrito  of Pennsylvania.  “Basically, we wanted to set up a monstrous adventure.”

Andrew Grasso of Philadelphia straps a few essential to the back of his vintage Puch moped in Portland Friday before the start of the Pinball Run. The run will take more than a dozen moped riders from Portland to Key West. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Andrew Grasso of Philadelphia straps a few essential to the back of his vintage Puch moped in Portland Friday before the start of the Pinball Run.  Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Mopeds were popular in the United States for a short time during the gas shortages of the 1970s. They’re known for sipping fuel, not for speed. None of the nearly two-dozen vintage and highly modified mopeds that left the sidewalk chalk starting line outside the Maine Moped Factory shortly before noon can make highway speed. But they’re not scared.

“We’re averaging 220 miles a day,” said Burrito. “Which is intense on a moped.”

Mopeds have two wheels and a motor, but they’re neither motorcycles nor scooters. Motorcycles have bigger engines and scooters don’t have pedals.

“It’s a motorized pedalcycle,” said Burrito. “That’s where ‘mo-ped’ comes from. It’s got a motor and it’s also got pedals.”

The pedals help the low horsepowered machines take off and can also start the engine.

Most of the mopeds on hand Friday were modified versions of 1970’s vintage Puch Maxis made in Austria. The Maxi is a very common model. It’s easy to work on and it’s not hard to find parts to fit it. A couple intrepid riders were daring the Pinball Run on French-made Peugeots. They’re not known for their reliability, or rather they are known for their unreliability. One Peugeot rider got as far as Saco before his first breakdown.

Zach Richards of Boston does a little last minute wrenching on his moped Friday in Portland before setting out on the Pinball Run, bound for Key West. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Zach Richards of Boston does a little last minute wrenching on his moped Friday in Portland before setting out on the Pinball Run, bound for Key West. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Another runner, Matt Cornell, was on a seriously chopped Free Spirit moped, originally sold by Sears. Cornell’s version had a raked front end, two gas tanks and a fox tail on a whip antenna. Several other mopeds in the yard were festooned with small skulls and fur pelts from roadkill.

Burrito and his co-organizers picked the name Pinball Run as an homage to Erwin “Cannonball” Baker’s famous coast-to-coast run 99-years ago. In 1914, Baker ran from San Diego to New York in 11 days. He broke the previous record by nine days, inspiring many copycat cross-country “Cannonball Runs” and a Burt Reynolds movie. Baker’s seven horsepower Indian motorcycle had pedals, too.

“He started out on a motorized pedalcycle, same thing we got here,” said Burrito.

So, they’re in good company.

Tommy Stone of the Maine Moped Factory and Toni Gross of Burnt Pizza Racing draw numbers for a raffle before the start of the Pinball Run moped rally in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Tommy Stone of the Maine Moped Factory and Toni Gross of Burnt Pizza Racing draw numbers for a raffle before the start of the Pinball Run moped rally in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Tommy Stone of the Maine Moped Factory was happy to provide camping space behind his shop and technical assistance as riders and chase vehicles tricked into to town over the last few days. Moped enthusiasts from as far away as Chicago and the west coast showed up to take part.

“So, we threw a party last night and everybody got drunk and it was a good time,” said Stone.

Stone also organized a raffle before the runners took off. He gave away essentials like McDonalds gift certificates, blue tarps and moped parts.

The run will be hard on the little one-cylinder bikes as they head south into the heat, traffic and miles and miles of blacktop. Most riders carried plenty spare pieces for their machines. Many have chase vans with tools, too.

“It’s the experience of a lifetime. You don’t get a chance to do stuff like this,” said Sarah Lyons as she got her turquoise Puch Maxi ready. “The mental and the physical exhaustion is going to be the worst part, but a lot of fun and worth it.”

At the final meeting before the Pinballers got underway, Burrito was at pains to point out that the run was not a race, even though each stage was being timed.

“It’s not a race it’s a run, definitely,” he said.  “Racing is illegal on public streets.”

So, why bother?

“There’s bragging rights at the end,” he said, grinning. “And plus, we’re all in Key West on mopeds. How great does that sound?”

You can follow the Pinball Run on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pinball.run, on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PinballRun, on their website at http://www.pinball-run.com/ and on a thread on Moped Army at http://www.mopedarmy.com/forums/read.php?1,3424950.

Riders line up on Brattle Street in Portland Friday for the start of the Pinball Run moped rally. Participants, riding vintage machines, aim to make it to Key West in nine days. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Riders line up on Brattle Street in Portland Friday for the start of the Pinball Run moped rally. Participants, riding vintage machines, aim to make it to Key West in nine days. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Shawn Lukitsch maps out his route before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Participants in the rally plan to ride they vintage mopeds all the way to Key West in nine days. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Shawn Lukitsch maps out his route before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Sarah Lyon of York, Penn. gets her vintage Puch moped ready before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. The rally will take more than a dozen vintage moped riders to Key West in nine days. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Sarah Lyon of York, Penn. gets her vintage Puch moped ready before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Zach Richards of Boston listens to last minute instructions before that start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Zach Richards of Boston listens to last minute instructions before that start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Steve Sabat listens to last minute instructions from rally organizer Rob Burrito before the start of the Pinball Run ion Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Steve Sabat listens to last minute instructions from rally organizer Rob Burrito before the start of the Pinball Run ion Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Wesley Kim listens to last minute instructions before setting out on the Pinball Run riding a 1979 Honda Hobbit moped Friday in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Wesley Kim listens to last minute instructions before setting out on the Pinball Run riding a 1979 Honda Hobbit moped Friday in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Matt Cornell of Baltimore listens to last minute instructions before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Matt Cornell of Baltimore listens to last minute instructions before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Matt Cornell of the Black Black racing team gets his chopped, double gas-tanked moped ready to roll before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. The run will take riders to Key West in nine days. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Matt Cornell of the Black Black racing team gets his chopped, double gas-tanked moped ready to roll before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A gas tanky lists the itinerary for the Pinball Run moped rally from Portland to Key West. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A gas tanky lists the itinerary for the Pinball Run moped rally from Portland to Key West. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Riders listen to raffle numbers called before the start of the Pinball Run moped rally Friday in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Riders listen to raffle numbers called before the start of the Pinball Run moped rally Friday in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Steve Sabat works on his Peugeot moped while Pinball Run organizer Rob Burrito (right) shows a Mars (a moped rider with one name) a tracking app on his phone in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Steve Sabat works on his Peugeot moped while Pinball Run organizer Rob Burrito (right) shows a Mars (a moped rider with one name) a tracking app on his phone in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Steve Sabat (left) and Mars put Sabat's Peugeot moped back together before the start of the Pinball Run moped rally ion Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Steve Sabat (left) and Mars put Sabat’s Peugeot moped back together before the start of the Pinball Run moped rally ion Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Natalie Frederick and Travas Machel of Burnt Pizza Racing listen to the raffle numbers being called before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Natalie Frederick and Travas Machel of Burnt Pizza Racing listen to the raffle numbers being called before the start of the Pinball Run in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Tattoos and patches tell a story on a Pinball Run moped rally rider Friday in Portkand. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Tattoos and patches tell a story on a Pinball Run moped rally rider Friday in Portland. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Zach Richards motors down the side of the Route One in Arundel Friday at the start of the Pinball Run. Richards hopes to be in Key West in nine days. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Zach Richards motors down the side of the Route One in Arundel Friday at the start of the Pinball Run. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A skull adorns the front of a Pinball Run moped in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

A skull adorns the front of a Pinball Run moped in Portland Friday. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Self described "babe chaser" Toni Gross will be driving the Burnt Pizza Racing chase van on its way to Key West with the Pinball Run moped rally. Toni GrossTroy R. Bennett | BDN

Self described “babe chaser” Toni Gross will be driving the Burnt Pizza Racing chase van on its way to Key West with the Pinball Run moped rally. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

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Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.