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.”
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.
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 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.