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Friday, October 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
For the love of a bike: Lust for mopeds revs their little engines
By Jennifer Lloyd
Streetlights strobe overhead like a hypnotist's trick as the Mosquito Fleet crisscrosses the city on its weekly ride, riders arm-signaling their way through turns on Capitol Hill.
The 40-member posse emits a scrappy underdog quality, that of rebellious youth on undersized vehicles. They smell of cheap beer and smoke from their time spent swilling at Ballard's Tin Hat Bar & Grill. They smell of exhaust.
"The Moped Army slogan, or battle cry, is 'Swarm and Destroy,' " said Brendan Barrans, 20-year-old vice president of the fleet, who wears the Mosquito Fleet's skull-and-crossbones flag tattooed on his left arm. "But, mostly we just do swarming."
"It's an obsession that turns into a hobby, that turns into an obsession," said 25-year-old Greg Dark, one of the founding members of the fleet. "It's bad."
The Mosquito Fleet is the Seattle branch of the Moped Army, its only West Coast extension. Two years ago, with about 12 members, the fleet decided to join the army. Since then, it's grown in size and in a singular focus on the moped lifestyle.
And they support each other, their nonchalance toward the atypical bonding them in camaraderie.
When the fleet's president, Kevin Barrans, 26, was in a motorcycle accident several weeks ago that left lhis knee dislocated, the group helped pay his medical bills.
Kevin Barrans, brother of Brendan, has encountered the risks of two-wheeled transportation before. He's been in two moped accidents, one of them a head-on collision with a car that left his moped flame-charred and his collarbone and femur broken.
"Eventually, you kind of get a small-guy attitude from riding on a moped," said Kevin Barrans from his wheelchair at a recent group meeting. "You get tough."
Perhaps it's the risk and the uniqueness of the lifestyle that lead to the inevitable bond among riders. "If you meet somebody else, it's an instant connection," said Kevin Barrans.
And that's why new members appear each month. But Kevin Barrans estimates that most moped riders in Seattle are already members of the fleet.
But mopeds, which can get about 100 miles per gallon, are difficult to find. Those lusting for a vintage ride will have to search eBay, Craigslist.com or the Moped Army Web site for deals.
"If anything ever happened to my moped, I'd be devastated," Marci Larsen, 25, of her orange 1980 Sachs Prima. "I'm probably the only person in Seattle that has that moped."
Larsen first took up the lifestyle in Kalamazoo, Mich., as part of the original Moped Army band called the Decepticons. Her dyed-red bobbed hair and red-lipsticked smile have graced the Mosquito Fleet since June.
She's fond of the moped's less hurried pace. "You're going slow enough that you can see everything around you," said Larsen. "You can smell the air."
And when they ride, the group is the center of attention. They pass through the streets like swarming fish, drawing winking headlights and honking horns. "There's something about riding a small, little bike with all the big cars," said Brendan Barrans, the Mohawked leader of the ride. "That's one of my favorite things; riding my moped next to a transit bus and touching the bus while it's rolling. It's like swimming with the whales."
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