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The Angry Moped Gangs of San Francisco 

What happens when one SF Weekly reporter dares to penetrate the inner circles of post-track-bike hipsters

Wednesday, Nov 7 2007

First the Hells Angels blazed down Bay Area highways on their hogs. In the '80s and '90s, hipsters revived vintage scooters until the yuppies bought in. Then the cool but unkempt crowd turned to track bikes.

Now there's a new cool king on the city's two-wheeled transport scene: the moped.

Yes, the moped. Why? It definitely can't be because it's tough — any motorized bike with pedals ain't tough, sorry. It can't be because it's fast — even mopeds kitted out with more powerful motors can't legally go on the highway. And there's the fact that they need constant maintenance. So what's the attraction? Well, they're cheap, and they get up to 100 miles to the gallon.

The retro-bikes have become so trendy that there are even moped gangs — although they're more adorable than menacing. Compare the Hells Angels logo with that of the Creatures of the Loin, a two-year-old moped gang that got its start in the Tenderloin. The Angels' logo features a sinister skull with wings; the Creatures' logo bears a hairy mascot that is half orangutan, half sloth, and all ironic.

But apparently even ironic hipsters can get angry and territorial. A few weeks back, we heard about a rift among the Creatures that had produced a splinter faction — a rival moped gang. Juicy shit.

On a recent Monday night, we showed up to get the dirt at the Edinburgh Castle Pub on Geary Street as the Creatures gathered before their weekly ride. A cursory glance at the mostly-twentysomething characters by the parked mopeds out front indicated that the Creatures are big on blunt bangs, handlebar mustaches, messenger bags, and fanny packs — with a few dweeby engineering types sprinkled in.

We were looking for Graham French, one of the group's founders. One guy wearing a T-shirt that read simply "Moped" deals us some advice on approaching French: "He doesn't like talking about stuff. Just don't tell him you're a reporter."

The Creatures apparently fear press. Their Web site mentions a "media blackout," and we've heard through the grapevine that a long thread on the Creatures Web forum warns against talking to the SF Weekly (the elusive French had already told us on the phone he didn't want the Creatures in the paper, but we thought we might be able to convince him face-to-face). A sweet-faced blond guy named Graham McBain was wary of speaking to us, saying any media exposure will make the cops pay attention to them. During the previous week's ride, McBain said, several riders were pulled over on the Bay Bridge on the ride to Treasure Island (remember, mopeds can't go on the highway). The rest of the riders and their bikes had to be shuttled back to the city by the vehicle they usually use for getting to rallies. This didn't help the group's hip factor, but it was actually kind of cute.

Members also advised us not to mention the split to French. According to the Moped Army Web site (a national group of aficionados), a faction left the Creatures last year "after a nasty and divisive split between the two branch founders [for] personal reasons" (we've heard rumors it was over a girl) as well as the two groups' "differences of opinion about the identity and purpose of the moped gang."

The other Creatures founder, Benjamin Broad, went on to form a group called the Treats, now 15 members strong: "Every Monday they eat all day and ride and never gain a pound," the group's description reads on the Moped Army site. "Most of the Treats have no job or little to do but moped."

We were hoping to get the scoop from Broad, but his e-mail was evasive. Then McBain called us the day after the ride with more bad news. The Creatures were mad at him for speaking to us, he said apologetically: "We're not super happy about it, and we wouldn't be happy if it came out." Every time a story is published more mopeds get stolen, he says: "We kind of like to ... have our fun, and the more attention we get — I don't know. I don't know." He adds something about disgruntlement over his appearance in an insert in Vice magazine on a moped known as the Romeo Thunderhawk without the Creatures' permission. Huh?

We're still confused two days later when we get another call. "This is Graham," an angry voice snarled. Graham who? He doesn't answer. We surmised that this was definitely not the polite don't-shoot-the-messenger McBain. This was the other Graham. "We don't want anything to do with the article. And I can hear you typing, too," he says with venom. We switched to a notepad to placate him and asked, simply, why?

"It doesn't matter why," he snipes. "We don't want the Creature name in the paper. We don't want to have anything to do with it."

But the media blackout has failed again — in the end, it's hard to be intimidated by guys with a monkey sloth for a mascot.

Who's a cwanky wittle monkey swoth? Who? That's wight, you are. Oh yes you are.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley


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