A Spotlight On A Previously Unperceived Community in Kalamazoo
It all started a few months ago when I, someone brand new to Kalamazoo, discovered that there was something called the Moped Army that originated in the area. Curious, I did a quick internet search, found their website and wrote an article about it. Not in a "hey this is news" kind of way but in a "hey I think this is neat and maybe you will too" kind of way. You can read the original article below.
Well, it turns out...I barely scratched the surface. In fact, it turns out that I didn't even know the difference between a scooter and a moped!
I received a handful of messages expressing some discontent with the article. No trolls or people bashing for no reason. These were members of the moped community who all expressed the same type of feeling. That they were not properly represented.
Wanting to learn more about this community within Kalamazoo, I responded to a few of the messages of discontent asking for an interview so that I could better educate myself. Thankfully, one responded.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of talking with Briana Asmus. She's an assistant professor at Aquinas College and a founding member of W.A.R. also known as Women Are Riding. It's one of many groups right here in southwest Michigan.
Never in my life had I heard of groups of people who had a passion for mopeds and moped riding. Even more specifically, vintage, European pedal-style mopeds. Sure, I thought about getting one when I lived in a small beach town. It was mostly a fleeting thought since most of these vehicles reach peak speeds of 35 miles per hour. But, thousands of people loving mopeds? Starting 'gangs' and creating clubs? It sounded too 'badass' for a vintage vehicle that couldn't even travel on the highway.
Again, I was wrong.
Speaking with Briana, she explained to me her journey to starting her own moped club. It began with something I'm sure the majority of us can relate to...a boy. Riding around on the back of her high school boyfriend's moped, she realized she had an interest which steadily grew into her adult life. It was so interesting to hear her describe the experience of trying to find the right moped for her. You'll laugh at my nerdiness, but the first thing that came to mind was Harry Potter. Much like how the wand chooses the wizard, Briana said that the moped often chooses the rider. Or at least, the person helping you find the moped will match you to the right one...but I like to believe in at least a hint of destiny. That feeling of knowing something is perfect for you is powerful no matter the subject matter.
Joining the Kalamazoo Moped Riders about 5 years ago, Briana began learning. She used terms like "wrenching" which means to work on or fix your bike (something that you should know how to do if you plan to join a club), "prospects", and "bakers dozen" which turns out to be a cross country ride that works like a relay. In fact, a lot of the terms they use are similar to what biker gangs would use. So, one of my very first questions was...is there an initiation?
The answer is yes. Briana commented on what other groups might expect, but for W.A.R., which branched out as a sub group of Kalamazoo Moped Riders, you must:
- Know how to work on your bike (or at least have a general understanding and willingness to learn)
- Go to an out of state rally
- Go on rides with the group
- Be invested and participate in the group
Oh yeah...they have rallies. Whether in state, on the other side of the country or even international, hundreds of people flock to these moped rallies. In fact, pandemic not withstanding, yearly rallies are held right here in Kalamazoo attracting the masses. Those people then dine at our local restaurants, shop at our local establishments, and overall boost the economy.
If you've had an interest in mopeds but haven't known where to start, like I said earlier, there are a ton of moped groups right here in Kalamazoo. Both for women and men. That's the beauty of these moped groups, as Briana pointed out to me. They're so diverse. There's a place for everyone. However, the first place to start is getting a moped!
Locally, you should talk to Chad Burke at Quarterkick (see their Facebook page here). According to Briana, Chad has been the moped world since he was a child. I'm sure his knowledge could not possibly be contained in a single article.
Ending our conversation, I asked Briana what she most hoped our conversation would do for the moped community. She replied, "Visibility. For the community to know that we're here and we contribute to both the community and local economy too."
I learned a great deal during my conversation with Briana. While the backlash I received after writing the first article was surprising to me, I completely understand the feeling of being misunderstood or misrepresented. I may not have a passion for mopeds but, strip away the expectations, the ideas surrounding the subject matter and you'll find the same thing. A group of people building their community. Sharing experiences and passions. Laughing and learning together. Finding that place where they belong.
And that, whether you're a Star Wars nerd like me or a badass W.A.R member riding across the country on a vintage European pedal-style moped, is one of the most important things in life.
Much appreciation to Briana Asmus for taking the time to talk with me and for providing the pictures.
By the way, there's a whole rap song devoted to mopeds. That's real. Be advised, I do not think it's safe for work due to language, but check it out below.