With Chicago lacking a dedicated moped shop, these amateur mechanics tool around in their own back-alley and basement workshops. We took a peek inside.
By Jake Malooley. Photographs by Andrew Nawrocki.|
THE RESTORER Cesar Cabrero slides open the garage door of the Logan Square house where he was raised, proudly revealing his carefully arranged stock of two dozen mopeds. Sourced via Craigslist on long drives out of state over the last four years, most are from the ’70s, but they look showroom worthy. The 32-year-old puts around 100 hours of labor into each former rust bucket, from stripping off a frame’s paint with a beloved kitchen knife to rebuilding the engines piece by piece. “You buy these bikes and they’re so ugly,” he says, “but when I’m done they’re like new.” He sells under the name 18K (email@example.com). “I’ll be there after 18,000 miles,” he explains, “ready to make it last another 18,000.”
THE INNOVATORS Tony Cruz, 42, Todd Rau, 39, and Thom Suzumoto, 22, ride mopeds together in a crew called Hot N Ready ( firstname.lastname@example.org). The name comes from their love of Little Caesars’ Hot-N-Ready pizza. The three began doing sleek-looking “custom builds,” welding their own frames, constructing the gas tanks—everything. They work out of Rau’s basement workshop in Bridgeport (pictured) and Cruz’s Pilsen house, but the trio is moving its moped HQ to a former funeral home in Pilsen.“The first floor has two showrooms for dead bodies, and it’s got a six-car garage,” says Suzumoto, who has Rau as a professor at SAIC. “It’s kind of creepy, but it’s perfect for working on mopeds.”
THE REPAIRER Bryan Garcia ( email@example.com) got his first moped after being laid off from his job at an investment company. It was 2007. The housing bubble had burst, and gas prices were soaring. When his ’ped broke down, Garcia started reading online about how to fix it. Soon he was driving as far away as Ohio to buy mopeds, repair them in the garage of his rented Wicker Park coach house and sell them on Craigslist and the Moped Army website. With the closing of Chicago’s lone devoted moped shop, Warbux, the 36-year-old has earned a rep as a go-to for quick fixes and replacement parts. “Mopeds are fairly simple machines,” Garcia says. “The thing is, they’re always breaking down.”