Mopeds, a type of light motorcycle or motorized scooter, have become increasingly popular in the Durham area. David Jensen founded his motorcycle business Combustion Cycles Ltd. in 2003 and began selling mopeds in 2004. Business has been healthy and mopeds have grown to constitute a large part of his annual sales, he said.

“Sometimes you would have trouble with the Harley guys,” he half-joked. “They think they’re too tough for a shop that also sells scooters.”

Unlike in Europe, where mopeds and scooters can be essential for squeezing through narrow city streets, mopeds have only started to catch on in the United States. Compared to sales of motorcycles and cars, mopeds still only account for less than 5 percent of vehicle sales annually. National moped sales have increased respectively, as well. In 2003, shops like Combustion Cycles sold 83,000 registered mopeds; only five years later, that number reached 131,000, according to an Aug. 21, 2008 NPR article. And that’s not counting informal sellers.

What might explain the recent increase in moped sales? For one, mopeds are incredibly energy-efficient. “The moped is the ready-made answer to President Carter’s energy program,” proclaimed a 1977 article in the New York Times. My little bike gets more than 100 miles to the gallon, and more powerful bikes can still manage up to 70 miles per gallon.

Durham is a mopeder’s playground. Downtown is concentrated among several blocks, and the wide, store-lined streets are great for a Sunday joyride in the morning sunlight on the way to brunch. Mopeds are well suited for thrifty students in need of transport around relatively quiet urban areas like Durham.

“I get a good mix of moped customers, but lots of them are graduate students, some undergraduate,” Jansen noted.

Undeniably, the moped possesses its own, unique aesthetic: one that is a little daring, more than a little eccentric, and most of all, fun.

“I imagine people who ride them are a little... different, or adventurous,” said junior Will Giles.

It wasn’t until after buying my own moped that I discovered the entire, semi-hidden culture around the contraptions.

Mopeds, because they can be driven by anyone over the age of 16 without a driver’s license, are considered akin to pedal bikes by the N.C. DMV, making them a target of masculine derision. Others have taken a different view. Drawing on a wealth of popular culture that romanticizes the motorcycle journey, and parodying the toughness projected by motorcycle gangs such as Hell’s Angels, riders with a sense of humor have started hundreds of “moped gangs.” There are five chapters of the “Moped Army,” a national moped organization (motto: Swarm and Destroy), in North Carolina alone, sporting names like Danger Ranger and White Line Riders.

The gangs are less about intimidation and more about upholding “the moped way of life,” which by my understanding means doing what you would do on a motorcycle, just more slowly and with tongue in cheek. In an interview with SOMA Magazine, moped gang Creatures of the Loin described the moped way of life as “living out existential mad max fantasies on marginalized motor vehicles in the directly lived moment.”

Durham doesn’t have its own moped gang, but a sense of community still pervades the many riders here. We give each other silent nods of acknowledgement when we pass each other on West Main Street. Strangers and I have bonded over moped maintenance, and I have strengthened preexisting friendships by talking about my moped. My moped may not be able to go that fast, but I may as well slow down and enjoy the ride.