“Usually 20-35 years old, loud and slow, very unreliable.”
Matt Chevlen and Carrie Schreck interview Chris Hernandez of the Los Angeles Woolly Bullies
Photos by Carrie Schreck
Chris is propped on a pillow in his dark bedroom. He’s settling into a Norco and gingerly holding a Modelo. His finger is wrapped in gauze and he’s nursing it gently. “The rest of my finger is up there somewhere. Do you want to see it?” He indicates the bookshelf with the large screen TV above us, the only source of light. “No, I’m good.”
As tough as he looks, Chris is a big softy. The painkillers are in abundance since his girlfriend’s moped accident four months previous. Struck by an absent minded driver, moped totaled and her humerus fractured, Hilary had been recuperating at Chris’s since, leaving a helpful stash of muscle relaxers for future, inevitable scrapes.
Chris is woozy and his eyes roll. His arms and face are covered in tattoos and scars, most notably a large rip down his right cheek that meets the top of his lip. He was one of the first moped riders I’d met when I moved to Los Angeles. Our mechanic had made the introduction: “This man is the original Bully.”
A moped is a small bike with pedals, usually 20-35 years old, loud and slow, very unreliable. But it’s also elegant, simple. A connoisseur would point out the engineering marvels each model was designed with, and he’d do it with love. The bikes and their riders are a total contradiction: they’re serious and they aren’t. A moped rider would be the first to laugh at his little, slow bike. But he’d also defend its appeal. He might say the idea of a gang is absolutely, 100 percent an ironic joke, but he’d help and protect his gang member like family. He wants to tell you about it, but he also doesn’t want you to know about it. It’s completely immature and absurd, but it’s also something to love dearly.
In spite of the injuries, Chris and I are actually sitting down this evening to discuss the joys of riding tiny little bikes. Specifically, large events where multiple moped riders gather and are hosted by one city’s moped gang. There are long rides, parties, raffles, even awards (“First Blown Piston!”). It’s serious, and it’s not. But it is.
What is a Moped Rally?
Arguing, alcohol consumption… [laughs] no. It’s a good time. People come from out of town, out of state. When it’s all said and done it’s about riding. It’s about planning a good ride, showing people a good time, giving them an experience, showing them your town, your roads.
What was your favorite rally to date?
That’s hard. Sacramento, the Landsquids‘, was my first. I’d never seen that many mopeds in one place. For a year after I got my Maxi, I hadn’t seen any other bikes at all. Going to a rally and seeing so many blew my mind. Seeing the possibilities of what you can do, people get really creative with their builds. The first [San Francisco] Creatures’ rally, ‘Gender Bender’, was my favorite. I had been in the Bay Area a lot, but suddenly I was there charging the streets in this…in this pack.
It’s fun. That’s all there is to it. Really. People will look at me on my bike and kinda snicker. “Oh what? You’ve got a Camry? Well, I’ve got a cute girl on my bike, so eat a dick.”
Let’s go back at bit. how did you fall into this?
I was at a family function and talking about getting a motorcycle. Someone said, “Hey, I’ve got a little moped you could have.” So we go over to this dude’s shop and he gives us this moped, this hilarious little bike. We take it home, throw some gas and oil in it, ride up and down the block. It was a ‘78 Puch Maxi, a two speed.
So how did you get started riding in groups?
Some dudes told me to check out this place, Choke. I said, “Oh, they have mopeds like mine there? I mean mopeds, not scooters?” I came to Choke and it was like, “You people ride these stupid things? That’s funny ‘cause I ride mine, too!” After Choke I found out about Moped Army. I thought it was cool that people had their little clubs and ride together. Certain things in life… sometimes you just have a good ride and have a big old smile on your face and people just can’t comprehend it. If you have fun on your own, doing what you’re doing, it’s only going to be multiplied when you meet like-minded people.
Tell me about your gang, the Woolly Bullies.
Well, the first Bullies were friends since high school. We were wrenching on our BMX bikes, so a few of us got mopeds. The rest of the group got together mostly through the internet, finding people who wanted to ride, and that’s it. We just sort of became a group.
LA has an official Moped Army gang, The Latebirds, and they’re all cool dudes, but I just wanted to do my own thing. What makes a Bully? I think you reach a level of friendship where you become like family, where sometimes you can loathe each other, but no matter what they’re still your family. We have differences. I slapped someone once. Sometimes dudes lose their cool. You reach this level of friendship, and you ride, and you’re a Bully.
Some clubs are pretty homogenous. We are very, very different people. If it weren’t for mopeds, I wouldn’t have met some of these people and had these great friendships. In the normal world, these people would not hang out with each other.
What makes it fun?
When we got our first bikes, Mike and I would cruise around. We would draft each other to see who could go the fastest [laughs], but we were still super slow. We’d race down to Venice late at night. It was a weird mix of our 12-year-old brains in fantasy-motorcycle mode and the reality that we’re just two dudes barreling down the street on these…contraptions. I mean, those were some of the best moments.
Do you have a best night?
One of the last rides we did with Oscar. We all rode to South Central to go see Leftover Crack. I just remember insane amounts of fun. There are certain feelings you just get when you’re riding. That perfect feeling could last for three seconds. It’s a hard thing to define.
And a worst?
Yeah, riding my moped to go see where Oscar had just been hit. As someone on two wheels, you try not to make a bad decision. But other drivers… You don’t, say, run a red light on your bike, because that would be dumb. When I was hit, a guy ran a red. The car pulled in front of me. I blacked out for an instant. I pulled my face out of the window. Fell back. My tibia was shattered.
So despite the dangers, you can still enjoy riding. When is the next big Rally?
Well, Learn 2 Love Again is in the spring. That’s the Portland Gaskettes and Uphill Battle. This summer is the Tomahawk Cup.
Is that a race?
Yeah, a big gathering at Grange Motor Circuit in Apple Valley. Same vibe though. It’s the community. People come from out of town, out of state.
You know the first time we went to a rally this girl gave us a key to her place, a couch to sleep on. I mean, she didn’t know me. This rider from SF, Paul, he made us breakfast every morning. Through these little fucking bikes I’ve met some of the greatest people. They’ve shown me hospitality. I just want to share that, keep it going.
And just for the record, what is “Moped Time”?
[Laughs] Moped Time is about two hours behind schedule. Yes, it’s most likely due to the irresponsibility of the participants. You know, you gotta start your bike and it won’t start. Then you work on it. Tthen you got grease on your clothes and what if you want to hug someone? So you change. And maybe you forgot to eat dinner. You gotta pick someone up from the airport. Next thing you know you haven’t left for your ride yet.