Words and photos by Peter Domorak

What defines the best motorcycle for you? The power? The size? The design or the brand name?

I’m a photographer and we have a saying – the best camera is the one you have with you. Size or brand name – it doesn’t matter. What you can use at the moment when you need it matters. During the pandemic, motorcycles became more popular than ever. This story is about one shop that opened right before the pandemic hit New York the hardest, survived the shutdowns, and is actually doing very well. selling and repairing the smallest motos that you can pick up almost as a bicycle, and make them ready for immediate fun. And it comes with that vintage flair (model depending). I participated in a moped group ride organized by a Brooklyn moped shop – NYC MOPEDS.  The ride was so enjoyable, fun and crazy that I wanted to find out more about these guys. This is the story of how I invited myself into NYC MOPEDS to hear all about John-Paul Trang aka JP (the owner), and his shop.

The exterior of NYC Mopeds: it’s rather obvious what’s going on inside! [Peter Domorak]
NYC MOPEDS lurks under the J train rail that runs above Broadway, and is squeezed between townhouses. You can spot it from afar by the many mopeds parked along the sidewalk: the store window are also filled with the machines, luring the possible buyer.  JP sat at the front desk, greeting me with a smile, “It’s a good day for a tour, we’re not that busy today”. I immediately felt his nice approach, I’m sure they are busy. I see his guys in the back working hard, wrenching on bikes. While JP was finishing up few things at the computer, I snapped my first photos and took in what was around me. The place screams ‘legit’ to me. They’re not just fixing up bikes in a garage or on a sidewalk – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but it’s a legit shop with employees (and helpers), a front desk area, a workshop with lifts, and a backyard full of parts. JP, my hat’s off to you.

Brooklyn Moped History

I ensured my welcome by bringing few iced coffees on the hot day of my visit. The team did appreciate that. While sipping our cold brews, JP shared the local scooter history with me. He described the scene as pretty much dead before 2000. After that year, little wheels gained popularity in the ‘hood. Not that mopeds and scooters didn’t exist before then, but around that time their popularity was revived. A website forum was created to connect existing and the new moped fans and the growing community, and is still alive today, called “Moped Army”. Around 2009 a group of 3 guys from a moped gang called ‘The Orphans’ opened a first shop – you could have guessed it – “The Orphanage”. They took moped fandom to the next level, from helping each other with tips and tricks on the internet forum, to the creation of a brick-and-mortar store, where you could get the help you needed.

Around that same time, in 2010 another group of moped owners / riders / moped gang members created a group called “Mission 23”.  A member of the group, Peter Daddeo and his friend Arri opened a store called The 2nd Stroke Mopeds, also in Brooklyn. That shop was around for about 10 years, and is still active, but has relocated to Florida.

JP and NYC Moped

John-Paul (JP) Trang at work in his shop. [Peter Domorak]

This is where JP’s story begins. He started to work at the 2nd Stroke Mopeds as an intern. Going to the shop, learning to be a mechanic, helping in the shop and with the bikes, whatever was needed. That was his life on and off for 7-8 years, spending his free time there. I had to ask – what made him offer his free time, the most precious commodity in NYC, to a bike shop?  “I used to be really into fixies: fixed-gear bicycles. I built a fixed gear bike that I really liked, all custom parts – and it got stolen after a month.”  Have you heard that story in Brooklyn, anyone?  Sadly it’s a dark side of the hood, when parking outside or carelessly, meaning without a chain tied around a lamp pole at least. Even that is not 100%.

Some of the crew at NYC MOPEDS: Morgan, Calivn, Matt, and Dave. [Peter Domorak]
“After getting some insurance money from it, I started to look for a motorcycle but couldn’t afford one. But I found a moped for a good price,” He laughs. “It kept breaking all the time. It started with little problems, then big problems came after… I took it to the only shop around, The 2nd Stroke Moped Shop” but I couldn’t really afford all the repairs all the time.” Eventually he just showed up enough, and bugged them enough, so they would let him hang around and soak in the wrenching knowledge. “I asked them if they could teach me tricks, in exchange for sweeping, cleaning the shop.” Just like that, he blended in and became a regular mechanic.

With the crew working hard at NYC MOPEDS. [Peter Domorak]
In 2019 the shop’s owner Pete moved to Maspeth and started to import TOMOS mopeds exclusively. Soon after he decided to move the business to Florida. That moment is when JP’s life path put him in the right place at the right time, if he decided to accept the challenge. When Pete was leaving for Florida, he offered JP the opportunity to take over the business. The offer came at the right time. “Were you ever thinking that this will be your life path? That it ends like this, owning an actual business?” He said he never thought of it  back then. He had freelance jobs in fashion industry, fashion design, graphic design. But he wasn’t enjoying it much, as he was always in between jobs or looking for new opportunities. With this offer on the table, he dove in.  He got a good deal to buy out the inventory and started to operate immediately, for the first few months from a temporary location, out of a shared garage.  Then he found the current location, signed a lease and opened in July 2020. Talk about a timing! This is where I applaud JP.

That tiny crankshaft and piston! No wonder riders want a big bore kit. [Peter Domorak]
Imagine starting a business, signing a lease in January of 2020. Covid was already brewing in the news but not in the States yet. Who could have imagined what would happen to the whole world in just couple of months. To commit fully to a new future, then the world throws such a bad dice as we have never seen before. JP didn’t bow down. He claims ‘he was thriving’. People didn’t want to take the subway and were looking for alternatives in transportation. It was good time to fix the moped you had or get your hands on a good deal. JP was dealt another lucky card soon after he opened: he received an offer to purchase 40+ mopeds from Ohio. The owner was moving and his wife made him sell his collection. A moment of silence for that gentlemen, please, we all can imagine how executing such an order must have felt. But this was a win for JP.

A fantastic Puch Magnum X, the apex moped of the young 1970s MX fan. [Peter Domorak]
He rented a 28 foot Uhaul, drove to Ohio and brought the gentleman’s treasured collection back. The guys started to fixing them up over the winter and Spring 2021. He proudly finishes the story with a big smile, “We sold them all in a month”.  Adding “being the only scooter shop in the area, pretty much all the traffic to buy a moped was coming to us’.” Bravo, JP, bravo, good for you. JP decided to live his dream by grabbing the destiny by its handlebars and steering it into success. Put everything on the line and do it. JP’s story reminded me of someone. I had a chance to photograph another amazing place – NYC NORTON – where I met the owner and one of the finest Norton people out there, Kenny Cummings. What a man cave, what machines, what a success story. Kenny’s story, with my photos are on The Vintagent, see them here.

One of the group rides that attracted Peter Domorak to NYC MOPEDS. [Peter Domorak]
Here I felt the same respect for the person in front of me. Very different in the scale of the shops these men worked in and the engine sizes they worked on. But the same passion, same community involvement and support. I respect and admire these men very much for living the dream and showing the rest of us that it’s possible.

The Shop Tour

The front counter of NYC MOPEDS: ripe with opportunity, like the best of old bike shops. [Peter Domorak]

“Let’s start the tour then.” Yessir. Let’s see the man’s kingdom, where he makes his living, where he makes his name. Iron Maiden from the speakers set the mood in the shop – let’s do this. JP showed me his bench. The first one, right behind the cash register behind the wall, so he can be quick to the phone when needed. First thing that got my attention was a tiny crankshaft on the table. Looking at this, I thought it was a scale model, like what you would buy for a mechanic as a gift, to put on a table in the office. But this thing was real. So was the tiny piston attached.

The heart of the matter: the parts supply and vapor blasting cabinet. [Peter Domorak]
JP was making an upgrade on one of the mopeds; holding a larger-sized piston for the daredevils who look down on the mighty 50cc and need more. He showed me a 72cc kit; “With the right pipe and carb etc, it will go from 1hp to like 5 or 6hp.” Below $200 for the parts, I’m floored. So much fun for such a little money! As we walked next to the lifts with their mopeds, I felt the obligation to snap few photos of the team. We continued further to the back, where more parts are stored, plus a vapor blasting booth, with a cleaned-up Honda CB350 engine case for me to see. That thing looks like new. If you need something like this done – now you know where to go.

The tented outbuildings for bike storage. [Peter Domorak]
I turned around thinking this is it and started to move back to the front of the shop when JP stopped me, “there is more’.” Yes, please , lead the way! We walked outside to the back of the building, where I see three ‘tent garages’ full of mopeds. Some waiting for repairs, some ready to be sold. With the great light there, I needed to shoot some more.  This was it, front to back, NYC MOPEDS. I was really impressed. It is truly a little moped empire. We walked to the front, I was ready to leave JP to his daily business and taking another opportunity for photos of him holding a moped in the air.  A few people walk into the store. “Do you work on scooters?” “No, we just work on mopeds.” To make money is good, but to be focused has its value.  Another gentleman rolls in on a bicycle, interested in buying something. A few days later I saw on the NYC MOPED Instagram feed the very same gentleman smiling next to his new moped in front of the shop. He got his wheels. Ka-ching!

Examples of the variety of mopeds from around the world that make it into the shop. [Peter Domorak]
This was a great visit in a great shop with great people. It’s satisfying to see people still thriving, small business not disappearing but actually opening in the hardest of times. And it’s always a good example to see that hard work and taking risking brings reward. Now you know where to get a vintage (or new) moped and a good service when needed. It’s a place with a big community of people who love these small machines Where you feel welcome. Plus – if you are looking for big fun – join one of their group rides. You will never forget the sound of 20-30 moped engines screaming around you and swarming around traffic.  Visit their website for updates.


Peter Domorak is photographer and an ambassador for Royal Enfield. Check his photo portfolio here, and his blog here.


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