Undocumented Alien

Go ahead and snicker. This column is about a moped, lower on the two-wheeled food chain than anything short of a motorized bicycle, a slow buzzy ride to Nerdsville. I know what you're thinking: "Two columns in and he's hit rock-bottom, with a freaking moped." But ride this particular moped, a Honda PS50, around the pits at Mid-Ohio or Barber, and watch 60-year-old men become children.

Based on what research I could find on the PS50, it appears to be a European-market "sports moped." If there's a pecking order among mopeds, the oxymoronically named sport mopeds are top dogs. Most U.S. riders are used to seeing the step-through mopeds we affectionately called "DUI cycles" when I was growing up in Greenville, S.C. State law at the time exempted bikes with pedals from tags, insurance, or a driver's license. Suzuki FA50s, Puchs, and Honda Gyros swarmed the lower-rent parts of downtown.

But in Europe, mopeds seem to have escaped some of that stigma, and old men grow misty-eyed when they reminisce on the mopeds they had as teenagers. With fuel tanks located in the normal motorcycle position between a rider's knees instead of the standard under-seat moped spot, sport mopeds were miles cooler than step-throughs. A few, from European makers like Garelli and Moto Minarelli, made it to the U.S., but many more were sold in Europe and other overseas markets. How this particular example reached East Tennessee is still a bit of a mystery.

A Seymour couple south of Knoxville bought a used shipping container for storage, and upon delivery discovered a stowaway with a beat-up Venezuelan tag. The container company told them that any contents were included in the sale. Not being part of the Moped Army (mopedarmy.com) they flogged it on Craigslist. Local rider Rich Gardner snapped it up "because it was just so damn cool-looking." Hauling it home behind his Saab, he got waves and thumbs-up in traffic from grown men, and questions everywhere he stopped.

The PS50 is a three-speed, handlebar-shift moped with a 50cc four-stroke pushrod motor with an iron cylinder, an elegant slim tank, and big-boy 19-inch rims. And two great big nerdy pedals, clown shoes on a supermodel. Rich initially believed it to be a 1961 model, based on numbers on the tag and the bill of sale.

Sketchy details on the interwebs indicate that the PS50 was made for two years, 1969 and '70, and never imported into the U.S. or the U.K. I didn't find any evidence of Asian distribution, but I can't read much kanji, and neither can my web browser. Rich's cousin, Steve Hancock, a certifiable Honda freak, is doing some parts research, and so far the few fiddly bits the bike needs are available, often because they fit other, duller, 50cc mopeds like the PC50 Little Honda. (And yes, that's really its name.) Some of the controls and the headlight are broken, but they all appear available from U.S. and European suppliers. Shipping will likely exceed the cost of the parts.

The tag is still a mystery. Steve found an obscure reference to South-American-built Hondas with a matching "D" prefix on their VINs, but the years don't match, and the componentry on this red, white, and silver beauty looks like original Japanese assembly. What route across what parts of the world brought this little 38-year-old disposable transportation device to Knoxville? How did it survive its time in Venezuela in such nice shape? Cue the theme song from "If Walls Could Talk."

And it is a cool-looking bike, no doubt, the perfect perch from which to point and stare at Godzilla and Megalon. Cousin Steve has designs on the little Honda, "If I can get it to run. I know it's slow and nerdy, but it looks so cool in the living room." The tank has a few dings, but the white plastic fenders and most of the chrome are remarkably well-preserved. Even the seat cover appears original, and the Honda logo on the back is in good shape.

At modern-bike racing events, I am often more interested in the vintage pit bikes zipping around the paddock than in the race bikes themselves. A running PS50 would be a rare head-turner at any U.S. event. Cool little bikes have a definite place in the world of big-bike riders, whether at the race track, swap meet, or tooling down to the Tea Room, where I doubt the bigger boys will pull Steve over and beat him up. Much.

Fred Sahms is a curmudgeonly Luddite who has been soiling his fingernails with old motorcycles for 25-plus years. His garage is located somewhere in North Knoxville.