University of Wisconsin freshman Max Hoel can easily be seen in a crowd. His short, wiry figure is almost always complimented by one of his snap-back hats, brim up, straight out in front. With his septum piercing and pair of plugs, he is difficult to miss and easy to remember.
Despite his stand-out appearance, he doesn’t emanate the air of an entrepreneur. Yet over the last few months, that is precisely what he’s become.
Hoel has a history of swapping out cars, working on one project, moving to another. Usually, the conversation is littered with affection and the occasional grumble of disdain for certain cars he’s owned. If BMW or Volkswagen were women’s names, the discussion could easily be mistaken for a rumination on ex-wives.
The first was a BMW 325iX. “That was my first car; I was 17 at the time. I started fixing it out of necessity,” Hoel recalls. Soon, however, the story takes a classic turn. “After a while, I was just working on it for the hell of it. I couldn’t stop.”
He’s no stranger to working on other people’s cars, either. Within 30 minutes of talking, the conversation will likely turn to some telling story: the transmission swap on his friend’s Saturn, the headaches it caused, the money he’s still owed. Some people seem to have a one track mind, and Hoel is one of those people.
Like any gearhead, the draw of a motorcycle proved irresistible. In typical fashion, Hoel picked up a used bike that didn’t run as his first project. Even now, he continues to work on it alongside his other projects. This would prove be the first step in motorcycle maintenance that would culminate in the creation of Bropeds.
“I see people riding around on newer mopeds, and it’s just sad,” Hoel observes. “No life to them, no fun.” Like many car enthusiasts reminisce about the feel of driving an older car, Hoel prefers the feel of an older moped to a new one.
Hoel and his friend, Alex Heyworth, hatched a scheme to find vintage mopeds and refurbish them, eventually reselling them. Heyworth, Hoel’s high school friend, is a fellow gearhead. They hope to also accept projects from owners of mopeds who need work done. Hoel reckons, “The market’s here, and there’s no shop dedicated to vintage mopeds in Madison. We just have to get our name out.”
Down the line, they hope to gain the advanced mechanical skills to heavily modify some projects however they like. “A new TIG welder isn’t cheap,” Hoel explains, “but eventually we’ll be branching out from primarily doing restorations to chop jobs and crazy mods.”
While the pair has extensive mechanical knowledge of both bikes and cars, they enjoy working on old mopeds. Their simplicity allows for easy maintenance, repair and modification. In comparison to their newer counterparts, vintage mopeds barely have anything to them.
Yet much like the cars built 30 or more years ago, their construction is sturdy and reliable. With such simple designs, many are still capable of working today and require only normal maintenance. Despite their tiny engines, their weight is also miniscule, giving them surprising pickup and gas efficiency.
And the bikes have some novelty, too. Many people ride motorcycles for a certain “stripped-down” feeling, and the old mopeds are, in a way, “stripped down” as well. Watching someone ride one, or even stand by one, can sometimes be comical. Some are dwarfed by the height of even an average-sized human being. Yet at the same time, they are functioning and functional and can get from point A to B. Granted, that route can’t really have any major highways.
Bropeds is a fairly new business venture. Hoel and Heyworth started the Facebook page this year. Their “shop” is really a barn. The two are also full-time students, Hoel at UW, Heyworth at UW-Milwaukee. The work is done in their spare time.
It certainly isn’t a rags-to-riches story, either. The “business” is currently a record of their personal projects and exploits, rather than catalogue of past jobs. “When this gets going” is a common refrain.
Occasionally, they write a post about a prime Craigslist or eBay find with dreamy words. They often try to find someone else to pay them to pick up and work on it. Sometimes, they even post the work of other shops in the same line of business, in pure admiration.
But the scheme does have promise. Many of Madison’s students can be seen riding on mopeds that have seen multiple owners and little maintenance. While Bropeds is also in the business of customizing old mopeds, they also bring old ones back to life, or modify them to make them more comfortable and usable.
The mopeds are so light that some get upward of 80 miles per gallon, and their age adds to their appeal, instead of taking away from it. While they may not make it past Wisconsin’s borders, the little bikes can get around town just fine. And while taste is a matter of preference, the mopeds definitely have their own style, one that many enjoy. “They’re light, fun, a little out there and worth it,” Hoel explains confidently.
Style aside, there’s also a simple function of cost. Even with tracking down the right moped, and finding the parts online and through swaps, many of the quotes the pair has given are cheaper than a used moped from a newer year.
It’s doubtful that Madison will become a swarm of vintage mopeds. Yet Bropeds might find their own niche. Already, despite putting up the Facebook page only a few months ago, Bropeds is generating some interest. Somewhat like fishermen, Hoel and Heyworth are getting their first few curious bites.
In the meantime, Hoel will likely keep working on his various projects. Whether through Bropeds, odd jobs or his own ventures, Hoel will keep his hands busy, and greasy as well.