Cole Behrens-Cincinnati Enquirer
The letter submitted to a Cincinnati City Council committee earlier this year bore an all-caps headline: “MOTORCYCLE MENACE.”
The letter outlined what Carol Gibbs, president and chief executive officer of the Mt. Auburn Community Development Corporation and a community activist, complained is a serious quality-of-life issue for at least 11 neighborhoods across Cincinnati, from Mount Auburn to North Avondale.
The letter described large groups of 30 to 50 or more motorcycle, dirt bike and ATV riders loudly driving through neighborhoods at all times of the day and night, damaging property in the process, frequently running lights, weaving through traffic and riding on the sidewalks.
“The inconsiderate hordes are much more than a source of nuisance or loud noise. The defiant riders are a dangerous threat to public safety and quality of life in this city,” the letter reads. “Ignoring them for fear of a pursuit is not a solution, it emboldens them.”
The letter and the community members behind it were asking for city relief. It was placed on a city committee agenda earlier in the summer but got postponed.
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Some on Facebook are less willing to wait for the council or police to act.
On June 9, a photo of ATV and dirt bike riders doing wheelies through Smale Park downtown, posted on Facebook by Mike Bock, was the source of fierce debate on the issue.
“I watch this every weekend. Sometimes through the park, sometimes on the streets,” Bock wrote. “HOW ABOUT INSTEAD OF STANDING IN FRONT OF A BAR ON FREEDOM WAY WATCHING THE SHOW, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
“I bet there will be all kinds of action taken when one of those people sitting in the grass gets run over. …”
Some in the Greater Cincinnati Politics Facebook group called out Bock’s comments, calling them racist, while others demanded increased police intervention, and even advocated throwing glass bottles at the tires of those riding recklessly.
Cincinnati Police say the activity has been a subject of some vigorous policing for years but that they are limited in what they can safely and reasonably do to stop it.
So far in 2020, the Central Business Section of the department has issued seven parking infractions, three traffic violations and impounded four vehicles, according to provided documents.
‘It will keep happening’
Captain Doug Wiesman of the Cincinnati Police Department said loud and reckless motorcycle behavior has been a problem in the business district for as long he has been captain of the Central Business Section station.
“I’ll work on this six months a year,” Wiesman said. “We’ll make arrests, we’ll write citations, we’ll impound some vehicles, but it will keep happening.”
The letter that Gibbs wrote indicated the community association supported the use of helicopters or drones to track the motorcyclists. It also advocated for the use of stop sticks, devices that are laid in the path of speeding vehicles and, with the use of a row of spikes or quills, deflate tires.
CPD policy and manufacturer regulation prevent the use of stop sticks on motorcycles or dirt bikes because of the risk of serious injury to the rider, Wiesman said. However, he said the department is anxious to curb the disruptive activity and it has been using innovative strategies to do so.
Since Cincinnati has a no-pursuit policy, Wiesman said, his officers have been trying to apprehend the riders while they are gathering, in order to prevent chases.
In 2020, the city issued letters to the addresses of riders who they had identified, urging them to cease their behavior, said Wiesman. The letters warn riders that CPD is using every method – including social media – to identify them and will impound illegal vehicles.
He added that significant action may be coming in the next weeks or months.
Choosing bikes over guns
The bikers in question think of the issue differently than either the corporation or the police.
For Tey Young of Avondale and thousands of others who ride dirt bikes and ATVs in cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Atlanta, what they call Bikelife has become a way to meet new people from other areas and pursue interests beyond street crime.
“It means a lot, you know, it brings a lot of bonds together, it keeps a lot of people off the street and playing with guns and dealing with guns,” Young said.
“A lot of them are putting guns down and wanting bikes for Christmas.”
For Young, who documents his escapades for his vlog, this is a lifestyle rather than a hobby.
Young said it is the police who antagonize the riders for what he says should not be a police priority.
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“They try to chase us,” Young said. “We’re out here trying to have a good time; it’s not like we’re really causing havoc or anything.”
Some cities don’t see it that way. New York City, for example, has cracked down on ATV and dirt bike riders, impounding 20 vehicles in April. In New Haven, Connecticut, the home of Yale University, nine riders were arrested and 12 vehicles seized in May after riders poured into town from throughout the state.
Brandyn Ward, 32, of College Hill, is the CEO of Bikelyfe Xclusive Apparel, a local business that sells merchandise to Bikelife riders and organizes meetups.
Derek Bauman, Over-the-Rhine resident, City Council candidate and a former police officer, has always ridden and advocated for motorcycles. However, he said, the groups that ride late into the night and violate traffic laws shouldn’t be exempt from being responsible, lawful, respectful riders.
Not seeking to ’cause harm’
Both agree that Bikelife is more of a positive than a negative. Ward, who said he only rides in a legal manner, said he uses his Bikelife connections to organize back-to-school drives and also holds a yearly “Ride to End Violence,” where he and other members of the community ride their bikes in opposition to street violence.
This year, Ward, an electrician, organized a ride to thank first responders at hospitals and police and fire stations.
Ward said that even street-legal motorcycle riders get a bad rap for the noise they make, and complaints are common. He said his group never tries to disrupt others, but the number of motorcycles involved in these nightly activities is bound to create noise.
“I don’t think the bikers are really out here to cause harm; we are doing something we like to do,” Ward said.
City Council member Jeff Pastor, member of The Law and Public Safety Committee as well as the chair of the Neighborhood Committee, said he will be bringing the loud biking issue forward in committee meetings.
Pastor said quality of life is important in the city and affects homeowners. But, he added, he won’t be creating new rules for the police to enforce. He said there could be a way to satisfy all stakeholders.
“We don’t want to pass Draconian laws to punish a few, but I am sure there is a sensible solution,” Pastor said.