By SUSANNAH BRYAN-SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
FORT LAUDERDALE — They’re speed demons on mufferless motorcycles doing the kind of things that would take their mama’s breath away: popping wheelies, weaving in and out of traffic, whizzing through red lights. And you can always hear them coming, especially when they travel in packs.
But those hard-to-catch riders rocking the roads in Fort Lauderdale may have a reckoning awaiting. After years of complaints, city officials are now asking for a police crackdown.
“There seems to be a culture that thinks the roads in our city are playgrounds for motorcycles,” said Mayor Dean Trantalis, who hears the roar of race bikes streaming by his house all the time. Fort Lauderdale “has become a place where motorcyclists continue to think it’s a joy ride. It’s scary; it’s very scary. We really need to do something about it. It’s getting out of hand.”
Interim Police Chief Karen Dietrich promised to send out the troops but warned that it’s hard to catch the wily riders.
“The problem is they’re coming from Miami and from all over the county,” Dietrich said. “They’ll form up in certain spots and we have to try to figure out where they’re going to be. But we never know where they’re going to go.”
Beach resident Chad McCoury says he’s seen up to 100 sport bikes roaring down the road like it’s an open raceway.
“I have two cats,” he said. “They run in [from the balcony] scared and won’t come out the rest of the night. It’s worse than fireworks. It’s so piercing to the ear.”
Gary George, who moved down from Boston six years ago, lives on the 11th floor and can still hear them with the windows closed. But he’s more worried about the maniac moves the riders make.
“They’re riding up on sidewalks, weaving through traffic, popping wheelies, cutting in front of cars, running red lights,” he said. “There’s people walking the streets and they have to step out of the way or they’re going to get hit.”
In October and November, Fort Lauderdale police set up three separate operations trying to catch the road warriors.
“The first time we put some guys on it they formed up in Lauderhill and never came into Fort Lauderdale,” Dietrich said. “It was like a wasted night for us. They went to other cities. The second time they did come into Fort Lauderdale and we ended up writing over 50 tickets. The third time, as they started to come toward the beach, they saw our motorcycle officers. They made a U-turn and boogied and got out of the city.
They travel in wheelie-popping packs of up to 200 bikers, some with GoPro video cameras strapped to their helmets to record the joy ride. They tend to head to popular spots like Las Olas Boulevard, State Road A1A and the Sunrise Boulevard bridge that takes them to the beach. They usually show up on weekends but sometimes come roaring in on weeknights too.
One Sunday afternoon in November, a pack of at least 150 wheelie-popping bikers — joined by a few four-wheelers and ATVs — took over A1A, blowing through a red light.
A YouTube video captured the spectacle, along with the stunned reaction of a woman off camera exclaiming “Oh my God!” as one rider popped a wheelie. In the video, an elderly couple waiting to cross the street stands transfixed as dozens of riders run the red light.
But no cop was there to see it. And even if there was, these guys are not easy to catch.
“They’re on the bikes, and they can run,” Dietrich said. “And the last thing we want to do is be chasing motorcycles down the beach.”
A police spokeswoman said some riders have been injured and even killed, but she did not have statistics on how many. Some also have been arrested on charges of eluding the police and breaking the rules of the road.
The mayor says he’s seen them racing their bikes at breakneck speeds across the Sunrise Boulevard bridge, just for fun.
“It’s a big thrill coming down the bridge and whizzing past cars,” he said. “But it’s a nightmare for those who are walking and those [drivers] on the road.”
Vice Mayor Steve Glassman pushed for a stronger police presence during a recent public meeting.
Join the Throttle Club right here on YouTube to get access to perks:
Glassman says he’s gotten complaints about everything from Harleys to dirt bikes and so-called crotch rockets, the street name for high-speed sport bikes that zoom along at more than 100 mph.
Commissioner Ben Sorensen lives in the Rio Vista neighborhood, just three houses east of Federal Highway south of Broward Boulevard, and he hears them roaring along in his next of the woods, too.
“It’s mostly at night,” he said. “It’s increased in frequency in the past couple years. It’s probably a daily occurrence.”
Bill Brown, president of the Central Beach Alliance, says the motorcycle problem is the group’s top complaint to City Hall.
“They remove their mufflers so they’re really loud,” he said. “You can still hear it high up in the condos. Our residents should be entitled to a peaceful life.
Bruce Sonnenblick, a Harley-riding police officer from Boca Raton, says not every motorcycle is the same and neither is every rider.
“Most of those guys, when they see the blue lights, they take off,” he said of the sport bike riders. “You don’t see Harley-Davidson people doing that. Now we do make some noise. But when you see a pack of Harley riders, we’re not weaving in and out of traffic or popping wheelies or speeding.”
Beach resident Paula Yukna says she’d like to see the cops keep watch for the bikers every weekend — even though the department has only 14 motorcycle cops responsible for patrolling the entire city.
“Have those motorcycle cops up and down A1A for as long as it takes,” Yukna said. “We need more police here. Nobody is stopping them. They come out of nowhere. They’re all an accident waiting to happen.”
Yukna had one more idea unlikely to get the nod of approval at City Hall.
“They banned scooters [at the beach],” she said. “Ban motorcycles.”
There’s an easier way to get their attention, city officials say: Fine the heck out of them.
Popping a wheelie alone can lead to a $1,000 fine. Repeat the crime and it goes up to $2,500.
“Maybe that’s how people get the message. If it’s going to cost them money,” they’ll stop coming,” Glassman said. “That police presence has to be more prevalent so people get the message that we’re watching.”