I think everyone who rides was as disgusted as the rest of the country at what happened in NYC. And while it was a swarm of an unorganized group of sport bikers who did it, I fear that the average person sees all motorcyclists as being much the same. Yes, we do tend to revel in our “outlaw” perception. We riders have a sense of reverence for the freedom we experience, and a who gives a crap about how we look attitude while out on two wheels, which causes some degree of envy from those who can’t experience it. And we do tend to be an intimidating lot for a lot of folks – a reputation that is not always deserved, but that is exacerbated by the actions of a few like this swarm in New York. The image of bikers as “scary” is as strong as ever with shows like Sons of Anarchy. But what’s even scarier is the fact that political and media leaders see that and assume we are all like them and are already reacting in a predictable way to the incident in New York.
Two days after the swarming, NBC news ran a story about a “dangerous new breed of biker gang” who according to them, “seek Internet glory and revel in taunting police.” And doing a quick search on You Tube brings a list of posted videos taken by helmet cams showing some of these sport biker stunts. And yes, I’ll point fingers squarely at this group of bikers. I’ve seen some pretty dumb motorcyclists of all stripes, but I never have seen non sport bike riders who ride like these packs do, or who race down the freeway doing a wheelie, or who behave like a swarm of wasps. We’ve had incidents even here in Washington a year or so ago where a small pack of sport bikers taunted a police officer who was run off the road while chasing them.
I’m not entirely sure why this is so – but get this rather outrageous explanation of why, according to the NBC story that quoted an un-named “law enforcement official”. He said that sport bike riders tend to “skew younger, and are loosely affiliated and racially diverse.” This is in contrast to “true bike gangs in the old-school sense of the word.” Those groups apparently are “not rooted in neighborhood, involved in dealing drugs or engaging in long-running feuds with other gangs.” Boy that sure sounds like my HOG Chapter! What? Really? Talk about painting folks with a broad brush.
My own theory is that it’s because sport bikes are designed to run fast, built to do “tricks”, and are cheaper so thus appeal to a different crowd than those who ride other types of bikes. As a long-time skier, I look at it kinda like the difference between traditional skiers and snowboarders but that’s another story.
But the end result of incidents like what happened in NYC and the resulting outrageous news coverage, is that policy makers over react and attempt to legislate by crisis. Already I’m hearing elected policy makers talk about banning “packs” and “groups” of riders, which will do wonders for the great charity rides and biker events we all love. Now the likelihood of such laws being enacted I think is rather small, but the fact that some policy makers are thinking on these lines should scare all of us.
What do we do about it? I’m afraid there’s not much we can do. I still believe that the majority of policy makers realize the most bikers aren’t like the swarm in NYC, and as long as the majority of us lead by example we’ll be fine. But the pressure for policy makers to “do something” about these sport biker packs will be strong, and I fear that we’ll face some efforts to do so. That makes it an even more unfortunate tragedy all around.
On another note, this is my forty-ninth “Road Signs” column. Four years ago this month, Mike Dalgaard, the publisher of Quick Throttle gave me the reigns of this page to write pretty much anything I wanted to dealing with motorcycle issues – from politics to why we ride to what it is we love about riding. Every month I’ve cranked out around 900 words in an effort to inform, entertain, raise a few questions, and hopefully make you think. I’ve loved getting to know many of you, and have engaged in some spirituous debates with a few of you. Over the course of those months I’ve made a few friends, and a few enemies. I’ve met some wonderful folks and gotten a lot of email – both nice and not so nice. It’s been a lot of fun, and a unique privilege for which I thank you. I’m looking forward to many more months of writing, as well as riding miles of road ahead. Thanks for reading.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com