Additional reporting by Hiram Alejandro Durán and Ben Fractenberg
The NYPD is on track to confiscate and crush up to 3,000 illegal ATVs and motorbikes by the end of the year — but defiant riders say they’ll just get more wheels to enjoy the pastime they love.
“We’re not playing games,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this month, as the Police Department pulverized dozens of dirt bikes and ATVs with bulldozers on Staten Island.
The off-road, gas-powered vehicles, which lack proper turn signals, brake lights and mirrors, are too dangerous for city streets, according to cops. Riders say they’re part of a growing community just looking for a safe place to zoom around — and that the destruction of their property without due process is unfair and illegal.
On a recent afternoon on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, a dirt bike rider known as “Dollah King” — who wouldn’t give his full name for fear of legal repercussions — charged there is a disparity in enforcement.
“It’s better for us than standing on the street selling [drugs], you know,” said King when asked about regular complaints about dirt bike riding in Brooklyn. “It depends on who’s riding the bike. If they’re Black, [cops] get angry. If they’re white, no one cares.”
The Police Department launched a crackdown in the wake of eight reported deaths so far this year involving the vehicles, whose use has seemingly proliferated since the start of the pandemic. Dirt bikes have also been used in various shootings, officials said.
Earlier this year, the NYPD offered an additional reward to help officers seize more bikes: a $100 bounty for every vehicle.
That stepped-up enforcement has led to far more bikes getting tossed onto the scrap heap.
Last year, the NYPD crushed approximately 500 bikes. So far this year, they’ve doubled that. Cops anticipate destroying approximately 2,500 to 3,000 dirt bikes and ATVs by the end of the year.
Civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby said the confiscation and destruction of property is an abuse of power “done to specifically target a particular population.”
“You might think these could be repurposed and sold or monetized or donated rather than simply destroyed,” he said. “But if the idea is to basically terrorize people on pain of seizure and crushing, I imagine it works pretty well.”
‘A Quality-of-Life Crisis’
Eric Adams, the Democratic candidate in November’s general election for mayor, has spoken out against dirt bikes and ATVs plying city streets, calling for increased enforcement by cops.
“It’s a quality-of-life crisis,” he said during a May news conference in Inwood that was briefly interrupted by riders going the wrong way down a one-way street.
Rampant motorbike and ATV use feed perceptions that New York is in disarray, the Brooklyn borough president said, as he implored the city to “more effectively use speed and red-light cameras to go after these riders.”
He also called on shops that sell the vehicles to do a better job of checking that buyers are licensed to ride.
Mike Aviles, the general manager of Brooklyn Mayd Powersports in Bushwick, said the motorbikes being confiscated by cops aren’t street legal, due to a lack of headlights and turn signals. The ownership title explicitly says “for off-road use only,” he noted.
“To me, in my opinion, they’re all knuckleheads,” he said, citing the dangers of riding without lights and on city streets and sidewalks.
“There are places to ride,” Aviles added. “You just gotta look.”
‘A Place for Us to Ride’
But local riders say they’ll continue to do what they love to do even if their ATVs and dirt bikes, which can cost thousands of dollars if bought new, get confiscated.
Tyson Johnson, who recently drove an ATV with friends around Brooklyn’s Highland Park, said he’s been riding since he was a kid.
After a stressful day, his favorite way to unwind is to “get a little gas off your chest.” He’s forced to ride illegally and into parks because there’s no other place for him, he said.
“If [the city] was smart they’d have a place for us to ride,” said Johnson, 36. “Nobody wants to get chased by the police for riding.”
His friend Jayson Felder, also 36, said motorbike and ATV treks across the city are unifying.
“Everybody rides together,” he said. “It’s just something about this free riding that brings everybody together.”
All of the riders said they hoped for some space of their own.
“You can crush however many bikes you want — we’ll just get more,” Johnson said.