New York City’s Crackdown on Dirt Bikes Divides Public Opinion

The rattling and popping of engines could be heard before the four shiny red and blue dirt bikes came into view, flashing down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem on Saturday.

Four young men in T-shirts, shorts and sweatpants guided the big-wheeled motorcycles past onlookers then rode through a red light at the intersection at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Some of the men were so skilled that they could steer and stand at the same time.

Despite their skill, the young men were courting trouble: It is illegal to ride off-road bikes — including dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and four-wheelers — on the streets of New York City.

The New York Police Department recently announced a crackdown on off-road bikes, but for some, the appeal of riding a dirt bike through city streets hasn’t diminished.

“It was the vibrations, the joyness,” Andre Criner, 58, said, recalling his own time on a dirt bike as a teenager. “Just flying down the road.”

Mr. Criner, who was shopping in a bodega near a popular dirt-biking street on Monday, said the bikes should not be illegal on city streets. He recalled the thrill of zipping down a street on his red and white Honda 125 at 70 miles per hour.

Playing basketball didn’t give Mr. Criner the same adrenaline rush as riding a dirt bike. He said that when he was 14 years old, he taught himself how to ride after he saw some of the older boys in his neighborhood riding. It was something he could do on his own.

He lamented the afternoon of May 17, when officers publicly crushed some of the 700 off-road bikes the Police Department has confiscated.

The police have said the bikes are a nuisance and a danger to residents in the area, and the confiscations are intended to prevent serious accidents. At a news conference in April, police announced dozens of arrests for reckless driving on the streets and sidewalks, driving the wrong way on one-way streets and other traffic violations.

The arrests were meant to boost public awareness, William J. Bratton, the city police commissioner, said. He called dirt bike riders “knuckleheads” at the news conference.

“It’s all about them showing off in the pack mentality,” Mr. Bratton said.

On May 26 in Staten Island, police chased three dirt bike riders who were riding their bikes down South Avenue in Mariners Harbor. The chase ended when one biker crashed into a pickup truck; he was taken to a hospital with critical injuries.

These are the accidents the Police Department says it wants to prevent. But they are not the only concern for the community.

There is also the noise.

It is a nightly issue for Mohammed Bashar, 45, the owner of the Maharaja Palace restaurant, who said he hears the dirt bikes zooming down the streets.

The sounds of engines echo down the block, sometimes starting as early as 5 p.m. On one recent evening, 15 young men popped wheelies as they rushed their dirt bikes down Lenox Avenue.

“There’s been a lot of them,” said Mr. Bashar, who has owned the restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard for three years. He said that when he sees the dirt bikers, he calls the police to let them know they are back at it again.

But since the Police Department’s bike crushing, Mr. Bashar said, he has seen fewer dirt bike riders.

The Police Department is “working to clean up the streets,” Mr. Bashar said.

Majed Alsaedi, 30, the owner of Alzyadi Deli and Grocery on the corner of West 129th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, said what the bikers do shouldn’t be a concern for business owners. The dirt bikers, he said, do not disrupt his business.

“It’s a concern for the people who live here and are trying to sleep at night,” said Mr. Alsaedi, who said he has been in business for 10 years. “They go by so fast, the noise doesn’t stick around for long.”

Mr. Criner agreed. The community should be more accepting of the dirt bikers’ hobby, he said.

“We live in the city,” Mr. Criner, the former rider, said. “We don’t hurt nobody.”