On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams stood in front of a podium and declared, “As we stand in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, we are freeing ourselves of these destructive pieces of machinery that are on our streets. They will be CRUSHED today so that they can never terrorize our city again.”
He was talking about 96 dirt bikes and ATVs, at which point Adams waved a checkered flag and a bulldozer ran them over.
If this clip brings about a feeling of deja vu, it’s for good reason. New York City mayors have repeated this spectacle for more than five years now, replete with the same checkered flag. Adams claimed the police have seized 2,000 dirt bikes and ATVs so far this year, about twice as many as last year under the de Blasio administration. Adams typically distances himself from the de Blasio days, but the crushing ceremony is pure De Blasio, who hosted his own crushings, a stunt that dates back to at least 2016 (in the service of internet carbon-dating this first crushing, it was a big deal that it streamed on Facebook Live shortly after BuzzFeed’s rubber band and watermelon stunt).
Dirt bikes, ATVs, modified cars, and other extra-loud vehicles have been a hot button issue in many cities for years. To the people who ride them, they are a form of recreation, a hobby that in some cases keeps them away from gangs and drugs. To others, they are a nuisance. And to still others like Adams, they are a dangerous scourge the city must rid itself of and yet another example of a “quality of life” issue, rhetoric that recalls the 1980s, a time Adams recalls wistfully as safer and more peaceful than today, a claim so ludicrous even the typically hysterical New York Post threw cold water on it.
If the last six years has been any indication, the seizing and crushing of motor bikes is little more than a pointless publicity stunt. The NYPD has been doing it for years, but the problem persists, similarly to how drug and gun busts have been proven not to make a dent in drug use or violent crime because it is easy to get more.
Adams says he supports finding a place people can ride the vehicles recreationally away from people’s homes and businesses. “I loved riding a dirt bike when I was a child,” Adams said, “so I think it’s crucial we have some of those spaces.”
But, in New York, no such places exist, as countless media interviews with the riders themselves attest. “This is why we rip and run in the streets,” Joseph Middleton, 31, a biker from Harlem, told the New York Times in 2013. “There really is nowhere to ride.”
But there could be. In 2014, Albert Elkerson, a “veteran” dirt bike rider in Harlem, told the Daily News about an idea for a bike park in a more isolated part of the city that would be safe, fun, and fairly isolated. One such location Elkerson proposed was Floyd Bennett Field, an unused set of old airplane runways in south Brooklyn that are empty save for the occasional joyriders, drag racers, and cycling races. But officials didn’t entertain the idea, telling the Daily News it was not an “appropriate activity for a public park.”
"You can't have a whole city full of dirt bikes and say, 'I don't care, I'm just going to make arrests,'” Elkerson told the Daily News almost a decade ago. “That's not a responsible solution…This is an epidemic. This is not going to go away under any circumstances."