Members of the newly-formed North Star Neighborhood Association’s public safety committee met with the long-time riders known as Benmore and Superman, who requested that their real names not be used for fear of the police.
Years of complaints about the dirt bike riders to police and elected officials have yielded little change.
“We were trying to figure out ways that we as community members could try to address the issue as opposed to just relying on the 28th precinct to fix it,” said Melissa Chu, a member of the association’s public safety committee who met with the riders.
Residents complain the riders drive on the sidewalk and run red lights while speeding through Harlem performing stunts and tricks such as multi block-long wheelies.
Area police have begun to crackdown on the riders, snatching some off of their bikes and tracking locations where they’re stored, according to the bikers.
In addition to safety issues, residents complain about the loud noise the bikes make when motoring down the street.
“One of the major public safety issues that came up at one of our first meetings was dirt bikes,” said association member Jonathan Kahn.
“We thought making a law and order statement would not get anything done. We are trying to think of everyone as part of this community.”
According to New York State law, dirt bikes are illegal for street use because they lack required safety equipment such as reflectors, turn signals and headlights. Residents of Hunts Point in the Bronx are also experiencing similar issues with packs of dirt bike and ATV riders.
But both Benmore, who works in construction and recently graduated from City College, and Superman, who works in celebrity security, said the riding is an outlet that keeps a lot of young men out of trouble.
‘When we see each other in the street there is no beefing,” said Superman, who is known for his hero-themed blue, red and yellow bike and helmet.
“It’s a way of staying out of trouble. Because of dirt bikes, there’s a lot of people that are not on the corner rolling dice or smoking weed. They are somewhere fixing bikes, learning to become a mechanic.”
Benmore, known from his YouTube videos featuring his Spider-Man-themed bike, said he is proof that the bikers are not just thugs looking to make trouble or make life difficult for their neighbors.
“Riding on the sidewalk is a big issue for us. It’s something we don’t allow,” he said.
It happens nevertheless. Police in the 28th and 32nd precincts said they don’t chase the dirt bike riders because it leads to reckless behavior that only increases the risk to the public.
On April 14, a police car chasing two dirt bike riders smashed into another vehicle. In March, a dirt bike rider hit two girls on Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 115th Street. The girls were taken to the hospital and the dirt bike rider was arrested.
Benmore said police efforts to capture dirt bike riders does make them do things such as not stop for red lights or run up on the sidewalk to escape. Police have also tried to ram his bike with their cruisers and vans, he claims.
“If you try to respect the law and stop at the red light, they grab you,” he said of police. “They have told me we will do anything to get you. They’ve ambushed riders and set up roadblocks.”
Superman said the riders want a place to ride. Areas once available to them such as the old Yankees Stadium parking lot and Randall’s Island are now off-limits, but he said there is a need for the dirt bike riders to make better choices.
“We do want to tone it down to a certain degree,” said Superman.
“Our guys have to know that sidewalks are off-limits and running red lights are off-limits.”
Chu, who has a small child, said listening to the riders gave her a larger perspective on the issue.
“It’s good to hear your perspective, that you are concerned about safety and also to hear your concerns about police. Having a dialogue is a really good start,” said Chu.
Cator Sparks, president of the 122nd Street Block Association, who said the bikes cause a lot of disruption in Harlem, said he was glad to hear the news.
“I’m thrilled they are open to meeting and I hope it brings positive change to the neighborhood,” said Sparks.
The four agreed to work on putting out a joint statement reflecting a commitment to having riders stay off of sidewalks, not run red lights and ride more safely. The two dirt bike riders agreed to attend a North Star Neighborhood Association meeting.
“I have people outside of Harlem, in places like Japan, that wear my t-shirt,” said Superman “We feel the love outside of Harlem but not inside Harlem.”
Kahn said he feels like the meeting was a step in the right direction.
“There’s a multitude of ways we can work together,” said Kahn. “We want this to be about people learning to live together.”