A Rare Dinner Out, With the Roar of ATVs and Motorbikes On The Side


Photo by Carlos Delgado via wikimedia.

By Carol Tannenhauser

It was only our second time out to dinner in the city in more than a year. We stepped from our apartment building like two time travelers, squinting into the sun, missing only a coating of dust and a long, shaggy beard on my husband’s face to look truly authentic. We said good evening to our doorman and headed to meet two of our closest friends at Fred’s, a restaurant on Amsterdam and West 83rd Street.

It was wonderful to see them in person! We were all vaccinated, though still tentative; the women shared an awkward hug. There was pleasure in each other’s company, pleasure in the lovely, not-too-cold evening, pleasure in being out in the world — in New York City, on the Upper West Side, on Amsterdam Avenue, at a table with good friends, on the sidewalk.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, came a calvalcade of ATVs, motorcycles, and motorized dirt bikes speeding up Amsterdam. The noise was deafening. The table shook. I clutched my husband’s arm with primal fear, as I do when we’re on an airplane encountering turbulence. It felt like chaos, anarchy. They’re not stopping for the lights, was my first thought. There’s going to be a crash.

But there wasn’t — and the procession lasted long enough for me to realize that no object, person or vehicle was going to come flying at us from the street. I was able to see individuals: a woman on a motorcycle, a guy on a three-wheeler leaning back so far he faced the sky; another guy whose eyes met mine. He was watching me back and grinning! They were having a great time! Call me a snowflake, but I was in shock. Oh, New York, every time I get comfortable, you come up with something new!

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman is working on a bill to keep speed cameras on, at least in school zones, 24-7, to identify and apprehend those who race on city streets. But, his office told us, “ATVs and dirt bikes don’t have license plates, so speed cameras can’t capture them.”

The NYPD has started to push back. At first they were saying that to intervene would only raise the danger level, but last week they tweeted a warning.

COLUMNS, OUTDOORS | 47 comments | permalink
    1. Uncle Leo says:

      Someone, most likely a pedestrian, will get killed. It’s not if, but when. I recently witnessed an occupied NYPD cruiser do nothing as this grouped rolled through the UES a few weeks ago. Unreal.

      • MQue says:

        What is 1 police cruiser supposed to do vs 100 kids on bikes?

        • Uncle Leo says:

          They do have these amazing devices called radios where they can call in MANY cruisers. Allowing it to happen is not the answer.

      • David says:

        Oh wow, it never occurred to me that those vehicles didn’t have anything resembling license plates. So the NYPD’s tough talk combined with a no-chase policy makes for one big joke. This city becomes more of a lawless wasteland by the day.

    2. Juan says:

      Thank you for your article. We were on Amsterdam just south of you this Saturday evening at about 5:30 and saw the same thing going up Amsterdam. I really wish the police could do something about this. These are the types of quality of life crimes that I want to hear our candidates address.

      • James says:

        I walked up Amsterdam recently. It was wonderful to see so many people out enjoying themselves at the new sidewalk cafes. I didn’t see any motorcycle gangs, but I was shocked at how complacently people sit eating their lunch in the filthy, trash strewn streets. There was pollution everywhere: scattered on the sidewalks, piled on the corners, filling the tree pits. it’s depressing and no place I want to be.

        Kudos to OneBlock. I help when I can. The city needs to step up. It’s a basic service. Where is Bill?

    3. Nevets K says:

      Comrade,
      You only imagine that these ATV’s and dirt bikes, which (arguably) produce extremely loud and disturbing noises, and which you believe are being driven by aggrieved, frustrated ego maniacs who run red lights at will and who give you the finger or worse should you oppose them, are a threat and danger to the law-abiding citizenry!

      Why, nothing could be further from the truth!

      As Comrade Napoleon has just confirmed, these ATV and dirt bike riders are being SPECIALLY TRAINED by a secretive, high level unit at MACY’S!
      In truth — and we must keep this among ourselves— these many dozens of riders are PRACTICING on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues in order TO PERFECT their performance, in November, in the Thanksgiving Day Parade!
      And it is for this reason, comrades — and only for this reason — that New York’s Finest do not interfere!
      Surely, none of you wants to do anything to jeopardize our parade!

    4. Aaron says:

      Last week, a man was riding his dirt bike back and forth on Amsterdam in the low 150s, speeding south in the north-bound lane (Amsterdam is bi-directional up here) and popping wheelies as he passed three policemen on the corner of 151st and Amsterdam, just outside the 30th Precinct building. I asked them why that wasn’t a traffic violation they could do something about, and they said they were prohibited from chasing them because they’d be held liable if the chase resulted in an accident. They suggested I write to Mayor DeBlasio to complain. I’d love it if WSR could find out if there’s an actual policy to do nothing about this and if that policy originates with the Mayor. If we knew the source of the policy/non-policy, we might be able to get something done.

    5. chuck d says:

      Cops don’t stop them because the cops ride among them. I’ve recognized 2 definitely, and maybe more, from the 24th.

    6. Seth says:

      I encountered the same thing in the West Village last week. It was loud to the point of deafening for about 5 minutes. Dogs were cowering, people were wincing with their hands over their ears. I didn’t like it and I wanted them to not be there.

      There’s a lot of opposition:
      * https://nypost.com/2021/04/10/nyc-residents-furious-over-illegal-atv-brigade/

      * https://gothamist.com/news/coronavirus-doesnt-deter-massive-dirt-bike-ride-nyc-streets-sidewalks

      * https://abc7ny.com/nyc-bikers-illegal-cruising-dirt-bikes-street/10404210/

      Here’s an article that goes into the culture and organization of the whole thing:

      * https://www.theculturecrush.com/its-bigger-than-bikes

      And another from 2012:

      * https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20120419/harlem/dirt-bike-riders-terrorize-harlem-but-say-they-just-want-place-ride/

      It seems like what’s missing here is a good theory of how these groups meet, why they ride, what else might meet the needs that are being met by the group rides, etc. That would probably require some investigative work.

      I guess that the NYPD steers clear of this because they’re wary of the optics of targeting young black men for nonviolent offenses. But there’s something in the middle that could work.

    7. Pappy74 says:

      Carol Tannenhauser. You said it yourself; “He was watching me back and grinning! They were having a great time!”. When the fire trucks and ambulances pass by, sirens blaring, much louder than the dirt bikes, do you cower in fear? And meet the eyes of the drivers? Are they having fun? No. You shrug it off. You try not to look. You accept it as the Sounds Of The City. Sort of like the helicopters. It all a part of living in NYC!! Embrace it. Love it. Be grateful for the life you are given.

      • w71 resident says:

        To be 100% clear, lots of people don’t enjoy the helicopter sounds either and are organizing for more restrictions. Noise pollution is just that– noise pollution. It’s kind of an asshole move to blast noise and exhaust at your neighbors, you know? I’m happy people are having fun and I REALLY don’t want to see this become a matter of high-speed chases and high-tension conflict. There has to be a middle ground, right?

        • Peter says:

          What middle ground are you talking about?! Go thru every intersection as/when you see fit? Sidewalks are not really sidewalks – open to all vehicles? Eh, get a license and registration only if you wish!

          Didn’t we figure this out, like, a century ago?

        • Pedestrian says:

          The middle ground always seems to be let the outrageous behavior continue because the rest of us have no rights. I’m sick of it. If people want to rippte itn gangs let them movers Wyoming!

          Whether it’s motor cycle gangs, for profit helicopter flights or billionaire developers the view is the same those who object don’t matter. The City doesn’t care. The police don’t care and the perpetrators really don’t care! . The rest of us are just here to pay our property taxes.

      • nemo paradise says:

        Many people are laughing at this — some with you, some at you.

      • ben says:

        “When the fire trucks and ambulances pass by, sirens blaring, much louder than the dirt bikes, do you cower in fear?” Bro you seriously comparing people joyriding down the street to emergency vehicles on potential life-saving runs? You’ve lost the plot completely I’m afraid.

      • Ll says:

        You have GOT to be kidding. The ambulance drivers are, you know, trying to save people’ s lives. Add to the fact that the bike noise last longer than the ambulances. Except when it is a fre ambulances. Still someone life is at risk.

      • PF says:

        Are you kidding?? Fire trucks and ambulances are saving lives and yea, part of life in NYC. These idiots are aggressive and deliberately causing mayhem. It’s provocative and beyond irritating. We all follow certain rules of civility to live together in a close environment. Respect is inherent.

    8. Pappy74 says:

      Carol Tannenhauser.
      Everyone.
      READ THIS ARTICLE.
      https://www.theculturecrush.com/its-bigger-than-bikes

      • ben says:

        All this ‘family’ talk just reminds me of cheesy lines from Fast and Furious. Look I’m fine with extreme sports enthusiasts sticking together in an organization they feel attached to. That said, what part of the ‘Riding dirt bikes and ATVs on NYC roadways and sidewalks is illegal.’ is difficult to understand?

    9. RobbieTheK says:

      The DNAinfo article is from 2012! Couple interesting pull quotes:
      “Bikers created a makeshift riding area on Ward’s Island before police ran them off a few years ago.”

      I don’t think the bodies there would mind, can someone start a petition?

      “Williams tells those gathered at community events that the department is working to find out where the bikes are stored because they are not street legal. He encouraged residents to let police know where the bikes are parked.”

      ^^^^^ from 2012!! They still don’t know?

      And rather than crushing them why not selling them and using the money for the PD?!?!

    10. Phoebe says:

      In Hell’s Kitchen, in the back of my building, my cats and I barely hear fire engines, and when we do, we’re not stunned and jarred out of our senses. I felt really sad when I noticed my cats being scared by the sound and vibration of whatever it is that goes by, like a serious and damaging storm must sound in tornado country. I don’t think we’ll ever get used to it. Luckily, living in the back, I’ve been blessed with never having to see these speed demons. If I’m not mistaken, I remember learning that driving with a broken muffler was against the law? Why?

    11. GG says:

      The solution to this is pretty obvious if you ask me…

      What we need is a dedicated ATV and dirt bike lane on Amsterdam and maybe Columbus as well.

      As a bonus, the e-bikes and delivery guys could use it creating a much safer situation for all.

    12. Josh P. says:

      I was almost hit by a Mercedes SUV today on 76th St. The driver was texting instead of watching the road. The car had a crumpled up paper “temporary” tag that was completely illegible. If I had been hit there would have been no way to track down the driver. Wish the NYPD would enforce the laws on texting while driving and having an actual license plate.

      • Inwooder says:

        The illegal scams surround temp plates has not been covered much in the media. You can buy them for $45 for 60 days from shady used car dealers in places like Texas looking to make a side hustle. You give them your model and VIN and send them cash on WhatsApp, then print out a “legal” tag for 60 days. (Legal only if you bought the car from them, which of course you didn’t).

        Then feel free to drive through any toll, red light camera, speed camera etc. with zero consequences. It’s in plain sight but NYPD do absolutely nothing about it. Not all temporary tags are criminal, but at this point pretty much all criminals use temporary tags.

    13. UWSGrumpster says:

      A huge group of them just roared down Columbus. There were so many the noise just kept coming.

    14. Jay says:

      Speed cameras can’t see faces.

      The NYPD needs to deploy officers with real low light still cameras, they can be rented in the Photo District (yes a real Manhattan neighborhood).

      Such cameras will also need excellent autofocus + the correct fast telephoto and zoom lenses.

      They are not made by Sony, and again they are stills cameras, not video cameras.

      The cameras and lenses take skill and experience to use before the images will be clear and focused correctly. Therefore the same interested officers need to use them for a few weeks.

      Rental for 3 weeks at $1000 a week for the lens/es and camera is less expensive than purchasing a good low light stills camera+lens.

      Not really holding my breath that the NYPD will get a hold of real cameras and document these a-holes on the avenues.

      As for such jerks being a new thing in Ms Tannenhauser’s NYC experience: You don’t need to be dining out to experience this crap. Many don’t even need to be out of their apartments, though I realize proximity to avenues varies.

    15. Lee says:

      People need to relax…there aren’t many ways for people to blow off steam during the pandemic, and I’d hate for cops to chase these kids down and lead to bad situations…suck it up and deal with some noise every now and then – it is NYC

      • lynn says:

        I ran into a similar situation when a massive group of ATVs/motorcycles roared through the UES. These people weren’t ‘kids,’ by any stretch of the imagination. They were weaving in and out of regular traffic at high speeds and intentionally disrupting traffic. Why is this behavior acceptable to you?

        • Bill says:

          Just saw a large group of ATVs reckless driving on the UES this afternoon. Doing wheelies, speeding and running red lights. For those people who claim what do you expect of one patrol car to do you clearly don’t know what is going on. This happens every sunday when there is nice weather and they spend hours going up and down the streets of manhattan in packs. It incredibly easy to figure out when and where they are going to pop up. Do we really need to wait until someone gets killed before the city takes real action? The problem is a mayor that pretends to care but then blocks the police from taking meaningful action to stop this nonsense. There needs to be some law and order brought back to this city.

    16. Nani says:

      Thank you for posting this article, Carol. In all the years of living in NYC, I had never seen motorcycle gangs racing up and down Broadway until about July 2020. A middle- aged woman was killed around Lincoln Center by a speeding motorbike and an elderly man was injured on 79th Street and Broadway according to the Citizen App. Last August I posted my concern of the huge crowds of motorcyclists illegally running lights and what if an elderly person with a cane happened to be crossing the street at that moment, and I was shamed on facebook and twitter. I guess it’s not “cool” to be pointing out illegal dangerous activities anymore.

      • Gena Reisner says:

        Yes, thank you for this article! In case anyone thinks this is something new – in the late 1960s I lived on the 5th floor facing 10th Street between 6th & 5th avenues in the Village. And I was woken up nightly by a motorcycle group just as you’ve described – and as I’ve also seen & cowered from recently.

    17. Boris says:

      I refuse to accept that the NYPD does not have the capability to stop this mayhem. They are equipped like and have the resources of a small army.

      If our Revolutionary forces were able to block the Hudson River with the Hudson Chain in the 18th century, our NYPD can surely deploy a simple netting system to coral these hoodlums and seize their bikes. All they need to do is seize 20-30 bikes and word will spread quickly that this behavior will not be tolerated. Our police department needs to stop acting like wimps.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_River_Chain

    18. ST says:

      Before it was ATVs and dirt bikes, it was gangs of regular bicyclists (much preferable due to less noise) commandeering the north south streets. It is not Covid related. It has been going on since De Blasio became mayor. My understanding is that he has told the cops to leave the kids alone. Too bad for the rest of us that have to suffer the danger and noise.

    19. John says:

      I see them at least 3 nights a week on CPW all the while being ignored by the NYPD. The city is circling the drain. The lawlessness in the city is horrific.

    20. Jim Cash says:

      Can you blame the cops? Criticized by everyone, sued by every punk who resists arrest, punk out the next day no bail, just might get shot, stabbed or bitten, Mayor is no help at all, every lawyer and politician looking to make a name for themselves watching you lose your pension.

    21. EGF says:

      Good luck catching these people! They are nimble and change direction at a moments notice. Any of them can surely outrun a police cruiser leaving us with nothing to do about it. Let’s just hope the novelty wears off and the traffic picks up enough to keep these illegal vehicles off our streets.

    22. Don says:

      The ATVs, dirt bikes and motorcycles racing 75 miles an hour down west side avenues at all hours of the night is going to result in tragedy. Something must be done to stop this from happening bestirs too late. The deafening noise is one thing, but the danger is quite another!

    23. Caryn Greenberg says:

      I was wondering who to contact about this nuisance and disturbance of the peace. These groups of dirt and ATVs and other motorized bikes have been traveling up and down Broadway several times a week in the evening hours. My windows face Broadway and the noise is disturbing.

    24. Paul Lanning says:

      The riders are adults, not kids.

    25. Carol-

      The motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs etc. that so shocked your system are only the frosting on the cake from the hell that is NYC.

      I live a block from Fred’s, 81st & Amsterdam, in my flimsy not-pre-war flat, above a bar. Directly outside, and for the past month or two, the jackhammers start to scream at 7 AM.

      A couple of weeks back I asked the flagman out there, holding up his red STOP! sign, how much longer this would go on and he thought 6 months or so.

      That’s seven days a week.

      And of course the ambulances of 4 AM. Why must they howl so loud, murdering all possibility of sleep when they’re the only vehicles out there? The whole point of the cacophony is to supposedly communicate: watch out, get out of the way, we’re in a hurry!

      But they dawdle along at 15 mph, all alone. You can aurally chart their sleepwalking turtle passage in your mind from blocks and blocks away until they finally pass, and then for many more blocks as they creep slowly north until a relative quiet returns marred only by the endless cooing of pigeons directly outside my bedroom window, is once more restored… unless a cop car or fire engine blares by, and of course they do.

      And what can I look forward to in a few weeks? The mayor proclaims that “NYC will be back”, which here means the loud sports bar downstairs will once again be open until 4 AM, which means in turn the ginormous exhaust fan squatting directly over my ceiling will rule my world again until 4 AM, while I’m defended only by a feeble white noise generator and my pathetic earplugs… and I know I’ll miss all the more the covid quiet of last spring… except of course for that army of ambulances.

      I was just reading an article that proclaimed loudly that a primary cause for various dementia diseases is lack of sleep, and I immediately thought:

      the City That Never Sleeps not only never sleeps, but it’s actual purpose seems to be to endlessly maim its long suffering citizens, before actually murdering them.

      So yeah: motorcycles.

      I sympathize. -L.

    26. Michael says:

      I was lying in bed on Saturday night,
      When all of a sudden, I woke with a fright.
      I looked out the window, my head all dreamlike,
      But out there on Broadway was a bunch of dirt bikes!

      Still trying to win one of the WSR t-shirts!

    27. cpwpj says:

      Once gain, people, YOU can have an impact on these negative noise-makers. Elections are coming soon. Who are you supporting for City Council in your district? and for Mayor? Cast your vote for the candidate who knows city government from the inside, and will quickly use her/his contacts immediately to attack and resolve this problem.

    28. Neil says:

      This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This noise pollution is a major quality of life issue. I’m seriously considering leaving the city after 38 years. Why aren’t the police doing anything? Since last summer, bikers, blasting car radios and no mufflers. Anything goes. Doesn’t anyone care about the city supporting law abiding taxpayers who have the choice to live anywhere, and can move (and are moving) out?

      • Boris says:

        Wild animals have been raised better than some NYC residents. I was on the subway yesterday and people were maskless, eating, drinking, making phone calls and playing loud audio on their mobile phones as if they were in their living rooms.

    29. Steve says:

      You could become mayor just by pledging to enforce the noise laws. We hamper all business and suffer daytime traffic and double parking because we don’t allow noisy deliveries at night, but if a psychopath wants to ride a Harley around all night, that’s fine. We’re complete idiots.

    30. Sally says:

      April 20 at least 100 dirt bikes,atvs and motorbikes roared by 112th and B’way at 9pm.
      Sitting in Le Monde’s(fabulous food BTW) curbside dining area our family birthday dinner was drowned out for about 20minutes.