By now, it’s a good bet that most motorcyclists know about the events that unfolded in New York City’s West Side on Sunday, September 29, after about 1:30 p.m. A large and disparate group of motorcyclists swarmed the West Side highway, apparently headed for Times Square, and in the process, tangled with a man driving a Range Rover. The videos uploaded to social-media sites by one of the riders showed the shocking and tragic unfolding of encounters between the bike riders and the driver, who was shown being pulled from his car and beaten by some of the riders.
The video was horrifying. But as I started reading the comments posted on the U.S. News site with the video, what struck me as almost equally unpleasant was the mutual hate-fest between the moto-groups; H-D riders versus “crotchrocket” riders versus young riders versus old riders, black riders versus white riders, and so on ad nauseam. The movie Mad Max came up in discussion, too, as did the role of guns, and what the “right” response of the driver of the Range Rover or the riders should have been; and finally, there was name-calling and “Oh, yeah? Meet me on the road and we’ll see!” challenges, along with charges and counter-charges involving racism and educational/status-factionalism.
Unsurprisingly missing from the discussion (if you could call it that) were observations about the changes in society and technology that emerged in the behavior of the riders individually and as a group. Helmet cams, supermotards, powerful, reliable sportbikes, ABS, cell phones on the tech side, as well, of course, as social media, and the increasingly fractured social world on the other—not just among motorcyclists but between people in general as they encountered one another on the terrain of Interstate and “thruway” highways, which long ago became far more than just transportation channels.
Behind all this was the way motorcycles and motorcyclists were perceived. There are still obviously wide differences between how riders are seen in New York City and, say, Los Angeles. This didn’t surprise me; when I lived and rode in Manhattan in the late ’70s, I found a strong anti-motorcycling atmosphere in which the social elite not only did not use or own cars, but disdained them and saw motorcycles as machines owned by social outliers to be avoided whenever possible. Not even in the self-described ultra-hip Village were bikes anything more than occasional props for would-be Dylans, except among the relatively few actual riders.
Time and technology have obviously transformed New York in many ways, but not, judging by the thousands of comments posted on the news and video message boards, for what amounts to the betterment of the cohesion between groups of people who choose different modes of automobility. Of course, it’s never wise to draw serious conclusions about something so important as social mores and beliefs from such emotionally charged events and the things some people say behind the veils of anonymity online, but even so, it’s sad to see that the unfortunate heritage of motorcycle group hatred of “the other,” which was the subject of one the last “At Large” columns I did for Cycle World in early ’90s as editor-at-large, is still so clearly in force among so many motorcyclists.
Perhaps, as tempers cool and more information comes to light about the behavior of the riders swarming Gotham on that Sunday afternoon, people who ride and people who drive will see more clearly what they have in common rather than what separates them. One can hope, anyway. One can only hope.