Unlicensed Dirt bike and ATV riders in Jersey City

Call them Easy Riders with an attitude. A plague of loud, unlicensed dirt bikes has struck Jersey City’s neighborhoods, driving residents crazy and fearful that their antics will leave someone crippled or dead.

True to their outlaw image, these would-be Dennis Hoppers generally ride un-helmeted, itself a violation of New Jersey law.

Folks from various parts of the city have spoken publicly and posted a chorus of complaints on the social media site Nextdoor.com imploring city officials to take action to get these bad boys off the streets.

Bergen Hill resident Ozgun Tasdemir says he wrote to Mayor Steve Fulop about the situation and was told “it’s viral in NYC, too.”  Tasdemir says he’s lived in Bergen Hill since 2006 “and it’s been never ever like this.”

Across the river, New York City has actually done something to try and get the problem under control.

This past May, CBS 2 TV reported the New York City Police Department was “using technology, including body cameras, to identify reckless drivers, confiscating illegal vehicles [and] offering $100 rewards for tips for each illegal bike seized” following eight deaths and some 350 injuries caused by the operators of dirt bikes riding illegally on streets and sidewalks just in the first three months of this year.

Shortly after a dirt biker critically injured a 4-year-old boy in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens in July, the NYPD confiscated more than 500 dirt bikes and ATVs (all-terrain vehicles).

“There’s far too many still out there,” said New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who urged the public to alert the police if they see any of these vehicles stored in specific locations. New York currently assesses a $500 fine on a first offense for illegally operating dirt bikes and ATVs on city roadways and $1,000 for every subsequent offense.

In Jersey City, meanwhile, residents continue to press for authorities to respond to a situation which, they say, is growing increasingly menacing to pedestrian safety. So far, the efforts appear to have come to naught.

“What’s it going to take to get these bozos from just running through the stop signs on super loud motorcycles and nearly taking down pedestrians, dogs and cars.  Jersey Avenue and Van Vorst Park has become a speedway,” griped Van Vorst Park resident Mitch Mitchell.

Unlicensed ATV rider in Downtown Jersey City
Unlicensed ATV Rider in Downtown Jersey City

Cheryl Gross, who lives in the Berry Hill section of Bergen-Lafayette, says she’s watched “a group of little dirt bikes, mainly on weekends, speed up Union Street between Randolph and Garfield in the wrong direction and pop wheelies.”

Hilltop resident Ted Domski chimed in with this: “Not just motorcycles but cars, cyclists, e-bikes, and pedestrians also, walking against signals. …”

It’s been a problem in Bergen Hill, as well, says neighborhood resident Vincent Czyz, “on Summit Avenue, near the intersection of Astor [Place], for about a year.”

Western Slope resident David Mackey reports one success story, having followed up on “two kids on dirt bikes (who had) no plates, no helmets, racing up and down my street. So, the next time they came by, I followed them until they turned in to their garage and closed the door. (I) called the cops, let them know where to look for two bikes with warm engines and 20 minutes later, the cops were towing the bikes away on a flatbed.”

But Riverview North resident Eric Chapeau suggested folks show patience with younger bikers who “are new immigrants … and we don’t know how terrible their lives were before, and they need to express themselves. You need to share the sidewalk with them or stay home.”

Chapeau appears to be in the minority. At a community meeting in June, residents of a crime infested block on Wilkinson Avenue included unlicensed dirt bikes in a list of unenforced quality of life infractions. Captain Marc Gigante explained, apologetically, that the police were prohibited from pursuing the motorcycles.

Just three weeks ago, during the Puerto Rican Day festivities, an unlicensed dirt bike and an ATV were seen wending their way through Downtown crowds with seeming impunity. (See featured photo.)

BikeJC, an advocacy group for local and area cyclists, is taking no stand on the issue since, according to president Patrick Conlon, “these are not cyclists by any stretch,” but Conlon says he’s well aware of the problems these riders are creating in Newark, where he runs a bike shop and where “we see this happening right down Broad Street through the center of [Newark].”

Conlon described these outlaw bikes as “extremely loud gasoline powered vehicles designed for off-roading – both two- and four-wheeled” and says the riders “tend to make a big showing of how they can ride wheelies on these things, which is part of the dangerous riding practices that I’m sure are upsetting neighborhoods.”

Bike JC, while not taking an official position on dirt bikes and ATVs, does, however, “want all road users, licensed properly or otherwise, to ride responsibly and obey the rules of the road. To do otherwise endangers all the other road users including cyclists, walkers, those waiting for buses, and other vehicle users.”

Meanwhile, if upset residents want to do more to call attention to the problem, Cheryl Gross advises them to “call or email the mayor’s office and your local councilperson. Noise is one thing but running stop signs and playing chicken with motorcycles is another.”

Marlene O. Sandkamp of Van Vorst Park added this: “Sign up and speak at the next (City) Council meeting Sept. 9. You can request to speak on the homepage of jerseycitynj.gov (http://jerseynj.gov). Find the link that says Public Speaking Request.”

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...