If you follow your local news, you may have heard of “bike-outs,” those lawless bicycle rides in which mobs of teenagers take to the streets in order to menace and assault vulnerable citizens. Indeed, here in New York City, the local CBS affiliate recently reported an incident in which one such mob assaulted a 74-year-old man on his regular riverside stroll along the Hudson River Greenway:
“I turned around… a swarm of kids on bikes and they were coming toward me… and they were riding fast,” Edelstein recalled.
The Manhattan resident was a victim of what police sources called “bike-outs” – roving bands of teenage cyclists – with many of them looking for trouble.
If you’re worried that these bike-outs will come to your town, I have good news for you: there’s no such thing. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the Police Benevolent Association General Counsel’s Office from tweeting that the warm weather would bring “increased lawlessness” and teens on bikes “attacking members of the community.”
Warm weather brings increased lawlessness in NYC as teens take to the streets with aggressive “bike-outs,” attacking members of the community. With one man already injured, NYPD Bike Patrol Officers will be called on to keep the community safe.
The phantom “ride-out” threat also seems to have served as the motivation for the NYPD’s recent confiscation of a group of cyclists’ bicycles, under the pretense that they were not equipped with bells. (In fact, the riders were participants in a 4/20-themed messenger race and not a bunch of teens out to punch senior citizens for no reason. Furthermore, the seizure was certainly illegal and possibly racist.)
Of course, I’m not accusing Edelstein of being a liar. After all, there are some truly awful teenagers out there in the world. (Remember the “affluenza teen?”) Furthermore, every urban myth contains some tiny kernel of fact, and while there’s no such thing as bike-outs that exist solely for the purpose of assaulting the elderly, there is most definitely such a thing as a rideout, in which lots of young people, many of them riding throwback big-wheeled BMX bikes, take to the streets and pop wheelies and stuff.
It’s no surprise that rideouts rankle the tight-of-sphincter; Homo sapiens probably started feeling contempt for anybody younger than them as soon as our life expectancy hit 30. And yes, being teenagers, rideout participants also do things a mature adult might consider “stupid.” In fact, I’m willing to bet some of them are even listening to that rap music and smoking the pot.
Even so, there’s not a shred of evidence that what has become an international phenomenon has resulted in an alarming rate of injury to either the public or to the riders themselves, and the likelihood that one of them might knock you down unintentionally—let alone target you for an attack—is so tiny as to be laughable.
But while some finger-wagging from the media is only natural (arguably you’re failing as a teenager if nobody’s annoyed at you), the more sensational coverage reveals some of our most deeply-held prejudices. An Inside Edition story back in 2017 was full of words like “chaos,” “mayhem” and “craziness,” and featured an intrepid reporter who was brave enough to infiltrate this lawless mob:
An Inside Edition investigative producer, Joe Enoch, captured the chaos on his bike. During the ride, the hundreds of bikers veered onto the Cross Bronx Expressway, one of the busiest highways in America, and turned it into complete mayhem.
“They have shut down the Cross Bronx Expressway, a major four-lane highway,” Enoch said while trying to keep up with the group.
Oh please. The Cross Bronx Expressway is the most congested roadway in the U.S., and it’s mayhem on a good day, thanks to the thousands of motorists who veer onto it at any given time. Moreover, it’s one of our country’s most egregious examples of poor urban planning—a traffic-choked gash that tore the Bronx in half and is widely regarded as a major factor in the troubled decades that followed, as well as the borough’s famously high pediatric asthma rates. Motorists die on the Cross Bronx, and they kill cyclists around its approaches. Surrounded by the “chaos” of hundreds of kids on bikes, at that moment Joe Enoch was probably safer on the Cross Bronx than he’ll ever be. Too bad he didn’t look around at his fellow riders and note that this was probably the first time anybody’s ever been happy on that blighted stretch of roadway.
But why play up the positive angle? Rideouts involve bicycles, driver inconvenience, and kids who by and large aren’t white, and so when it comes to baiting the American public, they hit the trifecta. And now here comes the NYPD to take your bicycle away in the name of protecting the citizenry from a non-epidemic of total non-violence.
Anybody who’s ever done a group ride of any kind knows the joy of being surrounded by other people on bikes. As cities gradually come around to the fact that places to gather and live life are more important than places to store cars, they should also recognize that lots of kids riding bikes in the streets isn’t chaos at all; rather, it’s a return to a natural order that’s been upended by all the cars. Anyway, which is scarier: kids doing wheelies on bikes, or kids driving?
If you’re still considering the question, open a new browser window and do a search for “teen drag racing deaths.”
Go ahead, I’ll wait.