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"If you get to 12 O'Clock, You's the S#!t"
January 22, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Dirt bikes are illegal in Baltimore. That doesn't stop hundreds of young men from hitting the streets every weekend, revving their engines and pulling their dirt bikes (and ATVs) into death-defying wheelies, filming each other in hopes of Youtube glory. One of these groups, the Twelve O’Clock Boys, are the subject of a new documentary. Pull your bike into a vertical wheelie? That’s twelve o’clock.

Filmmaker Nathan Lofty calls the dirt bike groups an “innocent alternative” to the other opportunities available to young black men in inner city Baltimore. ”It's a chance for kids who would otherwise be stuck in their own neighborhoods to parade through the whole city and declare it as their own. They go up to the harbor, where they're trying to keep things nice and pretty for tourists. They go to East Baltimore, West Baltimore, they go north, they hit the highway—wherever, really.” Others are not so happy about the subculture.

Complicating matters, Baltimore regulations forbid police to give chase to dirt bikes. This has lead to increasingly complicated methods of crackdown, including raids on repair shops . It leads also to blatant stunting in front of the police. (action starts at 3:20)

Balanced CBS Baltimore article addresses both the police’s real concerns and biker’s allegations that the police are violating the no-chase rule by running patrol cars into the bike’s back wheels.

Back and forth opinion articles in the Baltimore Sun.

NYTimes slideshow about the movie. Clip from the documentary along with Lofty’s essay about how he came to make the movie. (Plays automatically).
posted by theweasel (58 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
previously...
posted by ennui.bz at 9:17 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Reckless dirt bike crews are an interesting part of Baltimore culture and I can see why it's tempting to glamorize and defend them, but at the same time they really are a public nuisance. I bicycle in the city, and I can't count the number of times I've been buzzed by dirt bikers. They have a total disregard for traffic laws.
posted by vathek at 9:21 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


and I can see why it's tempting to glamorize and defend them, but at the same time they really are a public nuisance.

Yeah, I totally agree. For example, most of the time I've seen them in groups they have been blatantly flouting traffic laws, usually by driving on the left on a two-way road in traffic.
posted by advil at 9:25 AM on January 22


I hate to sound like The Man here, but I hate those guys.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:27 AM on January 22 [8 favorites]


ennui.bz: Ha! I knew there had been one somewhere, but I couldn't figure out what terms to search for. Or how to spell "wheely" for that matter...
posted by theweasel at 9:29 AM on January 22


it's like a PSA "I don't do drugs, let's ride bikes instead" except that you can't ride bikes either.

Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:29 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Ugh yeah. I live in Baltimore City and ride a motorcycle (or rather, I did until it was stolen about a year ago.) These kids terrify me! I remember a couple years back I was riding on Rt. 40 Eastbound, towards the city -- not sure if I was inside the city limits or not but it was like, a trafficky section of road with lots of stoplights and strip malls etc. Anyway I'm riding along and a group of maybe seven or eight dirt bike kids come up behind me, then basically surround me and a couple of them start doing wheelies what seemed like THREE FEET in front of my front wheel. I was totally terrified that one of them would tip over or change speed suddenly, I'd hit them, kill them, then I'd get run over by a truck or something and also die.

After a while they just sped off. But OH MAN THAT WAS SO SCARY. What valthek said, I get that it's tempting to glamorize this subculture but I feel like they are capable of causing real harm.
posted by capnsue at 9:31 AM on January 22


ennui.bz, that's a profoundly unfair interpretation of why people dislike urban dirt biking. Yes, it's an unusual form of creative expression and teen culture by members of an oppressed minority group that The Man has a profound dislike for, which makes it sound like the sort of thing that shouts for more sensitive and nuanced evaluation. But I don't know how defensible I find a practice that puts everyone on the road in danger. The reason we can sympathize with Akira is because it's fiction.
posted by vathek at 9:44 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Can we all just agree to put aside safety and noise concerns for long enough to admit that that black kids taunting cops with their dirt bikes is absolutely fucking glorious?
posted by crayz at 9:44 AM on January 22 [17 favorites]


"...except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men."

In this case, I'm not sure it's the skin color that's etched into our social subconscious. Honda ad folks realized this back in the 60's.
posted by klarck at 9:45 AM on January 22


Anyone who hasn't popped a wheelie on some white bumbling keystone cop should keep their opine trees to themselves, VROOOOMM
posted by Teakettle at 9:48 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

Color politics aside, I watched that trailer for the first time on a big screen and YES. You could sub a pulsing electronic score and it's there.

As an old lady biker who yells at skateboarders doing stupid things, I cannot imagine seeing this in person without having a heart attack. Rationally, I am way against this. On the other hand, the energy of that footage is just so raw and joyful...
posted by theweasel at 9:55 AM on January 22


Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

In the Shonan region of Kanagawa where I lived, there was the phenomenon of the "bosozoku", which were young Japanese kids with crazy hair and clothing that ride these suped-up scooters in large packs and cause shit on the road. You could hear them coming for miles down Route 1 along the beach. Once I saw them box in a cop car and drive real slow, swerving and slapping the car with their hands. You wouldn't really cheer for those guys. They were pretty obnoxious, frankly, and that was what people thought of them in town.

People can sympathize with Akira because it's a cartoon, and a movie. Same way I am OK with street racing in Fast and the Furious. In real life though? Fuck street racers and bosozoku.
posted by Hoopo at 9:56 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Honestly I think I'd rather they just stayed at home and did drugs; there's less chance of taking a bystander with you that way.

And I'm a motorcycle rider and fairly sympathetic to anything on two wheels, but there's a time and place for stunting and generally doing dumb shit on a bike, and public roads are not it. (And yeah, I have zero sympathy for the dumbass literbike riders who stunt while riding down crowded highways, either; that's a common youf activity down here on the DC Beltway.)

Still, it pales in comparison to my contempt for street racers and aggressive car drivers. I guess when you get down to it, my hatred for dumb-shit-on-roadways is proportionate to gross vehicle weight. And unless the Baltimore PD has fixed that problem, I suppose not going after some dumbasses on dirt bikes makes sense in terms of priorities.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Wild. Never seen a dirt bike or an ATV in the city. I've seen a ton of rednecks riding them out in the ex-urbs and country but seeing them in that video on city streets is pretty jarring.
posted by octothorpe at 10:01 AM on January 22


The one time I've seen one on a city street was in DC, driving down Georgia Avenue with four kids probably under the age of 12 somehow clinging to it. It took a literal double take to realize what I was seeing. Right as I figured out what was going on, a police officer coming the other way whipped around and stopped them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:07 AM on January 22


Can we all just agree to put aside safety and noise concerns for long enough to admit that that black kids taunting cops with their dirt bikes is absolutely fucking glorious?

Nah, on a glorious scale it rates above a meh but well below absolutely fucking.
posted by planetesimal at 10:08 AM on January 22


I have one friend that salutes the riders when he sees a huge group of them which is pretty funny, but I prefer to watch from indoors when I see the bikers coming.
posted by josher71 at 10:09 AM on January 22


So, just checking - have the dirt bike gangs hurt anybody?

I mean, they sound plenty irritating and possibly dangerous, but not confirmed-dangerous. From a scan of some of the links I can't see that the pearl-clutching about "danger" is justified.
posted by entropone at 10:15 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]



As an old lady biker who yells at skateboarders doing stupid things, I cannot imagine seeing this in person without having a heart attack. Rationally, I am way against this. On the other hand, the energy of that footage is just so raw and joyful...


well, that's the thing. you can appreciate the beauty of it while at the same time acknowledging it as dangerous and irresponsible.

but really not very high on the list of dangerous things in baltimore. rt.40 W is the route to harford county (one of the wealthiest, whitest counties in MD) and as a result of that is one long retail market for illegal drugs. there are bigger threats to your life going down rt. 40 than the dirt bikers... (not to mention drivers in baltimore aren't too cautious)


Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

Color politics aside, I watched that trailer for the first time on a big screen and YES. You could sub a pulsing electronic score and it's there..


plus with the medical labs at Johns Hopkins and proximity to the military industrial complex in DC... you wouldn't have to change much about AKIRA to make it work in Baltimore. Hollywood, are you listening?
posted by ennui.bz at 10:18 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


From a scan of some of the links I can't see that the pearl-clutching about "danger" is justified.

Really, you think it's a stretch that doing motorcycle stunts in traffic without helmets is dangerous?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:25 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I mean, they sound plenty irritating and possibly dangerous, but not confirmed-dangerous.

There are a few accidents a year, which you can find by googling things like "baltimore dirt bike accident". Keep in mind that most of the complaints here are coming from people who've actually in person witnessed them in traffic. If you were expecting more accidents, I think what often happens is that they are so over the top aggressive that normal traffic effectively shuts down around them. This has certainly been my experience, and also capnsue's description above.

Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

I think characterizing (from first hand experience mind you) what they do (in the actual world, not in fiction) as incredibly dangerous is entirely independent of whether we sympathize with them.
posted by advil at 10:25 AM on January 22


ennui.bz: I was on 40 East, heading into the city, heading home. I was in Baltimore County, maybe in Woodlawn or something. Harford county is northeast of the city so I'm not sure why it is relevant to your belittling of the scary thing that happened to me but cool and thanks!
posted by capnsue at 10:27 AM on January 22




Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

Funny you should say that. The filmmaker cites it as an influence. Along with, strangely, The Bicycle Thief.

Can we all just agree to put aside safety and noise concerns for long enough to admit that that black kids taunting cops with their dirt bikes is absolutely fucking glorious?

No.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:33 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]




entropone: check out josher71's link. Stories about a dirt bike hitting a car and then the bike's rider and his friends beating the shit out of the driver and sending him to the hospital, and a motorcycle rider who was killed after swerving to avoid a dirt bike.
posted by capnsue at 10:39 AM on January 22


I got asked to consult on the edit of this film and dropped the ball on emailing the director back after a few exchanges and it never happened and every time I see the trailer or read an article it bums me out, cause I know I fucked up. This movie looks awesome and I wish I'd been a part of it. Goddamnit, email.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:40 AM on January 22


So yeah, I don't get why anyone would want to glorify these gangs. How are they anything good? They misuse and destroy public property, are a danger to public safety and a nuisance in general. They should be actively pursued by the police and removed from the community.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:40 AM on January 22


Like I said in the previous thread, it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

I wish you could flag a comment as "tiresome". Way to fuck the entire thread to pieces with everyone reacting to your little bomb.

There's two things going on here id flag as tiresome actually. The first one is the white liberal guilt bullshit of "oh noes, we can't say anything negative about black people or their behavior or were automatically racist!". The second is that this documentary, while sort of awesome, kinda seems to at least from the medium-long trailer to be glorifying this.

#2 combined with #1 creates a shockwave of tiresome.

Like, really, my first reaction to this was "...awesome". But the "LOL FUCK THE SYSTEM GO BLACK KIDS KICK COP CARS #FUCKTHAPOLICE" reaction only really works if you're suspending this outside of reality, or being obtuse.

The fact that this goes on at all is a symptom of a larger problem and not "cool". Criticizing it isn't a bad thing, and shouldn't get a "shame on you!" response. The entire premise of your comment is that people are only criticizing it because it's a bunch of young black dudes. But that relies on the assumption that people wouldn't criticize it if it was a bunch of rich white kids from the suburbs or something. Total strawman.
posted by emptythought at 10:47 AM on January 22 [19 favorites]


it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

I was wondering how long it would take someone to accuse people objecting to dangerous, antisocial behaviour of racism. Answer: not very long. So predictable. So stupid.
posted by Dasein at 10:55 AM on January 22


Really, you think it's a stretch that doing motorcycle stunts in traffic without helmets is dangerous?

For a young black man in America? Think about what the baseline is.
posted by srboisvert at 10:59 AM on January 22


So how are dirt bikes defined? Would my bike be illegal in Baltimore?
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:02 AM on January 22


Too-Ticky: I think that would be classified as a dual-sport, and thus be okay, because it has a headlight.
posted by capnsue at 11:16 AM on January 22


Hoodlums.
posted by fraxil at 11:18 AM on January 22


I'm surprised the ATV riders don't get shit for riding four wheels. It's like the Sons of Anarchy character who rides one, but that is bad-ass because he's old and sick. I suppose doing a wheelie with an ATV and not have it fall over on you and break your back is something.
posted by angrycat at 11:21 AM on January 22


At least Baltimore doesn't have a telekinetic flesh monster problem.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:24 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


At least Baltimore doesn't have a telekinetic flesh monster problem.

You sound pretty sure about that.
posted by josher71 at 11:26 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


I'd say whenever a group of people congregate without permit, notice or community purpose in a heavily occupied/trafficked public space with the sole purpose to have a very specific version of "FUN," in which said "FUN" is to the detriment of the continued enjoyment and/or use of said space by everyone else... Well, regardless of their color, gender, race, religion, political orientation, clothes, socio-economic status, etc. etc. .. that is what I call: Asshole.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:59 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


At least Baltimore doesn't have a telekinetic flesh monster problem.

You'd be surprised.
posted by FritoKAL at 12:07 PM on January 22


So, just checking - have the dirt bike gangs hurt anybody?

Couldn't say about the gangs, but in general, that would be a yes. Themselves and others.

By the way, it's not just Baltimore
posted by IndigoJones at 12:09 PM on January 22


Poor rural kids can ride around on private property. Rich suburban/urban kids can get their parents to load up the bikes on a pickup or trailer and go ride someplace legal. Poor urban kids have to do it illegally.
posted by 445supermag at 12:21 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


plus with the medical labs at Johns Hopkins and proximity to the military industrial complex in DC... you wouldn't have to change much about AKIRA to make it work in Baltimore. Hollywood, are you listening?

Neo-Baltimore is about to EXPLODE
posted by detachd at 12:24 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I don't know how to feel about this.

On the one hand, I believe the Baltimore folks in this thread who're saying that illegal dirt bikes are dangerous and disruptive. It's you're city, I haven't spent much time there, and I'm not going to tell you how to feel about your own safety.

But I watch this trailer, and I see these kids -- who have so many completely understandable reasons to feel angry and cornered -- and I get it. I get why they would want to do this. Why wouldn't they? They're not stupid. They know that no give gives a shit about them. They know that they're nothing but potential criminals to the police; that they aren't who the system has been set up to protect.

They have found a thing to do that makes them feel powerful, that takes skill and resources that are difficult but achievable, that pisses off and frustrates and humiliates the police. They're teenagers who want to feel like they're in charge of something.

And none of this is to say that it's not dangerous, that it isn't causing serious problems for bystanders, or that it isn't disruptive and destructive.

I'm just saying I get it.

I don't know. I have a hard time feeling angry about this kind of thing. Mostly I just feel heartsick.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:28 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]


Dudes in Uptown Manhattan did this almost every warm weekend.

I'm generally in favor of both awesome stunts and breaking minor traffic rules whenever possible but that shit was annoying and extremely dangerous.

Many idiots didn't wear helmets and pretty much every weekend one of them would flip badly and have to be ambulanced out. Moreover, when they crashed, their bikes would often fly into parked cars and pedestrians.

Why couldn't Bloomberg nanny-state this nonsense?
posted by willie11 at 12:51 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Poor rural kids can ride around on private property. Rich suburban/urban kids can get their parents to load up the bikes on a pickup or trailer and go ride someplace legal. Poor urban kids have to do it illegally.

Having grown up in Brooklyn, NY in the early 90s, with much of my antisocial behavior being in this same vein (except it was car-centric), I think the article makes a good counterpoint that the illegality, general community attention (negative and positive), and "tough guy" stance this practice gives is a large part of why it's so popular.

Building a dirt track in Baltimore isn't going to make this go away. The lack of a "place to ride" is a valid-ish excuse for those who are looking to justify the behavior.

Me and my friends used to enjoy blasting music through neighborhoods. Providing me with a soundproofed paint booth to enjoy my tunes at full volume is not what I was looking for.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:27 PM on January 22


it's like AKIRA, except you can't sympathize with the riders because they are young black men.

This is so breathtakingly ignorant that, at first glance, I thought that it was sarcasm. What an incredibly condescending and inflammatory thing to say.

signed A Motorcycle Rider Who Doesn't Give A Flying Fuck What Skin Colour Some Dangerous Fucking Asshole Happens To Have.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:36 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Wow, interesting look into a subculture, thanks. Years ago I knew some kids from very rural Maine who were into the same thing--riding their dirt bikes in packs, wheelies and stunts down the middle of rural highways, trading VHS tapes of the most legendary feats. Kind of an interesting reminder of how similar kids are everywhere.
posted by bepe at 3:03 PM on January 22


I've seen Twelve O'Clock Boys, and it's really good. It's really more about the story of one kid who wants to ride with the pack than it is an examination of the Baltimore dirtbike culture. It's much more nuanced than the trailer lets on and does not shy away from the ambiguities we're discussing here. Highly recommended.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:17 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


445supermag: Poor rural kids can ride around on private property. Rich suburban/urban kids can get their parents to load up the bikes on a pickup or trailer and go ride someplace legal. Poor urban kids have to do it illegally.

So uh, whats your point? Prefacing this with the fact that, obviously, these kids aren't doing this kind of thing for the same reason those kids are... is it so therefor since we let the other kids do it, we shouldn't be criticizing these kids?

I just don't get it, this is a pithy little bomb of a post that has no actual thesis. It just makes a weird leading "we report, you decide" kind of statement without actually stating your opinion.

Because it really feels like "shame on you for criticizing these kids who want to do the same thing the other kids are doing but just don't have a proper place". And for plenty of reasons, that's garbage.

vibrotronica: I've seen Twelve O'Clock Boys, and it's really good. It's really more about the story of one kid who wants to ride with the pack than it is an examination of the Baltimore dirtbike culture. It's much more nuanced than the trailer lets on and does not shy away from the ambiguities we're discussing here. Highly recommended.

Excellent, i've been quite curious to hear from someone who's seen it. Definitely going on my list then.
posted by emptythought at 3:45 PM on January 22


The legal response seems to have been one of complete assholery, plenty to go around I guess. In josher71's link they talk about banning selling gas to dirtbikes and charging a fee. Perhaps just local guys trying to make a buck. Or maybe we're getting somewhere, follow the 'money.' The framing of this around the 'dirtbikes' versus what PareidoliaticBoy eloquently and accurately called 'some dangerous fucking asshole' is to some extent understandable - it is a common characteristic, yet less interesting actually. Race is always a dog whistle.
posted by sfts2 at 6:38 PM on January 22


In reading the comments on here, a few of you must have been absolute angels to raise.

Seriously, if I'm growing up an inner city, disenfranchised minority, at that age when one is twelve feet tall and bulletproof, I'm out doing this exact same thing. And one of the big reasons would be for the whole "fuck tha police" mindset. And I remain convinced that some of you, transported back to your hooligan days, would be riding right alongside of me. Present-day pearl clutching notwithstanding.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 12:13 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Living in Baltimore and being concerned about this is not really "pearl clutching". It's a summertime activity that you see happening around the city and it directly affects the city.
posted by josher71 at 4:29 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


That suggestion that I might have been "riding right alongside" in my "hooligan days" is actually one of the strongest arguments that can be made against tolerating - much less glamourizing- this stupid, selfish, dangerous practice.
posted by klarck at 5:52 AM on January 23


The fact that I may have done stupid and illegal things in my foolish youth does not excuse me or others from needing to obey the law and not contribute to public health and safety threats.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:21 AM on January 23


I live in downtown Baltimore and ride a motorcycle year around. Yeah, traffic shuts down when the kids come through, because they ignore all lights, stop signs, etc. Fortunately, you can hear them coming from blocks away. This is about the only thing that can get the attention of a Baltimore cager.

I've had them surround me and do tricks around me, and it is quite scary. I got the feeling they were trying to show off to me and to get me to do tricks with them. Several have made "make a wheelie" gestures at me (which I'm not doing, no matter how amusing a 50 year old white librarian chick doing a wheelie on a Harley Heritage Softail would be). These kids have skills, but they still scare the shit out of me. I haven't seen one go over, but it does happen.

The police, however, do a lot to make it worse. Because a helicopter crashed chasing dirt bikes (and, until about 4 years ago, the definition of "dirt bike" included mopeds, scooters and sometimes dual sports), the police are forbidden to chase them. Now, I'm not in favour of high speed (or even medium speed) chases through a busy city, but that is basically asking the kids to taunt you. The not selling gas and other BS, along with trying to get people to rat out where the bikes are parked (yeah, that isn't happening) just make BCPD and the city government look ineffectual and stupid.

These kids are disposible and they know it. The only reason people get upset is when they leave the black neighbourhoods and hit the white areas and business sections. Solve the education, jobs and poverty problems, and you'll solve the illegal dirt bike packs. Don't, and they'll continue until something more dangerous takes over.
posted by QIbHom at 11:17 AM on January 23


Unfortunately, when someone asks "What are you doing about the dirt bikes?" the city can't answer "Nothing", so they do things that are ineffectual and stupid.
posted by josher71 at 11:37 AM on January 23


Huh, so I said up-thread that I'd never seen this in the city but apparently it's a problem in a neighborhood on the other side of town. Probably white kids over there but not sure.
posted by octothorpe at 6:16 AM on January 27


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