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Blue Dog Diaries: The PR disaster of the YouTube yahoos

By Terry Roorda

By now pretty much everyone has been exposed to the harrowing video of a swarm of squids terrorizing a young family in a Range Rover in Manhattan during some kind of summer’s end mass convergence of sportbike stunters and their ilk, and that’s exactly the point. The point of the whole exercise—and hundreds like it nationwide—is online exposure of the crazed high jinks where it’s received hundreds of thousands of internet hits in addition to the millions of viewers who watched it on mainstream media. The unholy combination of GoPro helmet cams, high-spirited hooligans and YouTube has wrought a whole new behavioral and entertainment mutation and a whole new black eye for motorcyclists of all persuasions.

The viral video in question documents a scenario of mob rage and bully violence reminiscent of the final chase sequence from Road Warrior—or perhaps more of a Jurassic Park depiction of a pack of velociraptors assaulting, subduing and savaging an Edmontosaurus. Either analogy works nicely. But in Manhattan? Even stranger is the fact that as many as a half-dozen of New York’s Finest either witnessed or even participated in the mayhem, though that awkward detail took several days to emerge.

The whole incident is, even after multiple viewings and poring over the extensive reportage of the details that continues to issue, a real challenge for me to get my head around, but it does answer a couple of peripheral questions definitively, i.e.:

Q: Who knew there were expressways like that on Manhattan?

A: Not me. I always thought the island was a gridlock of cabs, limos, subways and horses—but then everything I know about the place I’ve gleaned from Seinfeld reruns.

Q: Why would anyone drive a Range Rover in Manhattan? It ain’t exactly the Kalahari, you know.

A: Just in case you find yourself having to rock-hop over some crotch rocket obstructions, which is exactly what the driver of the Range Rover, who was on an outing to celebrate his first wedding anniversary with his young wife and baby, did in order to extricate himself from a gathering shitstorm of violent possibilities once he’d responsibly pulled over upon having clipped a sportbike that was brake-checking him in heavy traffic and found himself besieged by crazies.

Hot pursuit, slashed tires and berserk vehicular vandalism ensued, and then we learned the true value of the full-head helmet—it’s a dandy tool for smashing car windows, which, we all know, can be a real bitch to smash. A serious beat-down and knifing of the driver came next, and the man’s wife and baby weren’t spared, frozen in the horror of the unfolding life-and-death predicament.

When the whole thing went down it was only natural that the news media headline writers were powerless to resist and gleefully seized upon that time-honored surefire attention grabber, “Biker Gang.” They just couldn’t help themselves, and whether or not there was any kind of actual “gang” involved worthy the name or it was more of a flash mob of moto-morons was of no consequence. (And seriously, what kind of authentic gang videotapes their felonies and counts cops among their number in any capacity other than government infiltrators?) But what I found more infuriating was the blithe way in which they bandied the term “biker” around to describe what the rest of us know as sportbikers at best, and squids and mouth-breathing hooligans at the other extreme.

After decades of editorializing on American biker culture, I’ve had to deal at length with the hot-button issues of the lifestyle, including the ever-contentious question of what, exactly, constitutes a “Real Biker.” That examination has historically involved things like trailers, waving, arm chaps, V-Rods and other minutia, but I never saw this one coming. On this one I think we can all set our definitional differences aside and speak with one voice: these crotch-rocket thugs are not bikers.

Yes, Virginia, there really are biker gangs and there’s an element of criminal enterprise associated with some portion of them, and we’ve had our collective hands full deflecting public attention from that small percentage and towards our overwhelming majority of law-abiding, freedom-loving folks. That campaign is a generation old at this point and for the most part we’ve prevailed in effecting that perception, and towns and cities nationwide have come to welcome our events and rallies.

That makes it all the harder to swallow that the Manhattan incident has now provided an excuse to restore the stigma in the popular mindset.

With prominent media outlets hewing blindly and irresponsibly to their sensational “biker gang” characterization of the ultra-violent perpetrators, the general populace who lack the wherewithal to discriminate between what true biker culture has matured into and what the recent headlines trumpet will doubtless be inclined to tar all motorcyclists with the same brush, and that’s a setback that promises to plague us for the foreseeable future.

The question then becomes, what are we prepared to do about it?

It’s all right here in the diaries…

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