By now everyone with an interest in any kind of motorsports has had a chance to view the terrifying video of an innocent New York City family surrounded and then attacked by a gang of motorcycle riding thugs. Every one of us has placed ourselves behind the wheel of that Range Rover, our wife beside us, our infant daughter in the back seat and thought about what we would have done had we been the head of that family under siege. What happened there is an unconscionable act of mob violence. It was precipitated by the stupid actions of a single motorcyclist and made worse by the general attitude among riders that it is “them or us” out there.
I have always thought that motorcycling is an individual endeavor. I grew up in the country and I didn’t know anyone who rode when I purchased my first street bike. I learned about the sport through the magazines and by actually going out and riding. It never occurred for me to seek out other riders and so I had almost a decade of real, on-the-road riding experience when I first logged onto AOL back in the mid 90s and found their motorcycle chat room. It was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience and it was the first time I ever spoke to other riders about things like gear, safety and how to avoid accidents. Thanks to my hard-won experience, I had a lot to share but I learned a lot too. As time passed and the internet expanded, I found Usenet and Yahoo groups and eventually forums like Sportbikes.net.
By 2006, I was a regular contributor to and moderator of the New Riders’ Forum on the website Sportbikes.net (SBN). In the interest of full disclosure allow me to say that although my actual participation in discussions on the site has waned over the past few years, I still have close friends among the moderators there and that SBN, like TTAC, is a Verticalscope owned website. Unlike TTAC, which is an article based news and discussion website with a staff of editors, writers and automotive reviewers, the primary focus of SBN has always been its message boards. It is a lively place and SBN’s members come from all walks of life. Despite our differing socio economic status, levels of education, professions and politics, one thing united us: a love of motorcycles. It was then, and still is, a great place to talk about bikes.
Although the forum I was charged with managing was not one of the most active on SBN, it was the first stop for many people serious about getting into the hobby. We always encouraged new guys and gals to start small, use all the gear all the time and gradually build up their level of experience before jumping to higher powered bikes. Sometimes people were unhappy with our staid, conservative approach and we were taken to task by those who had started big and been just fine because they “respected their bike.” In the end I would like to think that those people who followed our advice had a better sense of the fundamentals than those who ignored us and that perhaps we saved a few lives.
The other thing we always told the new folks was “Ride like you are invisible and remember that everyone in a cage is trying to kill you.” We repeated the phrase so often it became a sort of mantra. It’s a useful metaphor because it helps grab a new rider’s attention and lets them know what is really at stake when they are out in traffic. But sometimes, I wonder if our efforts weren’t too successful because it seems to me that many riders have the attitude that they are constantly under attack. Because of that, they tend to respond violently to any perceived threat.
The internet is an odd place. Protected by the anonymity of their username and from the comfort of their own homes, where they sit in warmth and light with full bellies, tablet computer in-hand, in front of the TV with their wife beside them and their pets or children frolicking at their feet, people say the damnedest things. It’s even worse when they are among their internet friends, in their own familiar forums where they imagine that they are sitting in the smoking room of some old-fashioned men’s club, cigar in one hand whiskey in the other, surrounded by wood paneling and with the trophies of some long ago African safari mounted upon the walls they let their words flow too freely. People forget that a forum is actually a “public space” and that their most obtuse comments can be intercepted, stripped of their context, copied and rebroadcast to people outside of the club. When those words land, sans their humor, tone and context there can be hell to pay. So it was when a man named John Parks posting as a user named “technoweenie” on his own familiar forum, crownvic.net, announced to the whole world that he purposely caused motorcyclists to wreck.
The message, which was part of a conversation about a you-tube video of a motorcyclist known as the Ghost Rider who stunted around Europe, read: “…Changing lanes is not illegal. I do the same thing to cars all the time when they are being dumb and try to pass me at 20 over. If they hit me, guess what, their fault. And yes, some people on bikes deserve to die. I’ve witnessed several bike accidents ’cause the driver is just plain dumb.”
Later he followed that up with: “I have done many stupid things. Speeding at 90 mph kills, end of story. Last I heard, your license is gone if you’re going 90mph, so it’s not just speeding. That is reckless, and I can’t remember the last time I did something reckless and put people’s lives (or my own) in danger. ”
The first few messages were quickly picked up by other members of Crownvic.net who also happened to be motorcyclists and those people ended up linking to them on several biker forums. The message hit SBN on Feb 23, 2006 at 9:26 PM. By 11:02 SBN members had identified and posted the man’s email address. By 11:24 they had the VIN number to the car in question and the man’s Ham radio license number. By 11:41, they had identified the name and address of the company the man owned, an operation called “Pursuit Technologies” that sold light bars and other technology for police cars and then figured out that the car in question was actually a demo unit for the company and that it was outfitted with lights and other police gear which made it appear, despite the lack of official markings, to be an official police car.
At the behest of SBN members who lived in the region, the local news got involved and reporters showed up at Mr. Parks’ home with cameras in tow. They produced a story about the man with the “fake police car” and when they challenged him about the comments, he actually admitted he had written them. The police became involved and launched an investigation. One of SBN’s members created a special website, Johnparkssucks.com to track the progress of the investigation and on and on it went. In the end, the police investigation came up empty-handed and no one was ever able to attribute a single hit and run accident to Mr. Parks or his police lookalike Crown Victoria. A year later, johnparkssucks.com was taken quietly down and the whole incident faded away with a wimper.
So, what is the moral of this story? That people in groups, acting in the heat of the moment can do stupid things. Although no one in the SBN episode was physically injured or attacked, John Parks suffered for his thoughtlessness. He had his name – which I used here because it remains part of the public record of the incident – blasted all over the internet, his face splashed on the TV and the specifics of his job, hobbies and life made public. I am sure that, to this day, wherever he lives, John Parks lives in fear of the retribution of a sportbike community he did not actually harm. His mistake was being insensitive and he made his situation worse by shooting off his mouth in an internet forum where he felt too comfortable for his own good.
The world has moved on and the videos of John Parks’ interviews have fallen off the far side of the internet after going un-clicked upon for years. The original thread on Crownvic.net that started all the trouble has now vanished and only SBN’s thread, complete with its snippets of the offending original posts still exists. It sits today, 82 pages long, as a testament to one man’s thoughtless braggadocio and as an example of how a group of people with righteous intent was able to stir up a real-life hornets’ nest over something that, in the end, amounted to nothing. John Parks was stupid but we were over-reactive. It ended up as a witch hunt and, looking back on it now, I can see that no one comes out of it looking any better than anyone else. There is a lesson there, I think, for all of us.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.