In popular – but illegal – Baltimore dirt bike scene, female rider makes waves

This “12 O'Clock Boy” is a girl: Learn about Baltimore's “Wheelie Queen”

The 85-cc engine of the Honda dirt bike belches as the bareheaded rider accelerates down Fayette Street through West Baltimore.

With a bicep tattoo of a 12 O'Clock Boy — a rider holding a wheelie, straight up — the biker leans forward, pulls on the handlebars, lifts the front tire high in the air, and keeps the pose steady as the bike glides out of view.

The rider's name is Keyria Doughty. Around here, she's known as the "Wheelie Queen."

This 12 O'Clock Boy is a girl.

Doughty, 20, is one of only a few females to break into dirt bike riding on the streets of Baltimore, the homegrown, male-dominated subculture that's gaining in popularity — despite the efforts of police and lawmakers.

Bikers have been cruising — some say terrorizing — the city for at least a generation. They are a chief complaint at community meetings, where residents complain of packs roaring in and out of traffic, through red lights and across medians.

The activity has been illegal in Baltimore since 2000, when two riders were killed in a crash and fed-up city leaders took action.

"There's nothing positive that can be said about that," said state Sen. Catherine Pugh, who pushed for the ban as a member of the City Council. "There's places where you can ride dirt bikes; the streets of Baltimore aren't it. You can't scare people in the street."

But neither the prohibition on street riding nor related measures — a ban on filling the bikes at gas stations, a law that allows police to seize unlocked bikes, a tip line residents can call to turn in riders — have dimmed enthusiasm for the pastime.

A documentary on the 12 O'Clock Boys last year won acclaim on the festival circuit and airs on Showtime. Videos on YouTube and Instagram are carrying the riders' exploits to an international audience. A recent Sunday ride through the city drew participants from five states.

Bikers say riding is a constructive activity that keeps young people out of trouble. One of their slogans: "Put down a gun, pick up a bike."

Into this subculture comes Doughty, a Baltimore native who got her first bike at 11. She's one of a few women to try to ride with the Boys.

She posts videos online of herself riding — the number of likes and followers on her Instagram account spiked when she started to emphasize her gender, she said — and has begun to sell her own printed Wheelie Queen T-shirts on her Instagram page, @doughty_18.

Doughty sees herself as a positive example: She graduated from high school, holds a regular job at a senior care facility and has no criminal record. Even in her show-off videos, she can be seen stopping at red lights.

There is no professional circuit for street riders or a clear path to earning money from the activity. But there is the example of Chino Braxton, perhaps Baltimore's most successful rider. The teen parlayed his talents into the world of supercross, was taken under the wing of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill and has picked up sponsorships from Monster Energy drink and others.

Spectators might be confused by Doughty's boyish appearance. She keeps her hair cropped close, eschews makeup, and favors jeans and T-shirts that show off her heavily tattooed arms. But the message she has inscribed across the back of the shirts makes it clear: "I'm a Girl."

"People underestimate people, and I feel as though they shouldn't do that," she said." You should never let nobody tell you you can't do something. I just want to get it out there: 'I'm a girl, and I'm doing everything you doing.' "

As a youngster, Doughty says, she was fascinated with the bikers who rode through her West Baltimore neighborhood. She often rode on the backs of bikes, and she eventually got one of her own as a present from an older friend. She remembers rolling around on a bike that seemed bigger than she was, looking for the pack.

Her mother thinks riding helped her cope with the loss of her father, who suffered an aneurysm in 2009.

"She's not over the death of her father," said her mother, Latarsia Barksdale. "He was always in her life from day one, since she was born."

After Jarvis Doughty's death, Barksdale said, "she didn't care no more. She was getting in trouble. I said, 'Your father don't want to see you like this. You have to step up and be strong for your other siblings.'

"Once she got on the right path, she's been doing 'her' ever since."

A severe injury at one point caused her to stop riding. She was riding a four-wheeler in the spring of 2013 when it came down awkwardly on a concrete bench. The impact knocked her wrist out of place.

At that point, she had yet to master the wheelie, and getting back on a bike wasn't a priority.

Later that year, she found the motivation to climb back on: A female rider she knew was posting pictures of herself riding a dirt bike.

"My homeboys were like, 'How can you let her do this? You've been riding longer than her,' " she said. "It was in my head — there's a girl beating me, and it's something I've always wanted to do.

"Once it was in my head, it was stuck, and it wouldn't go nowhere."

She got back on the bike and started practicing regularly at Carroll Park. By June last year, she says, she was able to wheelie. Now it's something she can't imagine not doing.

Her mother calls her "awesome."

"I'm really proud that people are looking at her, complimenting her," Barksdale said.

In May, police announced a fresh attempt to crack down on dirt bikes in the street. Riders say they are always aware of the presence of officers. They tell stories of officers damaging bikes, and show videos that allegedly depict officers chasing bikes.

When Doughty began riding, she said, she underestimated the attention police would be paying.

"That's one thing I wasn't ready for," she said. "I wasn't ready to get chased by the police."

She describes several perilous interactions. A year ago, she says, she was riding up North Fulton Avenue with a friend when officers emerged from a side street and knocked her off her bike.

She says she suffered an 8-inch gash on the inside of her lip that required stitches, as well as other injuries.

A police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Officers say riders often hurt themselves while attempting to flee, and that many of the bikes they recover are listed as stolen.

Doughty says dirt bike riders aren't looking to taunt police.

"I just want to ride freely," she said.

One recent night, Doughty disappeared from a street in West Baltimore, retired to a secret location and retrieved her bike.

When she returned, she spied a police helicopter swirling overhead and a police cruiser circling the block. A look of concern darkened her face before she rode off.

"They ain't gonna get her," said Duan Jones, a friend.

Jones himself is not a rider. Why not?

"Truthfully?" he asked. "I'm scared to fall."

Doughty has more than 8,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts pictures and video. Friends have helped her extend her reach still further.

In July, a veteran rider who goes by Wheelie Wayne and is followed by 74,000 users on Instagram, posted a video of Doughty doing a one-hand wheelie and called her "our girl of the game."

"Oh hell naw," a male rider commented. "I gotta tighten up now."

Deon Beasley, a 27-year-old from Doughty's neighborhood, said he lends his music to her videos and said he is supporting her though a clothing line he's working on. The efforts have yet to pay dividends for either of them, he acknowledges.

"We're just here trying to help each other out and support each other," he said.

But few have been able to parlay the excitement of riding into a living.

Doughty isn't quitting her day job, but she's hopeful.

"You never know what can happen in the future," she says. "Things take time, and I feel as though when it's time, everything will fall in place."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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