Columnist Dan Rodricks talks to "Wheelie Wayne" Davis about the need for a dirt bike park in Baltimore. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun video)
Wheelie Wayne, a legend among Baltimore's dirt bike riders, believes a bike park could be a huge success — and he felt that way before police took his wheels away, part of their aggressive crackdown on the illegal bikes many consider a public menace.
Wheelie Wayne's real name is DeWayne Davis, and he's gained international notoriety for his skills on a dirt bike. Videos of Davis balancing his bike on the rear tire, rocking between 2 o'clock and 12 o'clock, have won millions of views on YouTube. He has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram. The hip hop artist Fetty Wap, one of his biggest fans, has come to Baltimore to hang out, ride with Davis and pick up some pointers.
At 39, Wheelie Wayne is the godfather of the 12 o'clock guys.
Note to readers: I know many of you hate the dirt bikes and want the police to use all their powers to get them off city streets. I agree that the bikes are a threat to public safety, and have said so in this column. A special task force headed by Sgt. Christopher Warren, along with narcotics units and patrol officers, has taken more than 100 dirt bikes and ATVs — along with five guns — off the streets in recent weeks. The crackdown was overdue.
But while this effort might clear the streets for a while, I'll bet cash money the guys who like to ride will find a way back.
So, the idea of a dirt bike park is still worth exploring.
Therefore, I present Wheelie Wayne — in the first on-the-record interview he's ever given — because he's a veteran rider with an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of influence among the younger guys.
Would the younger guys really use a dirt bike park?
"Yes, I'm confident they would," Davis says. "This is a billion-dollar business waiting to be tapped into. People all over the world know about the Baltimore dirt bikes and they would come here to watch us. … We had two guys from Paris here just a couple of months ago."
A lot of people think a bike park won't work because the bikers like being outlaws; they'd find a park too tame. Davis disagrees.
"We don't want confrontations with the police," he says. "I could be out riding and have 100 guys behind me. If I know there are cops up ahead, we go around the block to avoid them. We don't want to confront them. We just want to ride. …
"You know, originally, we weren't on the streets. We'd be on an open field somewhere. Not a sports field, but just a [vacant] field somewhere. And the police drove [us] off the fields and into the street. … But I don't care where you make us go, the crowd is gonna follow us. People are gonna pull their cameras out, and the little kids are gonna shake our hands. Through any part of the city, that's how it goes."
Davis thinks a bike park could become the coolest place in town.
"You gotta do it right," he says. "If there was a gas station on the site, if there was a bike shop and a mechanic, if there was a place to rent bikes, if there was a place to store the bikes . . ."
That's another thing that comes up every time I write about this topic: Even if the city or a nonprofit or a private corporation built a park, the riders would still have to illegally use city streets to get there.
Police seized five dirt bikes and three ATVs from Davis' property in Southwest Baltimore on Aug. 3. He says he had title to all but one of the vehicles, and they were properly registered and stored in compliance with city law. He wants his bikes back, but he'll have to fight that out in court.
If Wheelie Wayne ever rides again, it ought to be in a dirt bike park.
And not just because a park would end a very public struggle between police and the riders, but because it could turn into a thriving business. Fetty Wap might invest in a park here if he believed the city supported the idea and provided land. Baltimore, Davis adds, could be the dirt bike capital of the world.
But attitudes would have to change drastically. Someone with courage and vision would have to take this project on. And such a project would have to start with Wheelie Wayne.