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Eight arrests Monday at city park put bicycle group in the spotlight

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 13. 2018 9:38AM
Brett Kilmer, manager of Jake's Bike Shop in Goffstown, talks about the Bike Life movement on Tuesday. BMX-style bikes are the standard for young people who participate in Bike Life; Kilmer says he has banned two members from the shop recently. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Far from Laconia and Motorcycle Week, a new breed of renegade bikers clashed with cops and others in Manchester on Monday.

Propulsion came from pedals, not throttles. And once police arrested eight of the bikers, their identities remained confidential: The kids ranged in age from 14 to 17 and are thus exempt from public disclosure.

Manchester police said they arrested the eight after being called twice to the center-city Sheridan-Emmett Park area before 9 p.m. One report was for teens confronting an adult male; the other report said several teenagers were beating another teen with a stick.

Police said the encountered “disorderly behavior and riot-like conditions” including rocks being thrown at buildings and sticks and scooters being swung in arcs like weapons when anyone tried to intervene.

The kids seemed to be filming themselves as officers gave chase, police said. They also yelled out “Bike Life.”

The arrests prompted frustration among people promoting Bike Life, a movement that has hit Manchester streets over the last two years. It involves young adults and teens riding together on BMX-style bicycles, popping wheelies and weaving through traffic. In May, police urged drivers to not confront the riders but to alert police when the bicyclists converge on a street.

“In their eyes, in their brains, they feel Manchester police are after them for any reason. (I tell them) no, you’ve got to give them a reason,” said Vince Fuentes, 30, who moved to Manchester two years ago from New York. His wheelies and tricks on the SE-brand bike favored by Bike Life followers drew the interest of local kids. He has a sponsorship with the company and serves as a Bike Life mentor for the youth.

A youngster sits on his bike at Sheridan-Emmett Park in Manchester on Tuesday. Police arrested eight teenagers, all associated with the Bike Life movement, at the park on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

He arrived toward the end of Monday’s incident and acknowledged the young riders were swearing at police and claiming “bike rights.” He was distressed at the behavior, noting that one of those arrested had a brick in his backpack.

“I’m at the point where I’m about to give up. I can’t get in trouble for their actions,” Fuentes said.

The eight youths face charges including riot, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

At Jake’s Bike Shop, the Goffstown shop that sells the SE-brand bicycles, manager Brett Kilmer said he’s banned two riders from his shop already. And he has another consequence in mind: not selling the 2019 models to the troublemakers. The new models should be in stock in a week or two.

He said he will not have a problem selling the bikes, which range from $550 to $900, to others. The low-riding, single gear bikes come with wide tires and adjustable seats that make them ideal for trick riding.

“It’s tough to talk to kids that age, but I remember being that age, I remember not listening,” Kilmer said. 

At Sheridan-Emmett Park, D’Andre Sanchez, 16, showed a reporter an Instagram photo of one of the bikers after his arrest. The young man had a swollen lip and tear tracks on his face.

Sanchez said he thinks the police cause trouble for Bike Life kids who are just hanging around in the park. He said he heard about the arrests, but doesn’t believe the bike riders assaulted anyone beforehand.

“That’d be on Snapchat because everybody uses it,” he said.

A youngster rides his bike at Sheridan-Emmett Park in Manchester on Tuesday. Police arrested eight teenagers associated with the Bike Life movement at the park Monday night. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

A friend of his said the incident started when an adult approached the bike riders in a threatening manner with a metal pole.

“We were just riding bikes; that’s what we do,” said the teen, Jean Romero Lebron, 16. Lebron said he is from Rhode Island and was visiting family. He said the bike riders hurled rocks and stones at the man with the pole. “He had a weapon, and we got arrested,” he said.

His statement could not be independently confirmed. Fuentes said he heard that the bike riders were being threatened; he said the best thing for them to do would have been to walk away.

In an emailed statement, spokesman Lt. Brian O’Keefe said Manchester police expect anyone operating on roads, whether driving cars or bicycles, to follow the rules at all times or expect enforcement.

“Last night is an example of those who showed no regard for the safety of themselves or others, so eight of the countless youth were arrested for their actions,” O’Keefe said.

Both Fuentes and Kilmer said most of the Bike Life youth are good kids, but a mob mentality can develop. 

Kids in Bike Life, Kilmer said, are selling their video games to pay for bikes, which is a healthy alternative to hours of video game playing.  He feels state lawmakers should provide more money for bicycle trails. 

“These kids don’t have anywhere to go,” Kilmer said.

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