News & Politics

A DC Street Photographer Documented Dirt Bike and ATV Riders

A DC Street Photographer Documented Dirt Bike and ATV Riders
All photographs by Ryan Florig.

Two weeks ago, Washington-area police released 245 surveillance photos of dirt bike and ATV riders as a part of a major crackdown on the dangerous practice. The DC Police are offering a $250 reward to anyone who helps identify and arrest the people in the snapshots. The police’s “Bonu$ 2 Phone Us: Off Road” call-in program is still ongoing.

This isn’t the first time wheelie-popping riders have been caught on camera. Last fall, DC street photographer Ryan Florig spent a day with a group called Bike Life DC while they practiced tricks and roamed the streets of Fort Washington, Maryland. What came out of it was a raw photo series chronicling a day in the life of a public menace.

We asked Florig, who embeds himself in subcultures such as DC’s underground drag queen scene, what that day was like.


How did you find these guys?

I asked a friend who’s really well-connected if he knew [a dirt biker], and the next day he gave me some guy’s number, and that was it. But they’re very hard to actually meet up with. With these people, they’re never still—they’re always moving around. Luckily, the day I met up with them, that was one of their go-to places. We met up in a school parking lot and they took me out on one of the four wheelers and I was photographing them in the street.


Did you get a sense for why they do this?

It’s just an adrenaline rush. To me, they’re just like skaters. Skateboarding is like, you’re breaking the rules, and it’s just fun to break the law. They’re performing, too. They want people to see them in their cars and drive by—they love the attention. I look at them as modern day Western cowboys. Their bikes are like the horse. When one guy came up over the hill, it reminded me of a badass cowboy on a stallion.


What are their lives like outside of Bike Life?

They seem like they’re into the standard party life like most people their age—early 20s, mid-20s. I really didn’t get to know them that well, but the main guy I was hanging out with had a young son with him. The kid in the photos—that’s his son.


Where do they live?

Maryland. It makes sense not to have your bike in DC, because it’s a lot easier to hide it.

What sticks out in your mind from the day?

Riding in the back of the four wheeler. That was my favorite part. That was something going into it that I was hoping was going to happen. And then when I got there they were like, “Yeah we’re gonna put you on the back of one.” And I was like, “Yeees.”


Did they do a wheelie when you were on it?

Oh no, I wouldn’t have been down for that. With [the photo of the guy doing a wheelie with a girl on the back,] I wanted to give the juxtaposition of the little boy and the girl interaction with later on in life. A little boy interacting with a girl is very innocent, but when you get older, behind them, it’s different: You’re chill-boning with a girl instead of trying to show her your sweet little toy.


What did the guys think of your photo series?

When I sent the main guy the pictures through a text, his only response was three fire emojis. I don’t think they were overly hyped on it, but that’s why I was hyped on it, because I feel like I was photographing it in a way that they wouldn’t have expected. They wanted something real flashy and colorful. But I wanted to take photographs that you would actually look at later. With something like this, it’s really archiving it.


What was their reaction to your presence?

It seemed natural. And I would ask them like, do a wheelie here. In [the photo above], they were all just chilling and the guy doing the wheelie was the only one doing that trick. I feel like the fact that he was the only white dude there, he felt obligated to show them that he could hang with them. So with that photo, I wanted to try and capture that.


You can find more of Florig’s work on his Instagram.

Web producer/writer

Greta started as an editorial fellow in January 2016 and joined as a full-time staff member that August. She now works as a web producer and writer. She was previously an intern at Slate and National Geographic and graduated from the University of Missouri’s Journalism School. She lives in Adams Morgan.