SPECIAL REPORT: Full Throttle with the Wednesday Night Motorcycle Club

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By NATE BERG | Contributing Writer

Part I in a Series

In the still of the night, on the quiet and mostly empty streets of the Village in Pacific Palisades, there’s a humming in the distance. Within moments the hum grows from a whir to a buzz to a scream as a line of motorcycles whizzes by.

It’s a sound familiar to many in the Palisades, where for years groups of motorcyclists have ridden in large packs through town, screaming down Sunset Boulevard almost like clockwork most Wednesday nights around 10 o’clock, broadcasting their high-pitched exhaust to echo off the hillsides.

Rolling in packs of five or 10, the motorcyclists can sometimes number between 50 and 100 a night, and their noise can overwhelm the Palisades for solid minutes at a time. To some they are a minor annoyance, to others an outrage. After years of complaints and tickets and discussions, the motorcyclists keep coming back week after week.

“They’re conducting a public nuisance,” Palisadian Jack Allen says. “I don’t think anybody in the community likes the idea of the motorcycles doing what they do.”

“It’s been a problem for me for years,” says Ron Dean, who lives just north of Sunset on Via de la Paz. “We get the full brunt of it.”

Motorcycle riders scream through the Village in Pacific Palisades. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Motorcycle riders scream through the Village in Pacific Palisades.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

“They are so loud, and they wake me up. Even when I put earplugs in, they are still so loud,” 8-year-old Palisadian Gavin Alexander wrote in an October 2014 letter to the editor of the Palisadian-Post. “There’s a law against having loud motorcycles. Can’t the police write tickets and make them go away?”

Not according to the leader of the motorcycle club that’s been riding the curves of Sunset Boulevard in the Palisades on Wednesday nights for years.

“There ain’t nothing you can do. They can’t tell us not to ride through that street. It’s public,” he says. To the irritated neighbors and sleepy schoolchildren, he has some advice: “Sleep after 10,” he says, with a laugh.

Bandit, who’s asked to be identified by his motorcycle nickname, is the founder of the Ruthless Ryderz, a seven-year-old riding club that now counts hundreds of members across half a dozen chapters throughout California. It is one of the biggest clubs in the state. It has a Facebook page and its members post videos of rides to YouTube and photos of meet-ups to Instagram.

The riders mostly use street bikes, the high-pitched, racing-style motorcycles produced by companies such as Yamaha and Suzuki. Some have been customized with sleek body parts, impressive paint jobs and intricate decals. Unlike more secretive and notorious motorcycle groups such as the Hell’s Angels or the Mongols, the Ruthless Ryderz say they’re not a gang or out to cause any trouble.

“We’re just a bunch of guys that like to ride,” Bandit says.

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At Ruthless Cycles, the motorcycle repair shop he runs in Van Nuys, Bandit is surrounded by motorcycles, mostly street bikes, in various states of disrepair and damage. He fixes bikes after crashes, fits out custom rides and even builds new bikes from scratch. A display rack holds an array of Ruthless Ryderz clothing and merchandise, all branded with the club’s logo: two capital Rs back-to-back. A conference room doubles as the club’s meeting hall, where trophies from bike rallies are on display and prospective new club members claim their allegiance to this informal brotherhood before a panel of senior club officials. A gavel, emblazoned with the Ruthless Ryderz logo, may be more than just decoration.

Bandit is 44 and husky, an Armenian from Lebanon who moved with his family to Hollywood when he was 2. His left arm is covered in a sleeve of tattoos, and his right bears the double-R logo. Tattoos across the knuckles on both hands spell out RUTHLESS in inch-high lettering.

The Ruthless Ryderz mostly use street bikes, the high-pitched, racing-style motorcycles produced by companies like Yamaha and Suzuki. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
The Ruthless Ryderz mostly use street bikes, the high-pitched, racing-style motorcycles produced by companies like Yamaha and Suzuki.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

He says he started the Ruthless Ryderz in 2008 as an alternative to the overly serious, often racially segregated and sometimes dangerous motorcycle clubs that exist. His club is racially diverse – “We got everything” – and members’ ages range from 18 to over 60.

Some are computer technicians, others lawyers, still others desk workers and laymen. There are a few Hollywood stunt guys and a couple of immigration officers. There is even a handful of women.

The Ruthless Ryderz typically take two group rides a week: a scenic trip on Sundays to places like Big Bear or Angeles Crest, and a ride to the beach on Wednesday nights. Wednesday, Bandit says, is “bike night” in L.A. They don’t ride down Sunset every Wednesday – and argue they’re not the only motorcyclists making noise in the Palisades (see sidebar) – but it’s a favorite route.

A motorcyclist wears a leather vest (or “cut”) emblazoned with the Ruthless Ryderz logo (or, in motorcycle lingo, “color”). Photo: Charles Warren
A motorcyclist wears a leather vest (or “cut”) emblazoned with the Ruthless Ryderz logo (or, in motorcycle lingo, “color”).
Photo: Charles Warren

Club members hail from various parts of Los Angeles, and before their Wednesday night rides they all congregate at a coffee shop on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City.

Not every member shows up for every ride, but there will usually be between 50 and 100 riders on any given Wednesday.

Once everyone is ready, they’ll head west through Sherman Oaks on Ventura and turn south onto Sepulveda, where they carve through the hills and parallel the 405 until they get to Sunset, which they take the rest of the way to the ocean where they gather at the 76 gas station – spending the last few minutes of their ride howling through the Palisades.

A Neighborhood Nuisance

It is these last few minutes of riding that have irked residents in the Palisades for years. Many complain about the noise, and some say the motorcyclists are speeding or otherwise riding dangerously. Some residents have shot videos capturing what they argue is unsafe riding and call on the police to put a stop to it.

“My office often gets calls from constituents who are upset about the noise this weekly motorcycle ride creates and my staff has been working with LAPD to request increased enforcement to prevent the burden on neighbors in the Pacific Palisades,” City Councilmember Mike Bonin said in a statement. “Not only are the motorcycles obnoxiously loud, but when they speed on neighborhood streets, they pose a serious threat to our safety.”

For the most part, the police have limited success enforcing the law during Wednesday night rides. Even when officers are out in high numbers or running specific task forces aimed at the motorcyclists, they are often unable to write many citations. Most of the motorcycles are in compliance with state and federal noise regulations.

Motorcyclists head back up Sunset Blvd. past the Vons grocery store after congregating at the 76 gas station. Photo: Charles Warren
Motorcyclists head back up Sunset Blvd. past the Vons grocery store after congregating at the 76 gas station.
Photo: Charles Warren

The bigger issue, according to LAPD Senior Lead Officer Michael Moore, is that the motorcyclists are equipped with communication devices that let riders at the front of the pack serve as scouts, informing other members of the group when police are present, dissuading speeding and other unsafe or illegal activity.

“The problem is that the officers never see it happening, because the scout system they have is good enough that they usually are well-behaved when we’re in the area,” Moore says.

Rider-to-rider intercom systems like ones made by ChatterBox help members of the Ruthless Ryderz communicate with each other, and, police say, to tip each other off when law enforcement is present.

Bandit claims he and his fellow riders aren’t doing anything wrong. He understands that motorcycles can be loud, but says a lot of the complaints are exaggerated. He also says he tries to reduce the noise impact by encouraging riders to travel in smaller packs. “I always tell my guys, ‘imagine someone’s sleeping there and a hundred bikes go by,” he says. “It’s like an earthquake.’”

According to Moore, however, that concern is less than genuine.

“In the past we’ve stopped and met with the leadership of these groups and said, ‘Hey, there’s an issue here,’ and they’ve always politely said, ‘Oh, okay, we can appreciate that, we’re sorry about the inconvenience,’” Moore says. “But then they come back the next Wednesday. So they say they’re sorry but obviously not enough to stop riding.”

“They are not a criminal element that’s coming into the neighborhood,” Moore adds. “They’re just a nuisance.”

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Taking an Active Role

That nuisance is testing the patience of some Palisadians who want to see more done to discourage groups like the Ruthless Ryderz from disturbing the community. Ron Dean, the neighbor who lives just up the street from the Sunset noise, says that residents can play a more active role in helping the police to catch problematic riders by gathering evidence of speeding and other wrongdoing.

He suggests recording videos of the riders and trying to write down license plate numbers, and even working with neighboring communities to know when to be on guard.

“If we could coordinate with people in Brentwood and the Brentwood people say, ‘Here they come,’ it’s five minutes to the Palisades and we’ve got our people there and we can collect the data,” he says. “The Palisades is ready.”

Sergeant Christopher Kunz, a motorcycle officer in the LAPD West Traffic Division, says such video evidence could be helpful in terms of building a case for the dedication of more police resources, but an officer would still be required to be out on the streets to verify any violations.

In May 2015, motorcyclists rode in packs of three to five as they left the 76 gas station. Photo: Charles Warren
In May 2015, motorcyclists rode in packs of three to five as they left the 76 gas station.
Photo: Charles Warren

He says the LAPD has parked patrol cars in hidden locations aiming to catch speeding motorcyclists in the act and run task force operations to crack down on loud exhausts, but these efforts have only resulted in a small number of citations.

He says the speed and the noise often don’t rise to the level of being an offense.

“Although people perceive a problem, the solution is not always as simple as enforcement,” Kunz says.

The exact solution remains elusive. The Ruthless Ryderz continue to make their weekly trek down Sunset and through the Palisades, bringing the noise and annoyance that have bothered many in the community for years. Though police and others say there may be some options available to the community that can reduce or even eliminate this weekly disturbance, implementing those tactics will likely be a challenge.

Look for Part II of this series in an upcoming issue of the Post.