There is something undeniably American about biker gangs, from the quintessential images ingrained in our mind of the 60s-era Hell’s Angels made legendary by the writing of Hunter S. Thompson and The Rolling Stone’s film Gimme Shelter to DMX’s video for the “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” where he had all those dudes in baggie jeans riding through the ghettos of New York on ATVs and suicycles.
It’s time to add one more motorist collective to that pantheon of rebels on wheels: Baltimore’s Twelve O’Clock Boyz. They’re a hundred-strong gang who wheely dirt bikes through a city where police are banned from chasing them, creating an illegal underground sport that the cops are powerless to do anything about.
For the last three years, filmmaker Lotfy Nathan has been documenting the Twelve O’Clock Boyz for a new film called Twelve O’Clock in Baltimore (trailer below), which is now ready for release at the end of this year. I spoke to him about the gang.
VICE: Hey Lotfy. How did you first come across these guys? Lotfy Nathan: I saw them first in passing, actually. I think a lot of people in Baltimore see them tearing through the city, and most people don’t really know what the whole thing’s about. It’s assumed that they’re pushing drugs on dirt bikes—like a pack of dealers, or bandits, or something—which is kind of ridiculous, because these bikes are incredibly loud and attract a lot of attention, which is not what you want if you’re selling drugs.
Very true. What made you want to make a film about them? Well, I didn’t know if it would actually be possible to contact them at first. But I asked around and found out where they congregated and they were actually really receptive to being filmed. I hadn’t really connected the showing-off element of the bike riding to what they might be like in person before, but it kind of made sense. A lot of the guys are going for a YouTube celebrity status, so they were all about the camera.
Photo by Noah Rabinowitz
I read about the weird situation with the police and the riders. Could you explain that a bit? Basically, the bikes are illegal to ride in the city, but the police aren’t allowed to chase anyone riding them, so they leave them alone. It’s because of a death that occurred in 1999, involving a dirt bike rider when, allegedly, a police officer was giving chase. It’s just too dangerous to chase the bikes. That then creates this awkward cat and mouse thing, because the police are being taunted.