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Beginning Oct. 1, Motorcycle Wheelies Will Be Costly

TAMPA - Displays of bravado on two wheels are as old as, well, wheels. From Steve McQueen hopping the barbed wire fence in "The Great Escape" to Evel Knievel's long-distance leaps, stunts on bikes have drawn gasps from onlookers. Daredevils on motorcycles often have their feats captured on video and posted online. Such stunts are scattered across the YouTube landscape. Locally, the Courtney Campbell Parkway on any given night is a favorite spot for sport bike riders to meet and show off their skills. Among the stunts: the ever-popular wheelie.
That's when the front wheel of the motorcycle comes off the pavement with a twist of the throttle and the bike is ridden a distance on one wheel. Starting Oct. 1, the anti-wheelie law takes effect. If a law enforcement officer spots that activity, the rider can be cited under the new state law and face a $1,000 fine. That's for a first offense. A second offense carries a maximum fine of $2,500. A third-timer faces a felony charge and can be fined as much as $5,000 - along with a 10-year license revocation. The statute was introduced by Florida Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican from Miami.
His bill requires motorcyclists to "maintain both wheels on the ground at all times." He decided to introduce the bill after seeing sport bikers doing stunts, including wheelies, on Interstate 95 in Miami. "I witnessed it several times on the expressway," he said this morning. "Two weekends in a row, they were doing really crazy stunts. They were hanging off [the sides of their bikes], scraping their feet on the median, riding sidesaddle and doing wheelies. "There also was a van chasing them," Lopez-Cantera said, "filming it all." That prompted him to take action, he said. "When I saw that, I said, 'I've got to do something - at least bring attention to it.' " He said other dangerous stunts are addressed in other statutes, but wheelies were not. His law will catch the attention of daredevils who put themselves in danger as well as others, he said. Initially, he said, he wanted to include a provision to allow forfeiture of the motorcycle, but that fell by the wayside. Though charges such as reckless driving could be used to charge someone doing wheelies, the fines for those offenses are less than a few hundred dollars, he said, and stunt riders don't take them seriously. "They say it's just the cost of doing business," Lopez-Cantera said. By naming wheelies in the law, the penalties are increased, he said. "We needed to pass something they would fear," he said. Tampa lawyer John MacKay, who represents motorcyclists in civil and traffic court, said the legislation is unnecessary. "I think it's going to open a can of worms because it's difficult to see when that wheel is coming off the ground," he said. The law will be easily challenged, he said, "unless you've got a kid who is standing up vertically." Still, it will come down to the word of the biker against the word of the law enforcement officer and witnesses. Just about every biker charged will have a defense that a condition in the road caused the front wheel to come up, he said. "If you hit a rock a little hard," MacKay said, "your wheel is going to come up off the ground."
He said he has seen the stunt riders and shakes his head at their bravado. Still, he said, the anti-wheelie law is not the answer. "I have never heard of a problem with people doing wheelies," he said. "I see it. I know it makes people mad. I know it is a stupid thing to do. But ultimately natural selection takes its course." Whether the law will be successfully challenged depends on the case, he said. "Legislation like this, on the first time around, it's not so difficult to take it down," he said. "But as the government fine-tunes it, ultimately they will get something that will stand." Michael Shepherd owns Bucks Down Racing in Oldsmar, which outfits and modifies racing motorcycles for road and track use. He said a lot of his customers are part of the sport bike crowd that is targeted by the legislation. "They are noticeably irate about this law that was passed," he said. "They're aware of it, big time."
But the group is young and not that organized and is not likely to mount any legal opposition to it.
"The kids who do that are going to do that anyway," he said. "They're just going to go out and post lookouts now." Many are "really talented individuals," he said, who may have futures in trick motorcycle riding.
He said that much of his business, though, is customizing motorcycles that race on tracks.
"We spend most of our life," he said, "trying to keep our front wheel on the ground."

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or [email protected]

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