Driving home on Route 50, a day at the Chesapeake Bay at our backs, we were enduring our 183rd showing of “Backyardigans” in the crumb-mobile when I heard the roar coming on strong from behind.
The dashboard vibrated with the sound, and the boys in the back seat yelled “COOOL!” as the bikes growled past.
A blue streak, a green flash, a silver one and then a red rocket in the rear, weaving between cars and popping a wheelie as soon as the driver passed us.
Must be springtime in Maryland; motorcycle season is here.
Okay, I’ll confess. That moment when their speed is physically palpable in the car, when they break 100 or 140 or, some state troopers swear, 160 mph, I burn with envy, wishing I were going that fast, imagining the adrenaline rush.
Think of how efficient your carpool would be if you could cover the distance between soccer and tae kwon do and school in six minutes.
And then, just as they pass, their T-shirts billowing up in the wind, I can see the winglike scapula bones of the teenager at the helm of this 600-pound rocket ship, and it’s clear how horribly he could die.
That guy was a squid. And our region is lousy with them.
Trooper 1st Class Shaft Hunter probably died in pursuit of a squid — as a certain type of brazen motorcycle rider is known — early Saturday morning.
Hunter, a Marine veteran and father of six, was pursuing a speeding motorcycle on I-95 when he slammed into a truck parked on the roadside and died instantly. The motorcycle rider got away, leaving behind nothing more than a vague description by one witness of a white helmet.
The pursuit of these outlaws has been frustrating police — particularly Maryland state troopers, who patrol the areas that are their favorite speeding grounds — for more than a decade.
They can’t catch them — Crown Vics simply don’t go 160 mph. Nor is that safe. They go too fast for anyone to see their license plates. Dragnets, stop sticks, speed traps are all generally useless.
“We get the calls from angry motorists: ‘A group of them came by, weaving in and out of traffic, going more than 100 miles an hour. It’s scared the heck out of my wife, she’s panicking,’ they’ll tell us,” said Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police. “But if they’re going 140 and 160 mph, it is just not something that you can pursue. You really have to balance your ability to catch that vehicle with whether to pursue.”
Nationally, motorcycle fatalities have nearly doubled over the past 15 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.
Yup, just about the time the squids showed up. Squids ride high-performance motorcycles that were called crotch rockets when they debuted in the 1980s. Today they’re usually known as sport bikes, cafe bikes or rice racers, because most of them are made in Japan.
The squids ride them at wicked speeds, rarely wear any protective gear and sometimes pull crazy stunts in traffic. Occasionally, the rider’s pal is close by, filming the squidery, as was the case in the 2004 death on a Frederick highway of Shaun Matlock, who slammed into a truck while doing a pantless wheelie at 70 mph.
Welcome to motorcycle rebels of the new millennium.
Hells Angels and Harley dudes? They’re the grandpas and grandmas doing charity rides and pancake breakfasts. Go watch them on the Mall over Memorial Day weekend during Rolling Thunder. Smile at their hard-core patches and bandanas, bring the kids, wave.
The squids are the ones who are trouble. They’re usually young and just bought their bikes, said Omar Elrahimy, organizer of Fast Track Riders, a more grown-up take on the speed bike culture.
Elrahimy, owner of a construction company and the father of two, is primarily a track rider. He and his group rent time on a racing track so they can open up the bike at maximum speeds. He likes to go fast, control the throttle just enough to take the turn at a tight lean, so close that his knee is barely skimming the track. That’s why they are also called knee-draggers.
“Driving on the highway is just not that fun,” he told me. “It’s straight, no tight turns.”
That’s part of why the highway hellions we know are called squids, some theorize. They ride like a squid swims. Really fast in one direction, then they have to stop to turn. No skill, no finesse. No common sense.
The track guys hate them about as much as the police do.
Same goes for the weekend sport bikers. They do highways some but also love long, curving scenic routes along the Eastern Shore. They’ve got the leathers and helmets and lean forward on their racing bikes the way the squids do, but they don’t do the extreme speed.
“Maybe a little more than the speed limit, but not that 120 you see some of the others do,” said Lynn Brooks, a 40-year-old mother who is better known as Storm, the leader of her all-female sport bike pack, N-2 Deep Sistas. They impress with their cute matching leathers, tight formation and hand signals.
Bring it on, Storm. You and the ladies can ride alongside me and the boys.