A group of local motorbike enthusiasts and opposition MLAs were surprised to hear what Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner Derek Byrne told them during a private meeting Thursday night.
Mr. Byrne met at George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan’s constituent office with Mr. Bryan and Newlands MLA Alva Suckoo, as well as five members of the motorbike group who participated – with legally licensed vehicles – in the Sunday, Nov. 26 ride around Grand Cayman.
Mr. Byrne told the group he would support another big ride – sometimes referred to as the Ride of the Century or Ride Out Cayman – at the same time next year, as long as all the motorbikes and other vehicles involved were licensed for proper use on the roads, and police were notified and could provide necessary security for the event. The vehicles would also have to be operated safely, within the limits of the Traffic Law, the commissioner said.
“I said I’d support it 100 percent, If it’s legal, and it’s lawful … and I need to know the roads I’m going to close,” Mr. Byrne said.
There has been some discontent in Cayman that more motorbike riders, some of whom were clearly riding illegally during the Nov. 26 event, had not been arrested during the rowdy and sometimes dangerous ride, where streets were blocked, stunt riding in opposite lanes of traffic occurred and a police roadblock was stormed and breached. Mr. Byrne said police are still investigating the incident and more arrests and motorbike seizures may be forthcoming.
“There is a rogue element that doesn’t want to comply, they still have to be tackled,” Mr. Byrne said. “But for the people who want to come into the tent, they’re the people we’re trying to cater for and try to work with them. It’s going to take loads of dialogue. [The Thursday] night [meeting] didn’t solve anything, but it demonstrated a willingness to participate and it identified a lack of understanding by the police over what this is about.
“If we alienate that community of young people, we’ll be years trying to get them back on board.”
Mr. Bryan, not always a fond supporter of the RCIPS in the past, said he appreciated the commissioner’s approach to this thorny problem.
“I really think this commissioner is doing a great job, in particular the communication and open mindedness to it,” he said.
Mr. Suckoo asked local motorbikers to support the commissioner’s efforts and not “make him look bad” after he extended the olive branch Thursday. “There’s a lot that has to be done,” the Newlands MLA said. “The next annual ride out should be something people want to come out and watch and should be supported by the community – not what we saw on Sunday [Nov. 26].”
Mr. Bryan and Mr. Suckoo said they would assist the local bikers group to form an association and sign up as many people as they could to participate. Membership in such a group could require things like properly registered vehicles and training for those who wished to ride on the roads. For off-road activities, Mr. Bryan said resources could be pooled to transport non-street legal motorbikes to off-road sites.
Efforts have been made to find either a racing track facility or off-roading area for dirt bikes. Thus far, no single location has worked out and Mr. Bryan suggested that the motorbikers might work with the Cayman Motorsports Association (car racing club) to find an area that both groups could use.
For some riders, especially the younger ones, cost becomes an issue and Mr. Byrne said he is aware of this problem.
“They see themselves with a lot of difficulties,” Mr. Byrne said. “They see that they have to pay, for private tuition, $1,200 so they can go and get a license. Otherwise, they’re restricted to a 125cc [lower-power motorbike] for a year before they can ride the higher [power] bike. In most jurisdictions, you don’t have that restriction, you’re certified to your level of competence.”
Local motorbike rider Brevon Scott, who rides competitively in the U.S., said the year-long wait period does not make much sense anyway, if all one is allowed to ride during that time is a lower-power machine.
“Riding a 125cc bike for a year still doesn’t really prepare a new rider to then jump on a 1000cc bike, for example, with five times the power,” Mr. Scott said.
The lengthy licensing process and unavailability or high cost of insurance is one issue, Mr. Byrne said. Another is the different requirements for riding motorbikes on-road and off-road. Bike riders cannot be “street legal” without a headlamp, for instance, but riding on a bumpy dirt track is likely to shatter those lights within minutes.
The commissioner said off-roading dirt bike events are commonplace in many jurisdictions, but those events must have proper safeguards, including medical crews on standby and liability insurance, all of which costs money. Yet, that is what Cayman will require for such event, he said. “If you come along and say that you want to ride, fine. But you have to get there legally,” Mr. Byrne said.
The commissioner, who is in his late 50s, said he understands the younger bikers to some extent because he rode motorbikes for years in Ireland. He’s also seen firsthand the tragedy that can occur when bikes are operated unsafely by untrained riders.
“There’s no joy in knocking on a door at 1 a.m. to tell a parent they’ve lost a child,” Mr. Byrne said. “I don’t think the young people see that. They’re full of adrenaline, they’re full of mischief – some of them – and they don’t look at the risks.”
It is partly for that reason that Mr. Byrne does not want his officers “chasing down” illegal motorbike riders in traffic or attempting to corral groups of them during a large ride out, such as the one that occurred Nov. 26.
“It can be very dangerous to adopt a strong-arm tactic and one person gets killed or injured,” he said. “I have a real genuine concern about that.”
Another issue the commissioner said he wanted to address is importation of bikes, particularly non-street legal dirt bikes.
Mr. Byrne said he does not believe the government should halt the import of such vehicles altogether, but he said more needs to be done to keep track of the dirt bikes which cannot be registered for use on Cayman’s roads.
“I want to know who is importing them and for what reason,” he said.
There is no legislation in place at the moment to require this, but Mr. Byrne compared the issue to current laws related to firearm registration, where a firearm license for the prospective owner must be approved by police and certain safety conditions met.
“What we’re trying to find out is, if you bring a bike in the country, have you registered it? And to whom? So if we come across problems we can go and track down that person,” the commissioner said. “We don’t want phantom bikes on the island.”