Cop-Biker Truce Holds At Harley Blow-Out

David Sepulveda PhotoThe air filled with screeching tires and clouds of thick, stinging smoke, drawing a crowd from far and wide — and no complaints from the police.

That was the scene Saturday afternoon at a Harley stunt-riding show staged by a group of bikers known to the police in the past for violating the law on city streets. It was the first test of a truce struck with a leader of the group, called East Coastin’, to keep the wheelies and tire melts out of city-street traffic and within sealed-off spaces at sponsored shows. The agreement offered a temporary glimmer of hope in one part of a city plagued again this summer. by hazardous illegal stunt riding by packs of dirt-bikers and motorcyclists.

East Coastin’ held the sponsored show on a vacant, quarter mile stretch of a dead end road at an industrial park not far from Hole in the Wall motorcycle headquarters at 153 Forbes Ave. in the Annex, where East Coastin’ leader Gabe Canestri Jr. lives and many of his friends hang out.

Hundreds of gleaming Harley Davidson motorcycles and a sprinkling of other brands, many from out of state, were wedged into the parking lot that wrapped around the Hole in the Wall motorcycle club building. Visitors and participants enjoyed burgers and beers, basking in biker culture or just resting up from their long rides in anticipation of an East Coastin’ sponsored stunt-riding show.

One young rider (pictured), who asked to be identified as “Sportster Hooligan,” a name emblazoned on his gas tank, said he left Baltimore at 4 a.m. to attend Saturday’s event — “for the fun of it.” He noted that police often bear down or harass bikers in his hometown, a city known for its high violent crime rate.

Another participant, 58-year old John Fraenza of East Haven, a lobsterman who said he is battling liver cancer, has been biking since he was a kid.  A longtime veteran of Hole in the Wall, Fraenza smiled broadly as he showed off all the motorcycle augmentations he had made to his violet-colored Harley Dyna Street Bob.

City police officers stood watch across the street as groups of riders streamed into the parking lot. The officers appeared relaxed and in good moods in the wake of the brokered accommodation reached with bike club members to divert stunt riders from city streets.

The officers, who kept a respectful distance, were approached by some riders for photographs. Sgt. Shayna Kendall, a competitive bodybuilder who appeared to have fans among the biking set, smiled broadly, acknowledging that she is often asked to participate in photo ops with members of the public.

After a period of eating and connecting, the parking lot emptied as riders headed for an adjacent asphalt strip at the end of a block-off dead end portion of Alabama Street, bounded by jersey barriers and sprouting weeds. Spectators followed with iPhones raised, as both groups melted into stream of anticipation and excitement.

Smoke and the smell of burning rubber shrouded stunt riders who left pretzel and other elegantly shaped skid marks seared into the pavement as they completed seemingly impossible maneuvers. 

It appeared at first, to this novice stunt-riding observer, to be a chaotic swirl of spectators vying for select viewing positions and stunt riders wasting no time in demonstrating uncanny feats of timing and balance. The scene resolved into a more self-organizing demonstration of spontaneous stunt choreography that displayed riding skill and incredible control of some machines weighing as much as 800 to 1,000 pounds.

Only one rider seemed to lose temporary control of his bike. He laughed it off and quickly gathered his splayed machine to resume riding,
tire melting and drag maneuvers. The show ended without incident as riders headed back to Hole in the Wall premises for keg beers and celebration.

Cyclists gave officers soda and water to help beat the heat during the day.

“New Haven police are the best!” veteran rider Paul D’Agostino called out as he left the scene with a young rider in tow on a handsome bright orange and flame design machine.

Caesar Canestri, uncle of Gabe Canestri Jr., and whose father runs Hole in the Wall, praised police as well as his nephew’s riding and stunt acumen, noting the extreme degree of control mastered by the young rider.

As riders returned to the Hole in the Wall parking area, one police officer described the event as a home run. Another officer, Mark Salvati (at left in photo), seemed to sum up the terms that led to the event’s successful outcome: “The respect factor goes both ways,” he said, adding that he “want[s] bikers to be good friends to one another in keeping a watchful eye to see that no one gets intoxicated.”


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posted by: Dwightstreeter on July 10, 2017  8:46am

Finally some creativity in problem solving here.
Just make sure kids wear helmets.
The adults are free to be organ donors if they want.

posted by: christopher desir on July 10, 2017  8:55am

So a group of apparently mostly white stunt riders are able to broker a deal with the NHPD to do their otherwise illegal stunt riding in a designated area while the mostly black and dirt bikers are criminalized and chased, sometimes to their deaths?

NHI, please tell me the racial implications of this story, in the context of the absolute assault against dirt bikers doing nearly the same thing, albeit with more melanin, is not lost on you. The double standard could not be more clear, and it could not be more clearly based on race.

This is exactly the type of thing people are calling for when they ask for a legal place for the dirt bikers to practice their craft. Why is it possible with this group but not the dirt bikers? Why is this group, and this truce, glorified as a successful community policing effort while the dirt bikers are portrayed as hopelessly destructive criminals bent on destroying our city? The answer seems clear to me. Just look at the pictures. These are mostly white people. The dirt bikers are mostly black and people of color.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on July 10, 2017  11:52am

Excellent observation, Chris Desir.
Studies show that most racism is unconscious. People deal in stereotypes and never stop to think about them or to see people as individuals.
Let’s hope the City can do better and reach out to other groups for similar cooperation.

posted by: OverTheRiverThruTheHood on July 10, 2017  2:11pm

Dirt bikes are not street legal, these are. Which means that these riders 1) have insurance, and 2) have motorcycle endorsements on their drivers license which means they have completed a safety course.
I am not denying that there is plenty of racism and profiling that goes on between Cops and POC, but in this case licensed motorcycles and the dirt bikes is not an apples to apples situation.

posted by: christopher desir on July 10, 2017  2:41pm

@ OverTheRiverThruTheHood (I love the name, btw)

Maybe it’s like comparing a Red Delicious to a Granny Smith.

My point is that you have two groups of people who are doing something deemed illegal and dangerous. One group (happens to be the dark skinned one) is targeted, explicitly, by law enforcement. They are criminalized and vilified. They are chased, making the situation more dangerous for everyone involved. State laws are changed in order to more effectively criminalize them. Meanwhile there has never been any attempt (as far as I know) to offer the dirt bikers a safe place to do wheelies and ride around. The fact that the bikes are not street legal does not preclude the city from doing this.

The other group (just happen to be mostly white) is given a safe, legal venue to practice their otherwise illegal and unsafe pastime. Police officers reach out and make inroads. They empathize and identify with them.

The differences you mention are not significant enough to overshadow the drastically different response. Regardless of the fact that their vehicles of choice are legal, the activities they were participating in are not. That’s the whole point of this article. They were doing illegal and dangerous things, so the city decided to respond sensibly as opposed to punitively.

A very similar thing happened a few summers ago. The NHPD declared an “all out assault” on “Kids on Bikes.” These were big groups of teenagers riding around the city on BMX bikes. Doing dumb teenager stuff like riding the wrong way down the street. Meanwhile, while the NHPD is conducting its all out assault on these malicious lawbreakers (children), they were reaching out to and actively support Critical Mass, which is a group of adult bikers who openly stated their intention to break traffic laws. The NHPD provided them with escorts.

We can split hairs and identify differences, but the larger pattern is pretty clear. The difference is almost entirely based on race and class.

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on July 10, 2017  3:03pm

I also don’t think the young troublemaker kids on their mostly stolen dirt bikes are all that eager to work with police/community in the first place. Could be another big factor.

posted by: Witchburner on July 10, 2017  3:49pm

So how is this considered a win when they were still on public streets, with bikes that are not registered, with public underage drinking and a tremendous amount of illegal fireworks?

posted by: NewHaven18 on July 10, 2017  8:50pm

It’s really sad that hard-working taxpayers have to foot the bill so that police can spend their time establishing a safe space for these snowflakes.

posted by: Geturhedouturaz on July 10, 2017  9:50pm

Christopher….and others. While the pictures here on the Independent do not show much of the crowd, many people of color attended the event. All were welcome to attend, hang out and ride if they liked there were NO racial barriers at this event AT ALL. The more the merrier ! Its about biking not racism….until ‘someone’ decides to kick up some dust.
Regarding what position the NHPD took,  more than likely racism is not the case here….it was, in my opinion a wise move on NHPDs part because of the “high profile” GC Jr and Eastcoastin have. In an attempt to reach out to the masses NHPD picked the top of the heap to broker some sort of an agreement and did so successfully. We’ll see if its contagious.
In short if the riders in the predominantly Black or Hispanics /Latino neighborhoods bothered to stop and talk to the cops (as Eastcoastin’ did)  maybe things would have been different regarding that aspect.
Sounds to me like someone doesn’t like progress in a positive direction, I could be wrong though, maybe some of the riders in those neighborhoods should give it a try.
As for underage drinking…..I was there quite awhile, I saw no underage drinking.  Fireworks…..I loved em’ hope to see more of em’....again that’s my opinion.
Maybe stop by at the next event, check it out, get involved, be a part…....Peace !

posted by: NewHaven06512 on July 10, 2017  10:19pm

So a few observations, who in the New Haven police dept has the authority to supersede state statues with regards to reckless driving and the other motor vehicle and criminal statues that were violated. This was on a public road, state law applies.

Two, who paid for the officers and other city assets for this?

Three, if you think this is going to keep Canestris and his thugs from doing this on city streets, well, I’ll sell you the Q Bridge.

He should’ve been locked up when the state arrested him for close to 30 charges.

posted by: NewHaven06512 on July 10, 2017  10:27pm

For the record, this did a lot of good, considering they were riding around raising hell yesterday.

posted by: Mikelive on July 11, 2017  6:52am

Chris Desir, you have a point. I may not fully agree that this is a race issue but certainly it plays a part. Maybe the illegal “brown” riders can learn from this and organize themselves as well. There is nothing stopping them besides maybe all the warrants out for their arrests.

I can say for sure that I will never find any entertainment from breathing in burning rubber and exhaust fumes all day, nor will I ride my child around without a helmet or drink keg beer and go ride home. If the NHI wants to glamorize this lifestyle than I think of it as a major step back for quality journalism.

posted by: robn on July 11, 2017  7:38am

Who insured the event?
Who paid for the police presence?

posted by: robn on July 11, 2017  7:51am


Critical Mass = NOT illegal.

CT General Statutes
Sec. 14-286a. Rights, duties and regulation of cyclists. (a) Every person riding a bicycle, as defined by section 14-286, upon the traveled portion of a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any vehicle…

They have a right to ride in streets. Although section Sec. 14-286b does not allow them to impede the normal flow of traffic, it does prioritize safety and allow and to take the lane for safety; that’s arguably everywhere in New Haven given the extensive pothole damage, bus tire deformation, sand, gravel, and refuse at the right edge of roads.

posted by: HewNaven on July 11, 2017  11:35am

Whoever just called these guys “snowflakes”... Congratulations. You win the internets

posted by: christopher desir on July 12, 2017  1:43pm


Please take a look at this NHI article from 2008 which talks about Critical Mass “corking” intersections. Corking means intentionally blocking the flow of traffic. In response, the NHPD offers to do the corking for them.

posted by: robn on July 13, 2017  1:46pm

track, seize, destroy

posted by: Lorirobin on July 15, 2017  11:35am

I’m going to take a dangerous position here and say that the article is great, and all the comments most likely correct in different ways. It’s a good first step in community problem solving. My main thoughts while reading and watching the clips were that if this grows bigger , more space will be required( think Sturgis!) Plus, the air quailty degradation and health concerns from the exposure to the smoke and exhaust.