Have you ever been pulled over just because you’re riding a motorcycle, or been told you weren’t welcome in an eating establishment because of the patch on the back of your vest? Did you know that some states, like New Jersey where I live, do not allow motorcycle insurance policies to include medical coverage if you’re injured in a motorcycle accident?
If you’ve never experienced discrimination against motorcyclists, you can thank the freedom fighters from the ’70s, ’80s and beyond that paved the way for the rest of us to enjoy our right to ride.
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing; there have been numerous bumps along the way. There’s been a lot of talk about personal sacrifice for one’s beliefs lately, and some of our moto culture’s rights proponents have risked their livelihoods, their finances, and their own personal freedoms to assure that illegal and discriminatory treatment of motorcyclists ceases. Motorcyclists’ rights advocates have been arrested, jailed, and fined, with some of these freedom fighters’ activities conducted specifically to push court cases through the legal system or effect legislative changes.
Once I learned to ride a motorcycle, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was often viewed in a negative light when people saw me riding my bike. When I joined a motorcycle club and began flying colors, the discrimination, and poor treatment, became worse. So I joined my state’s motorcyclists’ rights organization and soon became very active, taking one position after another in my local chapter. I participated in national and regional conferences, learning how to influence lawmakers, and just as, if not more, importantly, how to impress upon other riders the necessity of banding together to keep our lifestyle, our passion, alive and well.
Even before the advent of MROs, motorcycle clubs battled unfavorable legislation in their own states, such as proposed federally-mandated helmet laws, which although thwarted decades ago, still come up from time to time. In 1971, Easyriders magazine editor Lou Kimsey pled for bikers in California to get together to fight not only laws requiring the use of helmets, but the U.S. Department of Transportation’s investigation into the restriction of modified or custom choppers which they considered unsafe.
The original California organization was called the National Custom Cycle Organization, which was changed in 1972 to A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE). ABATE wasn’t a national organization, and more ABATEs and other state motorcyclists’ rights organizations (MROs) were formed. As MROs became more sophisticated, educated and effective in working with legislators, some state ABATE chapters changed the meaning of the acronym to names like the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education, and began to add motorcycle rider training and safety programs to their wheelhouse.
There are also organizations that combat discriminatory laws and behaviors and promote favorable legislations on a federal level. Although the American Motorcyclist Association began as a race sanctioning body, the organization is quite active battling for the rights of both on-road and off-road motorcyclists. The AMA employs full-time specialists in Washington, D.C., maintaining a Government Relations team. Recently the AMA filed a brief against unreasonable searches and seizures (the Supreme Court upheld privacy in this Virginia matter). And the AMA, along with other MROs, is fighting to have motorcycles recognized and considered in the development of autonomous vehicles.
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation, founded in 1985, is a national organization that works hand in hand with state MROs, advocating for the advancement of motorcycling and its lifestyle on both the national and state level. The MRF utilizes a combination of volunteers and full-time staff to effect change that benefits motorcyclists.
Many riders believe that ABATE and other motorcyclists’ rights organizations exist only to eliminate laws requiring helmets. That was just one focus in the early years of ABATE, and nowadays, there’s a much wider array of issues that MROs address. One of the most serious, that impacts nearly every motorcycle rider in the U.S., is the EPA’s push to propagate more E15 gasoline in service stations across the country. Certain misguided lawmakers continue to try to use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to effect laws detrimental to our freedoms, despite the ban on NHTSA blackmailing states into passing legislation unfavorable to motorcyclists in order to receive highway funding.
The indifference of motorcyclists to the threats to our lifestyle and our freedom puzzles me. It blows my mind to know that, while attending rallies, motorcyclists will stay in resort hotels and condos that do not allow motorcycles on the property and must take a shuttle or some other form of transportation to get back and forth to a (usually unsecured) bike parking lot. Or that some riders have no problem removing their colors before entering certain restaurants. Sure, private businesses have the right to dictate their dress code, but we also have the right to spend our hard-earned dollars with places that welcome and support motorcyclists.
A lot of riders feel that if you, as a motorcyclist, aren’t doing anything illegal, what’s the problem if you’re pulled over? Or that if a community decides motorcycles aren’t allowed on certain streets, why not just pick another route? Many motorcyclists don’t care that off-road riding is now restricted or outright banned in areas where it used to be allowed. Well, it’s a slippery slope. There are plenty of poorly informed legislators, insurance companies, and medical professionals that would like to see motorcycles banned completely, many using biases, inaccurate reports and statistics as their reasoning.
If you’d like to see the sport, the lifestyle, the culture of motorcycling continue far into the future, please join one or more motorcyclists’ rights organizations, or at the very least, sign up for their email alerts so you can take action and fight these threats to our shared passion.