Ask Our Lawyer February 2015

Ask Our Lawyer

by Rod Taylor – ABATE Legal Services


Q: People say I’m a biker. What’s a biker?  ABATE member.

A: Depends on your attitude, I suppose. The word “biker,” like many others, has meaning and usage, some of which are positive, and some of which are not. Not even dictionaries can agree on the definition. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines a biker as “motorcyclist; especially one who is a member of an organized gang.”  (A member of a gang? What is with that?) The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language notes a biker is “1. One who rides a bicycle or a motorbike. 2. A motorcyclist, especially a member of a motorcycle gang.” Meanwhile, our British cousins define a biker as “someone who rides a motorcycle or bicycle,” – Cambridge Dictionary of American English. Curiously, the Cambridge International Dictionary of English notes an informal usage of biker as “a member of a gang group of motorcyclists.” The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang notes that the meaning of “biker” as “gang member” became current usage in 1968. Of course, the term would have been used informally for some time before that. Prior to 1981, Webster’s had no definition for biker at all, and was added in order to better reflect current trends in popular usage, according to a spokesperson for Webster’s.

How did we get from “motorcycle rider” to “gang member?” The exact route is unclear, but three events seem to have solidified the “gang member” connotation for bikers. The first is the Hollister, CA rally of 1947. Shortly after the end of WWII, large numbers of demobilized troops turned to motorcycling for recreation, camaraderie, and as a way of dealing with the lingering horrors of war ( Today, it is called post traumatic stress syndrome by some). One of the gatherings of riders that caught the attention of the press was a rally held in Hollister, California, about 100 miles south of San Francisco. Life Magazine, in an effort to portray the spirit of motorcycling, staged a picture of a man sitting on top of a motorcycle amid a pile of beer bottles. The myth of the biker was born.

Two other events brought the myth into clear focus for the masses, and both were images from the movies. The 1954 release of Brando’s “The Wild One” and 1969’s “Easy Rider” cemented an image of bikers as marauding, out-of-control gang members. Subsequent movies and books have relied on those associations to the point where the mental image of “biker” becomes Brando or Dennis Hopper (with a football helmet, no less). It’s a shame that a conscientious, hard-working, freedom-loving group of individualists are defined by media image and a some that are not us.

How do we change the image? We keep doing the things we always do: respect others, defend our rights, participate in our communities, help the less fortunate, and ride safely. But  we can do more, like contacting publishers of dictionaries and letting them know that bikers aren’t gang members any more than any other group.  ABATE Legal has taken the lead by writing to the publishers of Webster’s and other dictionaries to ask that they make modifications to the definition to clarify the usage. We will keep you posted on any further responses from the publishers.


Q: I’ve been traveling, and I always try to hook up with fellow ABATE members in other states. I’ve noticed that ABATE seems to stand for different things in different states. What gives?

A: I’ve learned an ironclad rule in my life: Ask any three ABATE members a question and you’ll get three different opinions. It is even so with our own name. In Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, and New York, it’s “American Bikers Aimed Toward Education.” In Illinois, it was “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments,” but it’s now “A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education.” Michigan and Utah say it’s “American Bikers Aiming Toward Education.” In the Ozarks, it’s “Arkansas Bikers Aiming Towards Education.” The “American Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education” meet in California, while the “American Bikes Aiming Toward Education” meet in Florida. The “Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Equity” calls Massachusetts home, “A Brotherhood Aiming Toward Education” meet in Oklahoma, and you’ll find “American Bikers Active Towards Education” in Louisiana. The “Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education” calls Pennsylvania home, while the “American Bikers Active Toward Education” are in Mississippi. You’ll even find the “Association of Bikers for Awareness Training and Education” in Ontario, Canada. Finally, you can find “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments” in Maryland, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington.

The history of ABATE organizations began forty years ago. In the late 1960s, Easyriders Magazine, at the urging of motorcycle clubs, began working on a nationwide effort to protect the rights of bikers. In the process of defining this new movement, they came up with the acronym ABATE, which stood for “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments.” Easyriders’ choice of ABATE as an acronym was no accident. Webster defines the word abate as, “to beat down; to put an end to; to nullify; to reduce in degree or intensity.” In the countercultural times of the late sixties, the prevailing mood was, “it is us against them”, with “them” being Big Brother in all his controlling forms. The job at hand was to nullify the intrusion of government into our personal lives, with a major emphasis on eliminating mandatory helmet laws.

In its infancy, ABATE was a loose-knit organization. Memberships were sent in to and managed by Easyriders. State level activists — along with the folks at Easyriders — quickly realized that locally controlled organizations were needed, and the biker’s rights movement began to spread as state motorcyclists’ rights organizations started popping up around the country. Between the early 1970s and the mid-1980s, most of the MROs we know today came into being as independent, autonomous organizations.

Many state groups formed under the name of ABATE, while others chose different acronyms such as the MMA (Modified Motorcycle Association) or NHMRO (New Hampshire Motorcyclist Rights Organization). Likewise, some of the ABATE organizations stuck with Easyriders’ original meaning of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, while others went with variations such as American Bikers Aimed Toward Education, or A Brotherhood Active Toward Education.  As the seventies closed and the eighties opened, a lack of trust and communication between the various state organizations was still hurting the movement. The movement had begun to stagnate, and members needed to understand that they were in fact all on the same team, and that they could do a lot more by working together. In 1985, another attempt was made to bring people together. By this point in time, leaders in the biker’s rights world clearly understood that maintaining the sanctity of the state groups was paramount, and no one was interested in forming a national group that would oversee the activities of the MROs. The idea was to simply offer a forum for open communication between the MROs in a setting where people could get to know each other and start to share ideas. That forum was the first MRF Meeting of the Minds, held in St. Louis in September of 1985, and it proved to be a defining moment in the history of biker’s rights. While many of the attendees were distrustful walking in, by the end of the conference every person in attendance knew that something significant had happened.

The ABATE letters may have different interpretation, but the meaning remains the same.  (A special thanks to the MRF for some of the history provided herein).


Q: Everybody in my family loves Harleys, including our dog.  Sadly she isn’t with us any more because the other day she was running with a motorcycle.  The bike hit her and the rider was tossed over the handle bars. Both the rider and the bike were pretty messed up. Now the rider is suing me.

A: Call your insurance agent asap. The number of riders injured by “chasers” has increased dramatically. Most riders cannot appreciate the devastating effect of a “dog strike.” According to the motorcycle safety professionals, there are usually one of two results. The first, best, result is that you are traveling fast enough and the dog is small enough that you play “Evel Knievel” and ride over the top of the dog. Hopefully, you can keep it shiny side up after contact. The other scenario is not so good for you (both are bad for the dog). Let’s say you hit “Mongo the Ox-Dog.” Your front wheel will instantly snap to full left or full right, and you and your bike will go head over wheels down the road. This type of incident is responsible for many serious injuries.  (Long time ABATE member Gary Byers can tell you all about that).

Our ABATE Motorcycle Safety course teaches us to maintain our scan and be on the alert for dogs. Dogs usually attack in a straight line. Riders wary of dogs should anticipate that line, slow down and then, when the dogs get near, gear down and speed away. Unfortunately, this only works if we have picked up the dog in our rider scan.

Dogs are many things to many people, but to all them, dogs are a responsibility. Many localities have ordinances that require that pets be kept under control, and the common law of most states have holdings similar to this one: “The keeper of an animal has a duty to provide for the restraining and confinement of that animal, … and may become liable for damages the animal causes when the keeper is otherwise negligent in the manner of its keeping and control. In such cases, the person in control of the animal is bound to take note of the natural propensities of the type and breed of the animal in question.” Vetor v. Vetor, 634 N.E.2d 513.

If your dog is a known “chaser,” then you have a duty to protect motorcyclists from the dangers of a “dog-strike.” That means that you are responsible for what your dog does, especially if you are aware of the “natural propensities” of the dog, like chasing motorcycles. If you know your dog likes doing certain things, like chasing Harleys, and somebody gets hurt because your dog was chasing the Harley, then you are likely responsible for the damages.

Of course, your responsibilities don’t end at the property line. One of the most prevalent claims arising from dog ownership involves dog bites. Most claims involving dogs will be covered by your homeowners policy. However, insurance companies report that dog-bite claims are rising. Because of that, some insurance companies are cancelling policies for homeowners whose dog has bitten someone. Some companies have even began cancelling policies (or refusing to write new ones) for owners of particular breeds of dogs, especially Rottweilers and Pit bulls. While few insurance companies admit that they blacklist these types of dogs, those breeds cause insurers to review the file more carefully.

Responsible dog ownership of all breeds is the key to claim prevention. Factors such as whether the dog is spayed or neutered, properly socialized, supervised, humanely trained, and safely confined, play significantly greater roles than the breed of the dog alone. The best way to make sure your home insurance doesn’t get canceled because of your dog is to make sure it won’t bite anyone and to take reasonable precautions to prevent the dog from getting out of the yard.


Sadly, I report the death of  long time ABATE member, Doctor Rick Jones.  He died of complications from ALS this past Christmas Eve surrounded by his family.  Doc impacted so many as head of A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois, as a MRF charter member and faithful mover and shaker of Heartland Steam.  He was wonderful father, husband, son and friend to all motorcyclists.  He was also the world’s best veterinarian.  No one loved animals, people or the STATE PARTY more than Doctor Jones.   And everytime I see a Wide-Glide Shovel with a zillion miles on it, I will think of Doc.  I miss him.

Ride Safe & Free,

Rod Taylor

ABATE Legal Services

All questions from ABATE members are answered confidentially unless otherwise authorized and only after the matter is concluded, except when authorization for publication anonymously or otherwise is given for pending matters. Remember, injured ABATE members pay only 28 ½% of total recovery and expenses as approved by client, consistent with and conforming to applicable state law. Elsewhere, you may pay 33 ⅓%, 40% or even 50% of your recovery. ABATE members are not charged for recovery of damage to your motorcycle, and have access to a 24-hour toll-free telephone number. Call us at (800) 25-RIDER. Questions? Submit them to  © 2015

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