IN 1947, when a gang of drunken boors crashed the American Motorcycle Association’s convention in Hollister, CA., AMA officials denounced the ruffians as an embarrassment to bikers everywhere. Ninety-nine percent of bikers are good, decent, law-abiding folk, they reportedly said, but the remaining one percent give the rest of the lot a bad name. To this day, more rebellious bikers wear a "1%" logo to make a statementthey are the rabble-rousers, the ones your mom warned you about.
More than a half-century later, Carl "Fudgie" Campbell, a member of Cincinnati’s Independent Biker Association, is trying to make the case for "good" bikers all over again. According to a recent New York Times article (link requires registration), the 300-pound, leather-clad motorist is tired of being asked to leave bars and motels just because some fellow bikers happen to be hell-raisers. He and his buddies are just average folks who have an above-average number of tattoos, he insists. They’re fed up with being prejudged as criminals, louts, or hoodlums.
And, this being America, they’ve done what everyone else does when feeling put upon or dislikedthey’ve run to the government and demanded special treatment as a protected legal class.
At the urging of several biker groups, Democratic state Rep. Sylvester Patton has sponsored a bill in the Ohio legislature that would ban discrimination against people who ride motorcycles or wear motorcycle-club colors or insignia. If passed, hoteliers, barkeeps or restaurateurs who deny service to visiting bikers "because they operate motorcycles or wear clothing that displays the name of a motor cycle-related organization or group" would face a $500 civil fine.
So vast has the American cult of victimization grown that even bikers are now clamoring to join its ranks. How sad.
Bikers have long been the cavalry in the war on political correctness, insensitive well before sensitivity even came into vogue. Riding Harleys and other bikes in packs, on freeways and down the streets of otherwise quiet residential areas, they were the ultimate non-conformists. With gaudy, often insulting, and sometimes crass insignia patched onto their leather get-ups, they made no secret of their disdain for, well, just about everyone else. They were seldom hostile, but they lived by their own rules, and quite frankly, they didn’t much care what you thought about them.
After all, bikers are supposed to be fearless. They think nothing of driving around on two-wheeled death machines. The most brazen among them refuse even to wear helmets, not wanting to compromise their freedom of movement or the joy of the ride. When state legislatures try to pass government-knows-best mandatory-helmet laws, bikers usually turn up, hogs and all, to protest. They rumble like libertarians on wheels, unwilling to forego even an iota of freedom for security.
That’s how it used to be, anyhow. But now, bikers, too, are joining the army of victims. Some tattooed defenders of the right to free expression and free thought have signed on to a movement that dictates whom you can like and how you must run your own business.
It starts with the request to be shielded from "discrimination"a right unavailable to those of us without special government protection. Get tossed out of a biker bar because you rode in on your Honda scooter or because your wardrobe is fresh out of the J. Crew catalog and you’re out of luck. But heaven forbid the hostess at Denny’s worry that the Hells Angels might intimidate the regulars, or that the clerk at Motel 6 fear a loud night of partying from a group that’s done plenty to earn the reputationthat’s a civil-rights violation.
South Carolina and Georgia are also considering anti–biker discrimination bills. Minnesota has had one on its books for three years. And it’s only a matter of time until we can expect to see biker-sensitivity training, biker affirmative action, maybe even a bikers’ studies program at some prestigious university. Of course, the term "biker" itself will have to goit carries the legacy of too many years of cylcaphobic connotations imposed by four-wheeling oppressors.
Who would have guessed that such a politically incorrect group would so quickly succumb to the totalitarian grip of political correctness?
It’s hard to imagine that more than just a handful of bikers want the sort of special protection that Ohio may soon give them. The American Motorcycle Association has refused to offer its support to the Ohio bill. Most bikers probably have little interest in patronizing an establishment that doesn’t want their business, and they realize that if they spend their considerable money at only friendly establishments, more establishments will become friendly, without government coercion.
In fact, it’s probably only a tiny minority of bikersa measly one percentthat are seeking state protection. But that one percent sure give the rest of the lot a bad name.