Capital B Bikers - Illustration by Mr. Jensen.

Motorcycle Clubs Are Not a Protected Class

The Motorcycle Profiling Project, an organization dedicated to grassroots efforts to pass legislation addressing profiling and discrimination again motorcyclists, reported in July that the Mercer County chapter of ABATE of Pennsylvania had turned its back on motorcycle clubs, claiming, “ABATE is supposed to stand for the ideals of motorcycle rights, including freedom of expression and association.” Why? Because Mercer County ABATE included the words “No Colors” on an event flyer.

You may be familiar with ABATE—we write about, and work with, ABATE of California now and again, even if we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. ABATE’s activities vary from state to state—in California, the acronym represents “American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education,” and the organization is mostly concerned with the “rights” of capital B Bikers. ABATE of California employs a lobbyist on its behalf but has struggled to maintain meaningful membership numbers and involvement.

In Pennsylvania, ABATE stands for “Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education,” and their mission statement is, “An Alliance of Bikers dedicated to the protection of the individual rights of motorcyclists through political change, charitable works, and public education.”

Every state chapter tells a different version of the history of ABATE, but a key point here is that the acronym originally stood for “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments” and ABATE’s main focus was fighting legislation targeted at bikers. ABATE of California, for example, has long used the slogan “Education Not Legislation.”

Back to the MPP’s take on Mercer County ABATE’s “No Colors” event policy. We’re officially calling bullshit on this crybaby victim-mentality nonsense, the “Poor me, I’m being picked on for being a biker,” bawling.

We dislike being hassled for no reason as much as the next rugged individual, but as far as we can tell it’s not motorcyclists that are being profiled, it’s motorcycle clubs.

And in spite of all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing about “our lifestyle being threatened,” it’s important to note that the MCs getting jackbooted by The Man or eighty-sixed by their former favorite brewpub aren’t on the receiving end of that stick, imagined or real, because of their motorcycles. It’s the club aspect that draws attention.

We’ll repeat for emphasis: it’s clubs that are being profiled, not motorcyclists.

Let’s revisit ABATE of PA’s mission statement, which focuses on the “individual rights of motorcyclists.” No mention of clubs, see?

Never mind that in an abstract sense, you cannot simultaneously dress up in the trappings of badassery and then cry foul when people focus on the bad part of your ass. It’s disappointing to see supposed freedom fighters, those that used to employ slogans like “education not legislation,” some of whom pulled out that old “no new laws” standby as their sole reason for opposing a law codifying lane splitting, disingenuously pushing for new laws to prohibit the supposedly widespread problem of motorcyclist profiling.

While motorcyclists may occasionally encounter someone who doesn’t like motorcycles, or beards, or tattoos, or maybe just stupid-loud pipes, they don’t experience systematic profiling. What motorcyclists experience is something that sociologists refer to as “people being dicks.”

Profiling happens to clubs, when it happens. But neither clubs, nor motorcyclists, are a protected class under the rule of law, nor should they be.

We reject the notion of pursuing legislation on this matter; as they say, “existing laws are enough.” We also reject the notion that club profiling is an issue of concern to motorcyclists at large—it’s not. It’s an issue for organizations that identify themselves with patches and colors and insignia, whether those organizations are built around the motorcycling or scrapbooking lifestyle.

Motorcyclists, us included, use the word “rights” to apply to the concept of motorcyclist advocacy, as if the “motorcyclists’ rights” we stand up for are on the same plane as the self-evident human rights. The “right” to wear patches on your vest, often dubiously characterized as “free speech” in an obvious end run toward legitimacy, isn’t the same as human rights-level concepts such as the right to not be harassed because one is gay or straight, adheres to a particular faith, or was born a certain color.

We’re not oblivious to the ways of The Man, from surveillance to outright harassment, but saying inane shit like “cops are the biggest gang in the world,” as if it’s anything more than a catchy slogan is meaningless, and CityBike will no longer toe the line on this “issue” because “we’re all motorcyclists.”

We’re not. Some of us are motorcyclists, and some of y’all are groupthink-controlled motorcycle owners that need patches and club rules to define your identity.

Motorcyclists and clubs are not mutually exclusive groups. The SFMC, the OMC, even the notorious East Bay Rats… motorcyclists and clubs. Notably, we haven’t seen any of them tearing up about how the man gave ‘em an unwarranted bad time.

Hell, some of us here at CityBike go out of our way to make trouble for ourselves on a near-daily basis. We take our licks when we get ‘em, but The Man mostly turns a blind eye, and we’ve yet to encounter an establishment that wouldn’t gladly accept our hard-earned cash. Maybe it’s the responsible-looking high-vis gear, or maybe it’s that motorcyclist profiling just isn’t real.

If we’re wrong, and there’s evidence of wholesale harassment of innocent motorcyclists, not motorcycle clubs, that we’ve somehow continually missed, whether by law enforcement or businesses or whoever else is supposedly blowing out the tender, vulnerable flame of motorcycling’s freedom candle, the full fire and fury of CityBike’s editorial voice and considerable coffers will be brought to the fight. The former, anyway.

But since that’s not the case, we ask the vest-wearing bellyachers to suck it up and move on like grownups. If the shitty bar you want to drink beers at midway through your poker run doesn’t allow “colors” anymore, go spend your money at some other shitty bar. It’s not that hard.

Illustration by Mr. Jensen. This story originally appeared in our September 2017 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.