Laws Seek to Protect U.S. Bikers
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Bikers across the nation are revving up for a fight against discrimination after complaints that they're being shut out of restaurants and hotels because of their image as hell-raising thugs.
Lawmakers in Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina and several other states all considered bills this year that would ban discrimination against bikers. Minnesota and Maine have passed similar measures in the past three years.
Motorcyclists say the image of leather-clad bikers who rumble into town on their Harley-Davidsons and raise a ruckus is sadly outdated. Thad Coffman, general manager of Centennial Park Harley-Davidson in suburban Columbus, counts doctors, lawyers, bankers, judges and even a mayor among his customers, who can spend upwards of $20,000 on a new Harley.
``To me it's kind of like the back of the bus, it's just discrimination for whatever reason,'' said Georgia state Sen. Joey Brush, who rides a Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide and is pushing for a law to prevent biker discrimination.
In Ohio, state Rep. Sylvester Patton is arguing for a bill that would levy a $500 civil fine against a business found guilty of discriminating against a biker.
``For too long, citizens who enjoy riding motorcycles and who are participating in motorcycle clubs have been treated unfairly while trying to gain access or entry into Ohio's establishments open to the general public,'' Patton, a Youngstown Democrat, testified to his fellow lawmakers.
Many Ohio bikers, tired of perceived slights and businesses posting ``no two-wheel vehicles'' signs, are on board with Patton's legislation.
The list includes Mike Stanley, who said a waitress at a restaurant near Cincinnati once placed him and his wife in a corner away from other patrons when the couple pulled up wearing leather boots, chaps and vests.
``I felt like a second-class citizen,'' said Stanley, 55, a retired city bus driver who drives a Honda Gold Wing.
Proponents are careful to say they're not trying to challenge businesses with established dress codes. Rather, they want equal treatment if there is no clear rule for dress.
Brush is the sponsor of a bill meant to prevent a person who operates a public accommodation such as a park or restaurant from restricting admission to people because they drive a motorcycle or wear biker insignia.
He introduced the legislation because of a long-running dispute with Calloway Gardens, a private, nonprofit horticultural garden that doesn't allow bikers to drive onto the grounds. The ban, in place for the garden's entire 49-year existence, is meant to protect the serenity and peace for which the grounds are known, said spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley.
``We feel it's not a civil right to ride a motorcycle wherever you please,'' Crumbley said.
In South Carolina, Rep. Joe Brown wants motorcyclists protected from what he called discrimination by hotels in the Myrtle Beach area who won't rent to them.
Mark Kruea, a spokesman for the City of Myrtle Beach, pointed out that a Harley-Davidson dealers' association has met in Myrtle Beach for 62 years. The area also hosts two other large motorcycle rallies each year.
It's not the first time bikers have rallied around a political cause. Bikers have battled helmet laws for 20 years, said Sean Maher, spokesman for the American Motorcyclists Association, based in suburban Columbus.
``Now they're seeing other areas that need fixing or problems that need solutions,'' he said.
Not all bikers back the proposals. ABATE of Ohio - a private, nonprofit group that advocates for bikers' rights - is leaving it up to members whether to support the measure, said spokesman Steve Zimmer.
``As a business owner, they should have right to decide who they want,'' he said.
On the Net: