Motorcycle Movements…The Political Awakening

Several things happened in the 1960’s to change that. First, the political activism of the Sixties showed that it was possible for a relatively small group of people, properly organized, to affect in some way the overall political landscape. Second, the federal government began getting involved in motorcycling like never before.

In 1966, Congress passed the first “Helmet Blackmail” law, which forced states to give up a percentage of federal highway funding if they didn’t have mandatory helmet laws in effect. Also, the United States Department of Transportation began issuing regulations affecting the burgeoning chopper industry.

Over the next several years, almost every state enacted a mandatory helmet law. Handlebar height restrictions, eye protection, licensing requirements, and lights-on laws became commonplace. Pennsylvania’s own mandatory helmet law came into existence during this period.

In October 1971, Easyrider magazine (in its third issue!) founded what was called the National Custom Cycle Association (NCCA). This was the first national motorcyclist’s organization founded for the sole purpose of influencing legislation and governmental regulation of motorcycling. In February 1972, the name was changed to the Alliance of Bikers Against Totalitarian Enactments (Abate) because of a trademark issue with the acronym NCCA. Under Easyriders’ sanction, Abate chapters began springing up across the country in a loosely knit national federation.

In 1973, the Modified Motorcycle Association (MMA) was founded in California. This event is worthy of note because the MMA was the first State Motorcycle Rights Organization (SMRO) to incorporate the elements that every successful SMRO has today…

-Individual chapters throughout the state with membership open to anyone willing to pay a membership fee.

-Organized under the auspices of a state office with a paid professional lobbying presence in the state capitol.

It’s also worthy to note that the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club was instrumental in the founding of the MMA. As the restrictions of the late 60’s and early 70’s developed, the motorcycle clubs were the first to fight back politically. But there were limitations to the amount of political influence that patch holders could bring, and the realization of that in California led to the founding of the MMA.

Then governor of California Ronald Reagan’s belief in states’ rights led to California being one of the few states that had not enacted a mandatory helmet law during this period of new regulations and laws. The US DOT had filed suit against California as a result. This was the political backdrop that made it possible for the MMA, the AMA, and Abate together to successfully push for the repeal of the federal mandate, which Gerald Ford signed into law on May 5, 1976.

In 1977, conflicts over direction and purpose broke the fragile Abate coalition. In the end, Easyrider magazine gave up rights to the Abate name and ended its involvement. Two national Abate organizations were founded in the aftermath but both eventually disappeared. The various Abate chapters that had been formed were left to their own devices, which led to the next period in A.B.A.T.E. of PA’s history.

Next: A.B.A.T.E. of PA. . .The Beginning