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ABATE: Valley organization dedicated to rights of motorcycle riders

January 03, 2001|By MARCY MISNER, Staff Writer

Long a symbol of anti-socialist ideals and rebel attitudes, motorcycles actually belong to more than just the "1 percenters" who gave bikers a bad name.

Most local riders are community-minded and see past the brands of motorcycles they ride.

There are several local motorcycle organizations in the Imperial Valley, and many riders belong to ABATE, a political organization in which Harley-Davidson riders and import motorcycle riders alike join in support of bikers' rights. There has long been a rivalry, sometimes joking and sometimes serious, between Harley riders and those who ride imported bikes.

Incoming ABATE president Ed Hatfield said all are welcome in ABATE. In fact, at Jan. 18's ABATE meeting, members of the Sunrunners and La Gente car clubs, the Harley Owners Group and motorcycle clubs such as the Blue Knights and the Top Hatters' Imperial Valley prospect chapter have been invited to attend.

"We recognize them as people who give back to the community. We want to unite the auto clubs and organizations within the Valley," Hatfield said.

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Many members already work together, including at La Gente's annual program at the county fairgrounds, where motorcycles also are on display.

ABATE spokeswoman Jean Hughes said Monday's noon rally in support of motorcyclists' rights at the capitol is the longest-running, most consistently attended rally at the capitol.

The local ABATE chapter was formed in the Imperial Valley in the early 1990s by a core group of bikers including Richard Sanchez and Jaime Gonzalez, Hatfield said.

ABATE is a political organization dedicated to preserving motorcyclists' freedom of choice and freedom on the road. Members also participate in community activities including a toy drive associated with El Centro Merchants/Los Vigilantes Christmas parade each year that nets truckfuls of toys for kids in the county's Betty Jo McNeece Receiving Home south of El Centro.

ABATE was formed in the early 1970s when a mandatory helmet use bill was introduced in California and bikers banded to protect their right to choose whether they wanted to ride with helmets.

Since then, ABATE members and other bikers keep an eye on pending legislation in Europe and other parts of the world, where trends in motorcycle legislation often begin. The Bailing Wire, an ABATE monthly publication, covers trends toward wearing personal inflatable airbag vests in Europe, legislation in India to ban all motorcycles more than 15 years old and other legislation affecting handlebar heights and rider attire.

"These are things we don't want happening here. It's not to say whether helmets are good or bad … (Bikers) should have the right to choose whether they want to wear these things or not," said Ed Hatfield of El Centro.

Hatfield will replace Jaime Gonzalez as the local ABATE chapter's president at the Jan. 18 meeting.

Not all bikers are against wearing helmets or embracing safety while they ride. In the same publication, one contributor warns a "little bit of rubber" is all that keeps bikers on the road, tells riders to watch for hazards and informs then that crack-patching materials on the highways can be slippery.

Hatfield, who moved to the Valley with his wife, Becky, from Phoenix three years ago, is the branch manager for Electrical Supply Distributors.

Yomando Lopez of Calipatria, president of the local Top Hatters' prospect chapter, is an ABATE member, as are other local Top Hatters.

The Top Hatters began in Hollister in 1947 and local members formed a chapter, still in its initiation period, in 1999. The motorcycle enthusiasts, locally employed at places including the Imperial Irrigation District, the California Department of Transportation (and one who is retired), are involved in community activities. The six Top Hatters have built a handicap ramp for the Catholic Church in Niland, adopted a highway and organized canned food drives and scholarship fund raisers. In 1999, the local Top Hatters gave away 50 turkey dinners and doubled that number in 2000, Lopez said.

"(Bikers) have gotten a bad name over the years. We're trying to amend that. We're trying to let the community know we're out there to help them," Lopez said.

"The way I see it, we're paying back to the community because we've been fortunate through the years. We're trying to do something for people who are less fortunate," Lopez said.

The Top Hatters will be helping participate in a March 31 fund-raising event for the Nate Mata Memorial Scholarship fund in Calipatria.

At ABATE's Jan. 18 meeting, other new officers will be installed. They include Ken Samples as vice president, Becky Hatfield as treasurer, Peggy Price as secretary and board members Tom DeRosier, Victor Salgado and Albert Gandara.

The meeting is open to anyone who wishes to attend, Hatfield said.

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On the Web: www.abate.org or www.geocities.com/southbeach/dunes/7838

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