Rebels with a cause: ABATE club rides for personal rights, charity

Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There's common answer among motorcycle riders when questioned about their passion for the open road: If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Eric Fine, Bud Ashby, Mark Fitt and Vinnie Catalano are ready for the summer riding season.

But Bud Ashby, run coordinator for the local chapter of Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education, or ABATE, wants everyone to understand the thrill he gets from riding.

To him, it's all about the freedom, and the camaraderie.

"We have a common bond with people," he said.

That sense of connectedness is something the Kenai Peninsula ABATE likes to spread around on the Peninsula.

The Kenai Peninsula ABATE chapter, a non-profit organization, uses the income it gets from pull-tab sales at local bars to give back to the community in Thanksgiving dinners and children's Christmas presents.

"When I first became involved with ABATE, I was amazed at the amount of charity work that this chapter does," said Vinnie Catalano, one of about 65 local ABATE members and also the director of the Harley Owners Group.

Every year the organization donates $20,000 to the Shriners Outreach Clinic at Providence Hospital in Anchorage as part of Alaska Bikers For Children, according to Ashby.

And one of Ashby's favorite parts of participating in that event is seeing the children's faces light up at the hospital when they get to see and sit on the motorcycles.

"It just makes their whole world," he said.

For a bunch of tough biker dudes, these guys are big softies.

Personal freedoms

Though they are tenderhearted toward children and charities, other things like individual rights are something they will not budge on.

Eric Fine, the vice president of Kenai Peninsula ABATE, said the group is also active politically, monitoring and tracking legislation that could affect motorcyclists or the way they ride.

"It's just our personal freedoms, that's what we want to keep our eye out for, our personal freedom of choice," he said. "We care about safety and we care about people's rights."

A number of group members testified for the state Senate Finance Committee on the traumatic or acquired brain injury bill that was passed in the state Legislature last month.

"We thought it could lead to a mandatory helmet law," Fine said.

Members of ABATE have their own ideas on helmets; some ride with, some ride without. But for them it's about having that decision to make themselves.

"Let the riders decide," Catalano said. "I wear a helmet; it makes a nice rain hat."

Safety on the roads

Safety is an important issue for the group too, and they occasionally stress certain safety tips and training in their monthly newsletters.

Ashby said the biggest safety issue for riders is that each motorcyclist know their own limits.

"Don't ride beyond your capabilities," he said.

But it also helps for other drivers to be aware of motorcyclists and watch out for them. Recently, Gov. Sean Parnell signed a bill deeming May "Motorcycle and Motor Scooter Awareness Month."

Fine said that in the spring drivers are not as used to seeing motorcyclists after their absence in winter, so it's important for bikers to watch for drivers and stay out of blind spots.

Many motorcyclists also wear leathers to protect themselves from the elements as well as the pavement.

"Leather is cheap compared to skin," said Mark Fitt, another member of Kenai Peninsula ABATE.

"Plus we look cool in it," Catalano chimed in.

Throughout the year the Kenai Peninsula ABATE also holds organized rides to different destinations, and other events, like a motorcycle show and the blessing of the bikes.

The Kenai Peninsula ABATE group has meetings the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Metal Magic in Kenai.

The group is also holding a community-wide event the last weekend in July to get the word out about their group and encourage more membership.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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