In the early and mid-1970's, biker's rights groups were springing up all over the country. An early organizing force was Easyriders magazine. A major impetus in the new movement was the energy (and anger) of the recently returned Viet Nam veterans, who, upon returning from fighting for freedom, found their country screwed them with a forced-use helmet law.
Colorado was no different as anti-helmet law groups sprung up during that era. Among the earliest was CAHL (Coloradoans Against Helmet Laws) headed up by Bill Boyle out of the northern metro area. CMSA (Colorado Motorcycle Safety Assn.) headed up by Al Mewborn and Ivan Billingsley, and which was actually around in the 60's, covered the rest of the Denver area. I-70 wasn't even complete at this time, and western Colorado was isolated from the eastern slope, except for the bikers on the western slope and their agreement to get something done.
Lawsuits on constitutional grounds made some headway and kept about two (2) states free. Friendly politicians in Kalifornia kept that state free. Massive anti-helmet law protests and freedom runs (we're talking BIG—over 50,000 in Madison, Wisconsin) were becoming more common and more effective in bringing bikers and freedom loving non-bikers together on this issue of repealing helmet laws.
It was agreed among early Colorado helmet law fighters that the effort had to come from all corners of the state.
In Grand Junction, in the fall of 1975 we had some organizing meetings at a shop called Colorado Chopper. The big boost back then was to get congress to yank the federal DOT's power to force the states to enact helmet laws. Until that was done, no state had a prayer of repeal.
At the time, "ABATE" was not copyrighted, trademarked, or controlled in any way. There was no "controlling legal authority" over the name or what you did under the name. Remember, this was the ‘ 70's and we were all working for the same goal... our freedom. There were literally several different ABATES in many states that had no formal links with each other, except an agreement to work together.
In Grand Junction, we decided on "Colorado West Concern Cyclists". The term Colorado West" was quite the big deal locally back then. But some riders wanted "A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactment's". Great 1976 Bicentennial spirit there. But we wanted the local edge, too. So after much debate we decided on CWCC/ABATE. No problem, everything was cool!
About April 1976 Congress overwhelmingly yanked the Fed DOT's power to dictate to the states on helmet laws. Two or three states repealed their laws within DAYS. Six or seven repealed helmet laws by about July 1st, 1976. We were on a roll. CWCC, CAHL, and CMSA all came together to Lobby, Lobby, Lobby. 1977 was going to be our year. And it was!
Things have really changed. Part (or all) of the Colorado legislature was won by the Democrats. No problem. We all believed in liberty back then. (Even Patsy Schroeder voted on our side in 1976). The Senate Majority Leader was Ray Kogovsek, a 3-term Congressman in the ‘ 80's and now a big time Klintonite lobbyist in the ‘ 90's.
Kogovsek ran things strongly and smoothly in our favor. There was a mid-hearing strategy meeting at the Capitol. The losers wanted a concession. The eye protection requirement would have to stay or a couple of crucial swing votes would feel guilty and maybe not vote our way. There was a goggle or windshield requirement. NO WAY. Eyeglasses we could grudgingly agree to. The repeal went through. So that is why you must wear "protective eyewear" to this day.
The repeal of the ten-year old Colorado helmet law went through and passed on May 17th. 1977. It was allowed to become law without Richard Lamm's signature (he opposed repeal but decided to go along). At midnight May 31,1977 (if we recall correctly) ALL persons in Colorado were FREE to operate and ride motorcycles with NO helmet requirement. Free at last. It had been a long dark decade.
Bad Start. One fool sat in a bar and got sloshed while waiting for midnight. By 12:05 he was dead having run into a bridge abutment. No helmet. The media had a field day.
And it didn't get better all summer. By the end of 1977, about 61 Colorado bikers would die in crashes compared to about 34 in the helmet law year 1976. Safety nuts for "totalitarian enactments" were running amuck. A new helmet law was pre-introduced for 1978.
About this time in Grand Junction, Colorado Chopper had closed down, but Dave McDonald (later owner of Grand Junction's McDonald's HD) opened a small shop down town. We had many meetings there and other shops that opened their doors to us. But we outgrew them and had large gatherings at bars, outdoors, even Mesa Mall.
Our membership was large and growing and often exceeded 150 members. Not bad for an under populated area where members had direct contact with our state lawmakers on a day to day, even, almost, a neighbor to neighbor basis.
As CWCC we grouped together for big letter writing meetings, swap meets, parties, rides, and of course, we started the area Toy Runs with help from Dave McDonald and D&C Enterprises.
The main idea was to keep up the pressure on our local politicians to keep the repeal alive and well. "Pressure" is really the wrong word. We kept track. Except for an occasional stray liberal out in the wilderness, ALL our local and nearby politicians voted and supported citizen's rights to decide for themselves whether to use a helmet when riding.
How'd we do it? Meetings, Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Phone calls, Letters. Nothing ever heavy or adversarial. First name basis and citizen to citizen. Over here (and most of Colorado) lawmakers never forgot THEY are citizens first.
But we had good research to show that jumps in biker's deaths after helmet law repeals were matched by states that didn't repeal. Also an increase in motorcycle registrations (due to the repeal??) meant that there were more riders out there.
A few tributes must be made. Ivan Billingsley dissected the numbers and the engineering limitations of helmets for over 20 years. As did Al Mewborn. Bill Boyle of CAHL burned out of the helmet law fight in the early ‘ 80's. (Gary saw him at a helmet law hearing around 1992 or so). Bill and Mike Holt (President of Riders For Justice) both attended MANY legislative hearings and one on one lobbying meetings and showed that a soft-spoken speaker can be the most forceful of speakers.
Jim Whitmer of Boulder always gave time, letters, testimony, and a real effort to the campaign. Even had his name in the latest AMA magazine for contributing heavy money to AMA's government works office.
Still, there were attempts to enact a helmet law in all but three years between 1977 & 1995.
CWCC continued to maintain their effort through all those years. There was a Federal effort to put a helmet law on the ballot in 1980. This was clearly a Fed power grab to bring in money to start and influence local initiatives. CWCC sent letters asking for money and help to every bikers rights group in the country. We wrote to every newspaper in Colorado. We enlisted the help of the leaders in the legislature.
We raised hell and got a lot of big dogs mad. Folks who later held high positions in the Reagan administration threatened lawsuits against the Carter DOT. You begin to see how all this crap works.
CWCC trudged on through the early and mid-‘ 80's beating back helmet laws all those years except one when no one wanted to be the goat that year. Some burnout and complacency set in. But our toy runs and swap meets got bigger and better. Membership stayed pretty healthy despite the energy bust that hit the western slope hard.
At this point there was a meeting between CWCC/ ABATE and ABATE of Colorado (which had started up by now) and we were asked to join ABATE of Colorado turning over our membership & treasury. We declined. Some time after that we received a letter from John Freeman (then president of ABATE of Colorado) threatening to sue CWCC over the use of the ABATE acronym. Apparently none of our officers thought to register the name. Who would have thought it was necessary. Guy says " we weren't in it for the money".
Another tribute: to Senator Tilman Biship. He was for us and gun owners, a fine citizen-legislator and a hell of an American. He literally saved us, one-handed, one vote away from a helmet law. A couple of years during the 80's it got that close.
Around 1984, Bill Durning refused to be president of CWCC for a third year and ran off to California (to work for BAM) when he sneaked backed into town eight years later he still refused the job.
Faced with the loss of Bill and the fact that nobody else wanted the job Gary Cape took over as president. By 1986 it was near impossible to find anyone to run for office. At about this time, CWCC began their affiliation with Riders For Justice.
This is about where we came into this story. CWCC remained a valid organization throughout the 80's & 90's but was not much more then a PO box and a bank account. Gary Cape was the Executive clerk. At some point during this time the secretary of state canceled our not for profit status by mistake. In May of 1999 CWCC was voted out of existence and folded into Riders For Justice. It was a hell of a run.
I'd like to thank Gary Cape, Guy Elmendorf, Trout Brooks, Bill Durning and all the other activists who helped then and now.
Joe Tavarone - Past President, Riders For Justice
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