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Ask Our Lawyer - June 2002

Q: A couple of months ago you wrote about the definition of the word “biker” in a dictionary. What ever happened to that?

A: I though I would keep you posted on the progress of that. With the help of ABATE staff and interested members, we sent the following letter to the dictionary publisher. We haven’t heard from them yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as we get a response.

Karen Wilkinson
47 Federal Street
P.O. Box 281
Springfield, Massachusetts 01102

Dear Ms. Wilkinson:

Thank you for your prompt and courteous response to our question regarding the definition of the word “biker” in your unabridged on-line dictionary and presumably in the New Third International Dictionary bound volume. We would like to take this opportunity to propose some revisions to the definition appearing in your publications and suggest possible alternatives.

The law firm of which we are members currently represents several motorcycle safety organizations. As you may be aware, the motorcycling community tends to be self-organized and members of a number of different motorcycling related organizations. These include the regional, local and state chapters of the ABATE organization (ABATE stands for American Bikers Aimed Toward Education), as well as the national Motorcycle Riders Foundation. Our office is affiliated with a number of these organizations, and is also involved with the national American Motorcycle Association. We have recently become aware that the usage listed in your publications for “bikers” can be seen by motorcyclists and the non-motorcycling public as a derogatory stereotyping of those of us who ride motorcycles. While we realize from the content of your recent email that the marker “especially” tends to indicate that not all motorcyclists would be members of organized gangs, we believe that its inclusion as the sole definition of “biker” certainly would lead most casual readers of your publications to that conclusion.

While no one would dispute that there are criminal elements or gang members who do ride motorcycles, they are by far the smallest minority of motorcycle riders. Most motorcycle riders are courteous and safe individuals. They may be local professionals, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects and small business owners. While some people who ride motorcycles indulge in a motorcycling centered lifestyle, others ride them simply for recreational purposes. To group all motorcyclists with the small percentage who might be members of organized gangs does a disservice to motorcyclists at large. We would suggest that the same definition applied to any other subgroup of the American public would be considered insulting if not derogatory.
We are therefore asking that your organization undertake to modify its listing of “biker” in your publications. We have included with this letter an article written for publication in several state motorcycle newsletters discussing this issue and noting different definitions of the word “biker”. We would suggest that perhaps the Cambridge International Dictionary of American English definition would be more appropriate as a primary definition of the word “biker”. That definition is, as noted in the attached document, “someone who rides a motorcycle or bicycle”. While we would certainly understand your organization’s desire to include some description of the usage of “biker” as referring to those who are involved in an organized gang, we believe that it should not be the primary definition for “biker”. Perhaps a sub-usage that indicates the term is sometimes used to describe those members of an organized gang would be sufficient to address that issue while not making a broader stereotype.

We thank you for your attention to this matter and would respectfully request that you address it and respond to us at your convenience. Members of the motorcycling community would appreciate your attention to this matter and we look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,
Rodney V. Taylor

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