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Ask Our Lawyer - September 2005

Q: I’ve heard that choppers may be harder to insure than other bikes. Why? What’s so special about choppers, and what is a chopper, anyway?

A: From what I’ve learned, not all carriers insure what they call choppers. The term “chopper” is not even listed in Webster’s Dictionary. No insurance company defines “chopper.” The primary reason for the insurance issues concerning choppers is that custom choppers, especially kit choppers, often lack established bluebook values.

Custom bikes from older shops with name recognition may be more insurable as these companies' bikes often have historical-pricing data. Also, some carriers avoid custom choppers because of their high replacement cost. Simply put, insurers do not want to pay the high cost of replacing these bikes if they are stolen or damaged.

Also, some insurers will just sell liability insurance for custom choppers and special constructions, denying custom chopper riders collision or comprehensive coverage. But what’s a chopper? Opinions differ, but most riders agree that a chopper is:

  1. A style of motorcycle that appears deceptively light, has a greater angle on the front end than usually seen, and radical styling. The word originates from the post-World War II era when former GIs were looking for performance mods. Since there was no aftermarket back then and once all engine mods were out of the way, the bike’s weight needed to be reduced. Owners began to remove unnecessary components and eventually began to cut away (or “chop”) sections of the bike and frame. These mods used to be called “bobbing” but the word “chop” became the more popular phrase.
  2. A customized bike with extended and raked front end, from which all unnecessary parts have been stripped. The early choppers weren’t raked, so the front end was high, making it necessary to reduce the size of the front wheel. They are very stable in a straight line, but not too agile in turns. Jeff Hill, of Hill’s Performance Cycles, Nay, OH, served as our expert consultant on this one. Jeff is one of the greatest custom builders in the country. Thanks for the help, Jeff.

AL PUTNAM RIDES AGAIN – SORT-OF

Al Putnam is great dad, a wonderful friend, a founding father of ABATE, the best BAIL-BONDSMAN God ever made and the leading citizen of Rochester. He should have been a line-backer for the Colts. He must weigh something approaching 350lbs and he has a heart that is even bigger. We almost lost him on June 5, 2005 – the day before the anniversary of D-DAY.

He had just purchased his life's dream, a Boss-Hoss trike. If there ever was a motorcycle made for Putt, as those who love him call him, it is a Boss Hoss – truly one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever made.

Unfortunately for Putt his new purchase caught on fire as he started it to take it for a ride. In just a flash, Putt was consumed in flames, along with the Boss Hoss, his daughter Carrie's bike and the garage they were housed in. But for the grace of God and his neighbor, Putt was saved – barely.

He spent the next few months in the intensive care and burn unit at St. Joe's in Ft. Wayne. You cannot imagine the suffering Putt has been through, with skin grafts, infections and the constant dressing changes to ward off life-threatening infections. They give him morphine to start the dressing change; then at half time as he calls it – they give him more. And then at the end of the torture they give him a final dose. No human should ever have to endure what Putt has been through. Putt's angels (as he calls them) are the wonderful treating personnel at St. Joe's, Debbie, Bryan, Paul and Tim, and the many others who perform miracles there.

Putt is home now recuperating with the help of his great daughters. With his can-do spirit, I predict that Putt will be back on a trike next summer. And as Putt says, I am not as pretty as I once was, but I am sure glad to be here. So are we, Putt.

ROCKY, SCOTT AND ME

Friday was a bad day for us. Rocky Weems called to say that his best friend Scott Prewitt passed away. Scott was one of the first members of the CROSSROADS CHAPTER, A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois.

I got to know Scott primarily through Rocky Weems, who was horribly injured 2 years ago. They were friends like you always wanted to have. They worked together as supervisors at Quebecor Petty. Two years ago, none of us thought Rocky would live after that old man turned in front of him and left him with a terrible brain injury. But somehow Scott knew Rocky would recover. None of us thought that Rocky would ever be able to be on his own again. But somehow Scott knew that Rocky would be just fine.

Rocky's recovery was a miracle – and I always thought Scott had something to do with it. He was always there for Rocky. These men would have been an honorable subject of a John Steinbeck novel. They truly embodied the definition of friends. I had the honor of visiting with both of them at the State Party. Scott was a gentle giant of a man but wanted to get thinner for himself and for his wonderful wife Robin.

He underwent surgery to help in that regard but complications from that surgery caused his death. Scott told me about his upcoming surgery and how much he was looking forward to the results. I always hated the expression "Only the good die young" but now Rocky and I know it is true.

BLOCKING INTERSECTIONS

Q. While on a charity ride recently, my chapter president asked me to work traffic control, which means that I was responsible for blocking intersections so that the ride could go through with stopping for crossing traffic. When I did that, I received a ticket from the local police department. What can I do?

A. The rule of thumb is that only persons with police powers are authorized to control traffic movement. These persons would include all police officers. Most state statutes also allow flagmen to control traffic at construction sites. In some rare instances, it may be necessary for individuals to guide traffic during emergencies when police are not available.

Other than these very few exceptions, individuals who interfere with traffic are in violation of state statute. Motorcycle clubs and A.B.A.T.E. chapters clearly do not have the authority to obstruct traffic.

The penalty for violation of the statute varies from state to state. For example, a violation of §11-1416 of the Illinois vehicle code is a “no code.” This means that a conviction of violating §11-1416 will not affect your Illinois driving record – whether CDL or regular. The offense is considered to be a “petty offense,” which carries a fine of up to $500.00.

However, there is a much more severe penalty in Indiana. Blocking an intersection is a Class A misdemeanor and can be a Class D felony if some is injured because of the obstruction. Penalties can include one year in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. Class D felonies can carry a one and one-half year prison sentence and a $10,000.00 fine.

Additionally, the judge can also recommend that the driver's license can be suspended for at least 60 days. It’s very bad mojo to block an intersection in Indiana without authority.

STREET LEGAL?

Q. We have an 1969 Yamaha Enduro that we are looking to run on the street. It does not have turn signals. According to the AMA site, some states do not require turn signals. Is this correct?

A. While I generally take it as a rule not to trust anything I read on the Internet, some sites are more trust-worthy than others. The AMA is a good site for state requirements for motorcycle equipment. For example, some states, such as Ohio, require motorcycles built after 1968 to have turn signals. Other states, such as Indiana and Illinois, do not. You can get this and other information at www.ama-cycle.org.

UPDATE

Last month we talked about the problems riders had using the electronic toll-way transponder devices (called IPASS in Illinois). One of our fellow travelers in Maryland has some information. He writes, “Here in the "Free State" of Maryland (or as us locals pronounce it, Merlin), we have EZ-Pass.

MDoT advertises a bracket thingy for motorcycles. I've never seen one, but they exist. Don't know whether your state's transponder is the same as ours.” He also has the following useful observation: “One-handed use isn't the hard part, its getting the damn thing out of your pocket.”

STAYING ALIVE - SIMPLE RULES THAT WE CANNOT REPEAT ENOUGH

Recent statistics carry some disturbing news for motorcyclists: motorcycle fatalities are going up. A large portion of that increase is directly related to untrained drivers with machines they don’t know how to control.

Of course, the best way to combat ignorance is with knowledge, and the best place for motorcycle riding knowledge is your local state or A.B.A.T.E. rider training course. Check with your state office for more details.

I also wanted to pass along some information that I have accumulated in my long and checkered career on two wheels. There are a number of common mistakes that riders (both new and old) make, and I thought I would list some of them here.

  • Accelerating through intersections - Don’t. Intersections are the most common place for accidents. Accelerating through a yellow may be tempting, but the small visual signature of motorcycle makes it difficult for oncoming drivers to judge closing speed and distance. When in doubt, stop, is generally sound advice. However, motorcyclists should always be aware of traffic behind them, especially when coming to a stop. Riders should be cautious of changing their mind once committed as hesitation can be dangerous. Remember that some drivers are of the opinion that "if the guy in front of me goes, I'm goin' too."
  • Stopping too close to the car in front - Give yourself escape room. If a driver approaching you from behind can’t stop, you will need someplace to go to get out of the way. Leave enough room between you and the car in front to give yourself an avenue of escape.
  • Stay out of blind spots - Most drivers won’t turn their head to check for traffic in their blind spot before changing lanes, so stay away from those spots. Ride through the blind spots and position yourself in your lane to ensure that you can be seen.
  • Gear up for safety and comfort - The proper apparel will not only offer protection in the event of a collision, but can also make you more comfortable allowing you to fully concentrate on the riding tasks. Additionally, dressing appropriately can make you more visible to other roadway users. Use your gear, it doesn't do you any good if it's at home.
  • Look out in front - Look far enough ahead to see and appreciate dangers that might get in your way, from intersections, animals, pedestrians, bicyclists, or other hazards. If you see them, you can avoid them.

These may be common sense rules, but they can help to keep you, and your group, safe on the road.


Ride Safe and Free,

Rod Taylor

A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: Ask Our Lawyer, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.

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