CREVE COEUR — On a recent Saturday morning, Peo-Taz ABATE president Mark Rassi paused between bites of his breakfast sandwich inside a crowded Raedene’s Country Cafe at the top of the hill in Creve Coeur.
He chewed and thought for less than a minute, then delivered the perfect analogy for the utter joy derived from riding a motorcycle.
“You know when you see a dog with his head out the window of a car driving down the road just loving every second of it,” Rassi said. “Every biker knows what that dog is feeling.”
Look around. Motorcycling is popular. On summer weekends, and on the good weather days in the spring and the fall, motorcyclists take to the blue highways and county blacktops of Illinois for solo rides, large group caravans and every number in between. There were 350,193 motorcycles registered in Illinois in 2013 according to motorcycleroads.com, the sixth most in the United States. Some years it seems like a majority of those congregate on the Peoria riverfront for the annual Grand Nationals weekend celebration every August, the largest annual downstate gathering of motorcycles.
“There are a lot of us out there,” Rassi said. “It’s why we work hard to stay safe."
ABATE stands for A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education, the group’s core mission succinctly embedded in its name. More than a social organization for like-minded motorcycle enthusiasts — though it is certainly that — the group is focused on advocating for motorcyclists' rights in the state Legislature, motorcycle safety and motorcycle education.
“One of the most important things we do is set people up for motorcycle training through Illinois Central College,” Rassi said. “For $20 you can learn how to ride safely, how to handle a motorcycle that is right for you and how to be a defensive rider.”
By the end of the training, the student is eligible for an M (motorcycle) Class license. The classes are offered on weekends, all summer long.
“We hang out, go to dinner, ride to events,” Rassi said. “Though our main function is providing those who don’t ride with an awareness of motorcycles.”
Jim Culver is the vice president of Peo-Taz ABATE, and is a little different than many members of the group. He has been riding for only five years and he wears a helmet.
"I understand there are dangers involved when it comes to riding," Culver said from the table at Raedene's. "But I'm also a Christian and I put my faith in God and I could be called home in a padded room full of bubbles. If I'm on a motorcycle when it's my time to go, well God's going to call me when it's my time."
The demographics of motorcycle riders have evolved through the years. Now riders come from all walks of life.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety/Highway Loss Data Institute, "The typical motorcycle owner in 2014 was 45 years old. That was up from 1998 when the typical owner was 38 and a leap from the typical 27-year-old owner in 1980. In the early 1980s the proportion of fatally injured motorcyclists who were 50 and older started to increase, rising from 3 percent of all rider deaths in 1982 to 13 percent in 1997 and a little more than one-third in 2015.
Women continue to take up riding, making up 14 percent of owners in 2014, compared with 6 percent in 1990. Only 4 percent of the 4,414 motorcycle drivers killed in 2015 crashes were women, while 95 percent of the 275 passengers who died were women."
Rassi said the vast majority of motorcycle drivers make every effort to stay safe on their bikes. It's the knuckleheads who stand out in the minds of motorists.
"People like to paint bikers with a broad brush, that we are all not concerned about safety," Rassi said. "I drive a truck for a living and I see scary, dangerous drivers of cars on a daily basis. Yes, there are knuckleheads on motorcycles, but there are knuckleheads in cars too. You just have to look out for motorcycles."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.