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Breezy Rider

September 01, 2004

You know how you're riding down the highway in the rapidly warming sunshine and even though you're doing 65, you're sweating really badly and thinking maybe that early-morning fashion choice of black leather pants and vest may not be all that desert-friendly in August? And you'd love a big body breeze but must keep your arms straight ahead on the handlebars because of some stupid state law that police erratically enforce? You know that feeling?

Well, wave your sunburned arms at the next red light, it's finally fixed.

Thanks to Assemblyman Jay La Suer (R-La Mesa), those high-riding motorcycle handlebars from your "Easy Rider" days are OK again with the law. This will please members of Raider Nation, the gang of angels from the hot place down below and other bikers who feel invulnerable to the perils of high-speed gravity and ruthless California freeway traffic.

Back in 1963, when many of today's bikers were younger bikers, California nixed those arching, really cool high handlebars that made riders appear to be making a top bunk bed. Back then, there were some vague safety concerns about controlling a powerful bike from down here while stylishly reaching way up there, but nothing really documented. Still, Section 27801 of the California Vehicle Code was rewritten to bar "handlebars so positioned that the hands of the driver, when upon the grips, are at or above his shoulder height when sitting astride the seat."

That meant, of course, no cooling wind in those steamy armholes. It also meant that, depending on luck and the mood of the armed officer in the vehicle with the flashing lights, bikers could get anything from a "fix-it" ticket to a fine and a point on their licenses. Now that'll cause a sweat.

La Suer knows a bit about bikes. He rode them for years as a police officer and sheriff's deputy. He sought to erase the handlebar height restriction altogether.

A compromise will standardize enforcement and set the new grip limit at 6 inches above the rider's shoulders, starting Jan. 1. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's had large, leather-covered shoulders at various times during his biking days, approved the bill.

Now, about the unsafe length of those bug-catching biker beards.

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