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Legally Speaking


Issue: August, 2006
Author: Lesley Osen

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Life on the Open Road

Motorcycle riders know that adventure doesn’t begin upon reaching a destination - it begins with choosing the most interesting path.

Throw out the old stereotypes! The typical motorcycle rider is no longer a tattooed hulk with a cigarette pack rolled up in his tee shirt. Instead, the biker might be your favorite lawyer or judge.

There has been a large increase in the number of persons who enjoy riding a motorcycle and with it has come great diversity. More than 20 million people own and ride motorcycles. According to the latest Motorcycle Industry Council Owner Survey, today’s riders have a median age of 41. Nearly 10 percent of motorcycle owners are women; more than half are married and have attended college. They are also more prosperous. The median income of all motorcycle owners exceeds the median income.

Harleys, Hondas, Kawasakis and Triumphs. The motorcycles that Wyoming attorneys ride are as varied as the types of motorcycles that got them all hooked. More than 300 models provide a great selection.

Old lawyers, young lawyers, male lawyers, female lawyers, long time riders, neophytes and judges. All aspects of the Wyoming State Bar membership are represented in the motorcycle fraternity.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Peter McNiff has 12 motorcycles to choose from when he wants to go for a ride, including his 2004 BMW ST1150 touring bike. The BMW is Cheyenne attorney Doug Moench’s bike of choice. He has a F650GS for off-road riding and a R1150 Roadster. Jackson’s David DeFazio rides a Triumph Daytona, and one of the newest riders Brenda Lyttle, who has only been riding since May, has a Honda 250 Rebel.

Judge Bruce Waters enjoys his 1984 Honda Goldwing. “It’s not pretty, but it is fun,” said Waters. Don Rissler rides a Harley Ultra Classic. After riding Harleys for over a decade, Scott Ortiz now rides a Victory Jackpot Vegas, and Dan Blythe, who took a break from riding for a number of years, now rides a Kawasaki Concourse. Stefan Fodor also rides a Kawasaki ZX1100. Jay Gilbertz rides a Suzuki Intruder 1500. A Honda VTX 1800 is one of four bikes owned by Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Terry O’Brien. (For you non-riders, the numbers after the name of the motorcycle indicates the size of the engine.)

For some of the riders, like Judge Waters and Brenda Lyttle, the bikes they are currently riding also happen to be the first bike that they have ever owned. But most of the riders have owned many motorcycles. Don Rissler and Judge McNiff built their first bikes. Don Rissler’s first was a mini-bike when he was 14. When he was 11 years old, Judge McNiff attached a “Whizzer” kit to his Schwinn bicycle which motorized his bicycle. Jay Gilbertz started riding when he was eight years old on a Honda Trail 90.

College was the time that many riders discovered their passion for riding, because it was a great way to save money on gas. Stefan Fedor bought a 1997 Kawasaki to commute to law school. Dan Blythe also started riding in college; his first bike was a 1966 Honda 160. David Dafazio got his start on a shared fraternity house bike, a Honda CVR 600F.

Motorcycle riders are often asked, “Why ride a motorcycle instead of travel in the relative safety and comfort of a car?” For some riders, it is just another mode of transportation, and with the rising gas prices, a more economical way to get to work. For others it is a passion. Doug Moench describes it as “kind of his religion, it is like low level flying.” Judge McNiff compares it to “playing 72 holes of golf, “You concentrate on nothing else,” said McNiff. Other riders like David Defazio just enjoy being outside. Judge Terry O’Brien says that riding in a car is like watching nature on TV; on a bike, it is being out in nature. Don Rissler just enjoys not being able to hear his cell phone ring. Scott Ortiz also relates that it is his only quiet time. For Dan Blythe, travels are more of an adventure when he is riding his Kawasaki.

A day ride for some riders is enough time to unwind. David Defazio and Stefan Fodor enjoy a “ride around the block” Jackson-style. They ride along the Snake River to Alpine for lunch at Gunner’s Pizza, then up the Swan Valley to get a square ice cream cone, then over to Victor, Idaho, and back to Jackson over Teton Pass--home in time for dinner.

Other riders like to put a few more miles on their bikes. Judge McNiff has traveled extensively with friends, who include Jack Speight and Judge Alan Johnson. He has been to within 23 miles of Alaska and to Mexico on his bike. Don Rissler has been to Daytona, Florida, and Judge O’Brien has ridden west to Portland, Oregon and through the Redwoods. Some riders like to get completely off the beaten path. As part of the Twisted Shaft Motorcycle Club, Doug Moench enjoys riding his BMW F650GS on forest service roads and jeep trails.

August is that time of year when you can hear the steady hum of motorcycles heading to Sturgis. Scott Ortiz will be going to the Ham N’ Jam in Hulett, where Captain Ron’s Rodeo Bar provides a free barbeque lunch for all the riders. Don Rissler will be joining close to half a million riders who descend on the small town in the Black Hills. Many other attorneys and judges have gone to Sturgis in years past.

Safety is a concern when riding, because a motorcyclist is definitely more vulnerable than a passenger in a car. Pittsburg Steeler’s quarterback Ben Rothlesberger’s recent accident has made Jay Gilbertz rethink the importance of wearing a helmet. You will be able to recognize Brenda Lyttle on her Honda Rebel by the pink helmet she always wears.

If you are interested in learning to ride, the Wyoming Department of Transportation offers a great opportunity. For just $15, you can take the Basic Rider Course developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. It is designed for those who have little or no riding experience. It contains approximately 20 hours of instruction, both in the classroom and on-cycle. Motorcycles are provided. dot.state.wy.us.

If you don’t ride, remember to keep an eye out for your colleagues on two wheels and if you do ride be safe and keep the rubber side down.

Lesley Osen currently works for the Wyoming Department of Family Services in the training department. She is a former CLE Program Director for the Wyoming State Bar. Lesley has been riding motorcycles for the past 11 years. She currently rides a Honda VTX 1300. Favorite rides have included a trip to Glacier National Park and a trip with her husband Shawn and his three brothers to the Grand Canyon.

Copyright © 2006 – Wyoming State Bar