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FHP to bikers: Be more colorful

BROOKSVILLE — Perched on a stool at Crossroads Bar & Grill, Larry Obonnon stroked his handlebar mustache and looked over several fliers for a state campaign encouraging motorcyclists to wear brighter colors.

One flier, titled "Green Eyed Monster,'' featured a man wearing shades, a black leather jacket and, stunningly, neon green chaps. Obonnon shook his head in disgust.

"I've been riding since the 1960s," said the gray-haired Obonnon, clutching a Budweiser, "and this stuff here ain't going to change a thing.''

The Florida Highway Patrol never expected that its "Ride Proud. Dress Loud'' safety campaign would persuade all bikers to adorn themselves in brightly colored chaps. But the patrol says one of the greatest dangers to bikers is other motorists who don't see them.

"We want motorcyclists to be visible, because they've got a lot at stake," said patrol spokesman Capt. Mark Welch.

The campaign, which launched Monday and runs through September, encourages riders to avoid black, gray, beige and other neutral colors. It is a response to the spiking number of motorcycle fatalities as more bikers have taken to the road because of rising fuel costs.

In 2006, the most recent data available, 521 Florida motorcyclists were killed on the road, up from 441 in 2005.

Officials are optimistic the campaign will reduce that number. But in a state where helmets are optional, they may have an uphill battle.

"I've got black chaps, black vest, black T-shirts, black shoes," said 62-year-old Gary Dove, sipping on a cup of beer Wednesday night outside Quaker Steak and Lube on 49th Street N in Pinellas Park. "I support the Florida Highway Patrol, but I certainly wouldn't wear vibrant green chaps."

Neither would Larry Diehl, 52, of Seminole, among the dozens of motorcyclists parked outside Quaker Steak.

"In the spirit of riding a motorcycle, I think we should be able to go out like anybody else that drives a vehicle and wear what we want to wear," he said, while walking around with his son, Charlie.

Not everyone shuns brighter colors.

"I want somebody to see me when I'm on the back of my old man's bike because I don't want to get hit first," said Rusty Wilson, a bartender at Tail Gaters sports bar north of Weeki Wachee.

"I won't wear chaps," said Tail Gaters patron Billy Dalton, who usually wears black and avoids helmets. "You know what that looks like? That looks like somebody at the Village People."

Interestingly, the FHP won't be following its own advice.

Patrol officers will still wear taupe uniforms and ride tan and black bikes.

"You hate to say it's different,'' said Welch, noting troopers have more training than recreational bikers, "but it is.''

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Michael Sanserino can be reached at (352) 848-1430 or msanserino@sptimes.com.

FHP to bikers: Be more colorful 07/16/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2008 2:57pm]
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