ANNAPOLIS -- They came to town with a roar, a parade of steel and chrome, leather and rumbling horsepower.
On a glorious fall day, hundreds of motorcyclists celebrated their last helmet-free weekend with a protest ride, loudly motoring through the narrow streets of historic Annapolis, past the State House and legislative office buildings.
The only things atop their heads were bandannas, caps and hair -- a great deal of hair in many cases. They paused only to show their contempt for the governor and legislators who deemed that beginning this Thursday they shall have to wear helmets whenever they ride.
"So few people were protesting when we fought the law, I'm amazed by the turnout," said Gene Smith of Landover. "One of the things that kept me in Maryland for 15 years was that there was no helmet law. I'm sorry to see this day come."
The rolling protest was organized by ABATE of Maryland, a motorcycle advocacy group whose unlikely acronym stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments. ABATE officials estimated that at least 700 bikers participated in the rally, which began at the Anne Arundel County fairgrounds in Crownsville and poured into Annapolis shortly before 2 p.m.
Legislation introduced by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and approved by the General Assembly last spring will require Maryland's 170,000 licensed motorcyclists and their passengers to wear federally approved helmets or face a $50 citation. Supporters believe the measure will save lives: Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. But many bikers claim the helmets add to the risk of cycling because they restrict vision and hearing.
"We're not against helmets," said Danny of Oxon Hill, who asked that his last name be withheld. "I use them in inclement weather and traffic, but we don't want Big Brother to tell us to wear one."
Rally organizers said participants came from as far away as Pennsylvania and Delaware.