It was the annual Chuck Long Motorcycle Safety Parade. Nearly 1,500 cyclists roared along 14th Street NW to Pennsylvania Avenue, then bobbed and weaved 20 miles to Upper Marlboro.

They did not look safe, but they did look good.

This is not to say they were unsafe. But, as biker Thomas Reeves, 31, owner of a Honda 750 explained, "It only takes a crash to let you know four wheels are better than two."

Still, a motor biker will bike. So, says Chuck Long, a disc jockey from radio station WEAM who organizes the annual event, "We try to instill in those who ride bikes as well as drive cars and walk that more safety is needed on our streets. When you get a lot of motorcycles together, it looks impressive. Am I right? So that's what we're doing - trying to impress upon people that there are a lot of us with bikes out here so watch out."

Long's motorcycle club is somewhat different from most that cruise through the streets of the Capital to make a point. For years now, various motorcycle groups have protested the mandatory use of helmets for their own protection.

Long's groups is attempting to keep legislation requiring cyclists to wear helmets. Washington, Maryland and Virginia presently have such laws.

Long said he became interested in motorcycle safety in 1970 when his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.

"To be a motorcycle rider you have to be a sort of gutsy person anyway, and you have to be intelligent," Long said. "Mandatory helmet laws take care of those people long on guts - and a little short on the rest."

As motorcycles - the cheapest, most practical transport next to a bicycle - have become more prevalent due to energy concerns, so have deaths.

So far this year, nearly 70 people have been killed in the Washington area and scores more injured in motorcycle accidents.

Responding to the demand - as well as trying to capitalize on it - Peter Peluso, marketing director for Beltway Kawasaki, has offered free motorcycle lessons Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

"We're seeing more ladies come in," Peluso said. "That's real encouraging. Their husbands don't want to teach them, so now they have somewhere to come and learn how to ride correctly," Peluso said the courses are approved by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

"It's really not so dangerous, until the feeling starts to take hold," grinned Ed Ford, 24, replacing a broken chain that forced him temporarily from the parade.

"You hop on one of these things, have your woman straddled around your waist and the breeze in your face and, man, you feel like doing things that maybe you wouldn't do otherise, you see what I'm saying?"

"One time he tried to do a wheely (raise up one wheel)," said the woman with Ford. "And I fell over backwards. He was embarrassed, so he tried to do a fancy turn and we both fell off. I don't know why I ride with him."

John Williams, 35, squawks at such antics. Just beyond the treetops at the Carter Barron Amphitheater, where the parade began, Williams pointed out to others the storm clouds that were gathering.

"You think a Mack truck coming your way on a two-lane road at 60 miles an hour will blow you away. You hit a fresh rain slick. Many a biker has given the whole thing up after something like that. Some didn't have any choice but to," Williams said.

Around the amphitheater parking lot, groups of curious onlookers gathered in amazement at the number and variety of cycles.

"I used to have one just like that, man," one spectator said to a biker. "Flipped on me, though. Crushed my leg here," the man said, pointing to a spot just above his knee. "Got skin burns here," he said, moving his finger farther up his leg, along his waist and back. "And busted out my teeth."

"Damn," said the biker. "You still ride?"

"Yeah," he said. "This is my car here."