Archive for future

MotoPeds acquired by MotoVox

The very cool urban assault-style hybrid motorized mountain bikes made by MotoPeds may be coming soon to a retail powersports outlet near you.MotoPed urban assault survival bike According to this press release the company has been acquired by APT MotoVox Group Inc. APT has patented a carburetor technology called SmartCarb for two-stroke engines which the company claims will push the MotoPed near the 200 mpg range.

In my humble opinion no Doomsday Prepper should be without one of these. In fact, every apocalypse bunker should come with one as standard issue.

There is no good reason that living on the fringe can’t be cool.

Thinking differently: The future is coming

This is only tangentially about motorcycles, and only in the sense that it points to how the world of the future will work. But it’s an important insight into our future. This NYTimes editorial by Thomas Friedman (author of “The World is Flat” and “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”) is about a new kind of car company called Better Place, based in Palo Alto, CA.

The revolution that Better Place is betting on isn’t in what they’re doing — electric cars — but in how they’re doing it. The company is taking the business model Apple Computer used to revolutionize the music business and applying it to green transportation.

The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy — such as wind and solar — as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure. This consists of electricity charging spots with plug-in outlets — the first pilots were opened in Israel this week — plus battery-exchange stations all over the respective country. The whole system is then coordinated by a service control center that integrates and does the billing.

Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T. That way Better Place, or any car company that partners with it, benefits from each mile you drive. G.M. sells cars. Better Place is selling mobility miles.

So what’s the motorcycle connection? Maybe it’s KTM and their Zero Emissions Bike or their patented hybrid, two-wheel-drive technology. It doesn’t appear to be the existing behemoths of the industry, including Honda, Harley-Davidson, or BMW.

But Friedman’s point is that, wherever it comes from, it will come. And probably sooner rather than later. As motorcyclists we should be prepared for what entirely new business models could mean to our pass-time, and to the political environment in which we exist. Greater access to quiet, green transportation will make our loud, smoking bikes even more of an outlier, and subject to even greater regulation.

We need to get our act together now, and figure out how to create a united effort to protect the rights we still have, while we still have them.

New patent filed by KTM

ktm_2wd_hybrid_450Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM has filed patents for a new, 2-wheel-drive, hybrid motorcycle. Following KTM’s announcement of their all-electric zero-emissions bike, which is planned for production by 2010, this hybrid features an internal combustion engine driving the rear wheel with an electric motor driving the front wheel. I don’t know exactly how it works, but under braking the electric motor acts as a generator to recapture energy from the wheel and store it back in the battery.

KTM is smart to be getting a head start on this. Ever since Algore (the guy who invented the internets) published his book labeling the internal combustion engine as the primary cause of all Mankind’s troubles, the EcoNazis have been chomping at the bit to rid the planet of this scourge. I hope they don’t succeed, but there’s little doubt that there is a lot of money to be made for the companies that can effectively harness the power of the electron to provide motive force.

I just hope future generations are still able to feel the thrill and hear the roar created by capturing the power of fire in the internal combustion motor. Found via Motocross Action.

What permanent indoor facilities mean for MX

The Boston Globe Online today is reporting that a new, indoor MX facility has been approved in Bellingham, southwest of Boston. R. J. Cobb Land Clearing Inc. of Bellingham has received approval to construct a 68,400 sq. ft. enclosed facility near I-495.

To date, Supercross has remained the domain of professional racers because there are very few places for grass roots amateurs to ride true SX, or Arenacross, tracks. But there is a growing trend to build enclosed, indoor facilities — especially in the northern parts of the US where the outdoor riding season is only a few months each year.

This trend has important implications for outdoor motocross. New riders almost universally come to the sport today through riding and racing on outdoor tracks and trails. This serves to keep them connected, at some level, to the history and meaning of the sport. But as land use and noise concerns grow, it’s inevitable that indoor facilities will grow in popularity.

A well-designed indoor facility can contain the noise normally associated with dirt bikes. They give riders a place to practice regardless of the weather or temperature. More importantly, they give young riders a place to practice the timing and jumping skills that are unique to SX- and AX-style racing.

The growing popularity of SX, the rock concert, pyrotechnic atmosphere of the events, the short yet furious style of racing, and the high-flying, extreme-sports nature of the competition all combine to create a powerful allure for attention-addled, video-game-addicted youth. As indoor facilities become more available it’s possible that we will see riders in future generations who have never, or rarely, ridden an outdoor track at all.

What we are seeing are the early stages of a complete, cradle-to-grave SX environment against which outdoor MX will have to compete for its survival. Like any significant evolution, this one will have its ups and downs. Many of the early facilities will fail from financial or management issues, but others will take their place. Owners will learn the lessons needed to keep the facilities profitable. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the AX series begin moving to some of the better permanent facilities as they emerge.

All of this means that grass roots outdoor MX will have to change in order to survive and grow. It will have to become more professional and focused. While this is happening already in some parts of the country (particularly SoCal), outdoor MX is still the domain of good ole boys with some land and a bulldozer in most places. Local tracks will have to improves facilities, increase their marketing, and learn to work more closely with local businesses and governments to show how they benefit local communities.

The days of (relatively) inexpensive practice tracks for budding riders may be numbered. The political, social, and economic environment is changing rapidly, and track owners will have to become more sophisticated and savvy to compete and survive. If you’re a current or former track owner I’d love to hear your perspective on this. I’d love to know if you see this as a significant challenge in the future and what you’d do to compete in the emerging environment.

New therapy heals sever bone breaks in weeks

Australian newspaper The Age reports in “Broken leg bones healed in stem cell first” that a trial for new stem cell therapy has produced some remarkable results in healing the most serious kinds of fractures. The trial included nine patients with severe leg fractures, many unable to walk and spending up to 41 months waiting for bones to heal.

The therapy involves taking bone marrow stem cells from the patients pelvis and culturing them in a test tube. The stem cells are then applied to fracture sites, where they spur rapid growth of new bone. The average result in the trial was a four-month recovery time. The therapy is expected to halve healing time for less severe breaks.

The therapy is owned by regenerative medicine company Mesoblast. Earlier trials were performed in the UK and the therapy is expected to be generally available in 3-5 years.

Risking irrelevance – Pro MX vs. women’s gymnastics

The idea of raising the minimum age limit for Pro Motocross is being discussed a lot in the media and by the fans, particularly since an underage Jason Lawrence got into a bit of legal trouble. New outdoor MX director Davey Coombs has publicly stated his opinion that an 18-year-old age limit would be a good thing. Much of the discussion is focused on the idea that riders need to mature before being given the money and pressure of big pro contracts, which is true. But there is another aspect that needs to be considered.

The problem is relevance and the Olympics give us an interesting case study. It’s been nice to have some sports distractions — the Olympics and the NFL preseason — during this two-week break in the Pro Motocross schedule. While the Olympics have some compelling stories — Michael Phelps, 41-year-old Dara Torres, the Redeem Team — I don’t want to talk about them. I want to look at one of the least compelling sports in the Olympics — women’s gymnastics.

We only care about women’s gymnastics once every four years, and then only a little bit. Fans are mostly Mommies with little daughters, and pubescent boys. Beyond that no one cares. Why? Because “women’s” gymnastics is a girls sport — literally. No adult woman can compete. Period. Ever. By the time a girl reaches puberty and develops boobs and a butt her polar moment and center of gravity change to make it impossible to be a gymnast any more. I remember reading an interview once (which I cannot document now) where I believe 1984 Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton (who was 16 at the time) noted that she didn’t actually enter puberty until she was nearly 19 years old because of her rigorous training schedule.

So little girls practice and train for years. Between the ages of 14-18 they get one shot at being a star. At 19 they are done. Kaput. Over. Move on, nothing to see here.

There’s no career path, no adult challenges to conquer, no compelling story about hard work and perseverance. Basically it’s a crap shoot — a few rare kids have the discipline and early maturity to reach the top of their pursuit, they get a shot at a medal, and they’re gone. It’s not that the sport doesn’t require athletic ability, skills, talent, etc. It does. It’s just there is nothing in women’s gymnastics to attract adult fans of either gender. The sport is as irrelevant as wiffle ball.

Unfortunately, this scenario sounds an awful lot like modern professional motocross in America. We spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, money, and media space on 15-16 year old riders. They come out at 16, many with factory contracts already signed. They get 1-2 years to prove themselves. If they don’t make the cut — for whatever reason — they are considered a failure by 18. By 20 they are done. Gone. Off to be a carpenter or a plumber or something.

As grownups we can’t relate to that. It’s dumb. Makes no sense. It’s not even an effective way to find the best talent. The human body doesn’t reach it’s physical or mental peak until the early 20s. Yet we judge the ultimate potential of someone in a sport as physically and mentally demanding as motocross and toss them out by 18.

Over the July 4 weekend I had an old friend come and stay at the house. We used to race MX together back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He hasn’t paid any mind to the sport for years so I got him to sit down and watch the live webcast of the Red Bud National. His first comment after seeing some of the pre-race interviews? “They’re just kids. I don’t want to watch this.”

This guy is a race fan. He spends money on race tickets. He goes to events. He watches on TV. But children riding motorcycles doesn’t get his attention. He can’t relate. And he’s not alone. According to the US Census Bureau there are 33 million males in the 18-34 age bracket. But there are 45 million males in the 35-60 bracket – the bracket that includes all the vet and vintage racers.

You can relate to a 16-year-old up to about age 30. Beyond that the gap gets too big and your life experience plays a much bigger role in your view. You start to see them as children. Once you have your own kids it gets worse. You don’t want to watch a bunch of teenagers do anything as a spectator sport, it doesn’t matter what it is.

These young riders are fast. Very fast. A few of them are mature beyond their years. But it doesn’t matter if a huge portion of the potential adult audience can’t relate. It’s not as if at 22 you suddenly can’t go fast anymore.

If we really want to grow MX as a mainstream sport, how can we ignore 60% of the mainstream population of potential fans? The mind-numbing sameness of the sterile, technologically perfect motorcycles has killed any mechanical interest older fans may have had. All that’s left is the riders’ personality. And when the majority of focus is on personalities 18 and under, that’s a problem. Even the NBA — that paragon of bad planning, bad pr, bad management, and gangsta-hoopster street thug mentality — waits until kids are out of high school to put them in the pros.

If the goal is to achieve more mainstream acceptance we need to look at the long-term mainstream sports — both motorized and stick-and-ball — and emulate those things that make sense. We need to look at “fan life” – how long a typical fan stays with a sport.

Long-term success means we need long-term fans. Alienating people over 35 is not a good plan. Pretty much every successful fan-sport in America focuses the bulk of it’s players in the mid- to late-20s. The 18 or 19 year-old phenom is an exception, not the rule. Veterans of the sport are in their early- to mid-30s.

This always occurs as a result of planning and management on the part of the sanctioning body or league. The teams and players are universally incapable of maintaining any such discipline.

But this 22 to 34 age period corresponds to the human body’s physical and mental peak. It’s when athletes are truly at their best. It’s when their personalities are complex enough to be interesting to the broadest group of fans, and when the largest number of fans can identify with them.

Want a little anecdotal evidence? Who are the most popular riders on the tour, outside of the two dominant racers? 33-year-old Timmy Ferry and 30-year-old Kevin Windham. Who’s one of the hottest up-and-coming riders? 29-year-old Michael Byrne of Australia. We don’t need a sport dominated by 30-year-old+ riders, but we really, really need to get past the 16-18 focus and build the sport around adults, unless we want pro motocross to be the motorized version of women’s gymnastics. Moving the minimum Pro age to 18 is a great first step.

Smart money says AMA Pro Racing will get it right

The entire professional road racing community has been up in arms since DMG (now officially AMA Pro Racing) began making their presence felt. The complaints have been long, loud, and many. A person less magnanimous than me might even call it incessant whining. But I won’t do that. I understand what all the furor is about. The road racers were, more or less, happy with the status quo, and DMG have begun shaking that up — not always in a positive direction.

DMG may have misjudged some things. They will undoubtedly make mistakes. But they will learn — and learn fast. They will learn fast for one simple reason — they are in a market-driven situation. The new AMA Pro racing is a business and they are accountable to shareholders. The amount of money they return to shareholders is an unambiguous measuring stick of their success, and to succeed they must please two very important constituencies — the race fans and the manufacturers who support racing (at some level they have to please the racers as well, but not so much as the other two.)

This is a huge difference from the old AMA. In The Non-Profit Professional I wrote about the problems and inherent conflicts the old AMA business model presented to professional racing. The old AMA was a non-profit. They were answerable to no one, really. They ended up serving the whims of the manufacturers like a cheap hooker. The fans had no influence. The racers had no influence. They vacillated, prevaricated, and obfuscated. Flat track racing was dead. Outdoor MX was dying. And there was no one to hold the old AMA accountable.

This isn’t true for the new AMA Pro Racing. It’s a business. With profit targets and hard measures and clear goals and objectives. That’s how businesses are run. That’s how pro racing should always be run. Yes, you have to love a sport — you can’t set the same profit targets for flat track racing that you do for mega-million-dollar rock concerts. You can’t treat it like selling laundry detergent to soccer moms. You have to understand the needs and preferences of the fan base, and you have to deliver the marketing vehicle that manufacturers want.

The new AMA Pro racing has the experience of running the most successful motorsports franchise in the world. They know what it takes. They just need time to get acclimated to the new environment. But they will do it. At least that’s where I’m placing my bets.

Algal biodiesel reduces 150 million year oil cycle to three days

It takes approximately 150 million years for organic matter to become oil that we pump out of the ground. We all know the ramifications of this – finite oil supplies, ever-growing demand for a limited resource, economic upheaval as supplies dwindle in our energy-hungry world. We also know the basics of renewable energy – government subsidized ethanol production, rising corn (and food) prices, a lifetime, government-guaranteed annuity for ArcherDanielsMidland, etc. And the attendant problems of switching our vast base of petroleum-based engines to alcohol.

But what if we could reduce that 150-million-year cycle to three days? What if we could create, in that three days, a grade of crude oil that is as high, or higher, than any currently available bio-oil? An oil that is really oil, not an alcohol substitute for oil.

a startup company called brief video on how the algal biodiesel process works. Here’s a C-Net video on the broad applications of this algae-based oil.

Although algae-based oils have been discussed for decades, this is first time that a scalable, industrial-grade process for producing them has been developed. The implications for this, if it ultimately proves viable, are enormous. Paired with high-performance, clean diesel technology — such as that developed by Audi and Peugeot for their endurance racing teams — could significantly change the automotive landscape.

What about CO2 emissions? According to Solazyme:

The algal biodiesel fueling the car is made through Solazyme’s proprietary process for manufacturing high-value, functionally-tailored oils from algae. This process, which uses standard industrial fermentation equipment, yields a biofuel that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is biodegradable, nontoxic and safe.

That almost sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. But it’s clear (at least to me) that the current approach to ethanol is not even a short-term solution. Trading food for driving is a dumb approach. It takes at least six months to grow a crop of corn for ethanol, then you have to break it down into its constituent parts to make the fuel, which basically wastes all the corn parts. With single-cell algae you don’t have to wait six months, and you don’t have to break it down nearly as much.

This isn’t a panacea. The algae has to be fed sugar to grow, and the sugar comes from corn syrup, sugar cane, wood chips, etc. So it’s still going to require some sort of organic matter. But it doesn’t have to be a primary food stock. This looks like something worth watching.

Davey Coombs takes on the future of outdoor MX

RacerX Illustrated founder, 2nd-generation motocross promoter, track owner, prolific media entrepreneur, and all-round good guy Davey Coombs just announced in Racerhead #28 that he is stepping down from the day-to-day operations of his RacerX empire to focus on the future of outdoor MX and the pro motocross Nationals. In less than a year we’ve gone from feeling the AMA genuinely wanted to kill the outdoor series to having someone like DC step up to drive the sport forward. Very few, if any, have a better grasp of the sport’s past and future than DC. We could not be in better hands.

Coombs has already talked about things like raising the minimum age for Pro licenses, the problems with pulling children out of school to focus on becoming professional MX racers, the increasing danger posed by faster bikes and bigger obstacles, and many other issues that face the sport. I don’t know if there is anyone in the US who is more respected for his balanced views and genuine interest in protecting the sport than DC. That he made this announcement one day after the AMA confirmed the sale of AMA Pro Racing to DMG is telling. It’s a strong indicator that DMG will leave professional motocross in the hands of businessmen who know and love it. That bodes well for all of us.

I don’t know Coombs, and he has never heard of me. But his media savvy is unquestionable. I’ve been in various parts of the printing, graphic arts, and publishing business for more than 20 years and what he’s built RacerX into is impressive. His list of accomplishments is proof he has a talent for motivating, organizing, and managing. More than that, he is an innovator and has a true passion for out sport. All of these traits will be needed in his new endeavor, and we should be grateful that someone with his skills is willing to tackle the challenge.

My best wishes to Coombs and the NPG family. For the first time in a long time I am actually excited by what the future holds for MX, despite the serious issues we face with land closures, environmentalists, and rising fuel costs. For years it felt like the sport was a bastard stepchild. Now it feels like Allstate – the good hands people – are in charge. Carry on, guys.

Will the AMA become AAA?

AMA President Rob Dingman continues to emphasize that the AMA needs to be a better member services organization, providing better benefits to members. This has been a consistent theme in every interview Dingman has held over the past year. That worries me. While Dingman is always careful to mention that the AMA needs to protect the future of motorcycling and be stronger on the legislative and government front, it is always secondary to member benefits.

Motorcycling is not the same as “motoring”. It’s not even close. Driving an auto is taken almost as a basic right in this country. While there are eco-freaks who would like to rid the roads of cars and have us all on bicycles that’s just not going to happen anytime in this century. But we could very well lose the right to ride a motorcycle, particularly offroad.

Motorcycles are extras, luxuries, nonessential, risky, dangerous, etc. They are constantly under assault from the NHTSA, insurers, and other government regulators. Motorcyclists are also nonessential. We are innovative risk-takers, nonconformists, hard-asses, loud-mouths, and a lot of other things. We don’t like rules, we don’t like being told what to do. And we don’t give a damn (often to our own detriment) what other people think. This sort of approach makes us a target, and we have a lot of powerful groups aiming at our backs.

This means we need strong legislative action. We need to be spending money, lots of money, on lobbying and campaign contributions. It doesn’t really take that much to buy a Congressman. But we need to buy a lot of them. And having an association that models itself after AAA is scary.

Now maybe Dingman is thinking that first he has to get the membership into the millions, by any means necessary, before he can actually have weight to throw around in Congress. Maybe that’s true. And maybe focusing on member benefits is the way to do that. But I don’t need anymore cheap camping passes or other things I can already get from AAA. I need an organization that is going to fund land access action, fight aggressively for my right to ride, fight just as hard (if not harder) for my right to ride offroad, and provide strong leadership and resources to local and state groups that take the battle to the grass roots level.

Rob, you may need to provide better member benefits to grow the association. But you better make sure they are the right kind of benefits. And you better very quickly get to a point where you can lay out a strategy and financial plan that makes it clear you’re going to use our money in a way that makes the biggest impact on legal and regulatory issues. You better make it clear that we’re not sinking our money into another association that’s going to provide towing service and road maps and camping passes. We already have AAA. We don’t need another one. And if you can’t do that the AMA may as well be dead. We’ll go somewhere else.