I just saw a boisterous rebuttal of an earlier article – The Long-term Effects of Production-based Racing – over on the TMSuzuki Yahoo! group. I can’t post it here because I don’t have permission but I hope the author will stop by and do it himself. The author takes great exception to my assertion that a current race-tuned 4-stroke is more complex and costly to maintain than a comparable two-stroke, and my assertion that the complexity and ongoing cost of the modern 4-stroke is not appealing to a significant portion of 30+, 40+, and 50+ riders.

He also takes exception to the tone of my article, which is fair criticism as I close it by saying, more or less, that people who ride modern bikes are clueless. That’s not fair and it’s not what I think – well, not completely. I think many of them are but not in the sense that they are stupid. They are simply doing what 20 years of mind share management by the motorcycle oligopoly has trained them to do. They are clueless by design because the small handful of global corporations that control every aspect of our motorcycling world have rigged the game in such a way as to deprive us of choice and convince us that whatever they offer is the best we could hope for.

Production-based racing as an anti-competitive move

When the AMA went to production-based racing in 1985 it was hailed as a landmark by all parties. The factories claimed they would save money, and hence save racing. Because, they said, they couldn’t afford to race if changes weren’t made. We, the riders, hailed it because finally we would have the “same” bikes as the big boys. And we all like to imagine that we could be just as fast as Hannah, McGrath, Carmichael, or Stewart if we just had the same bike.

But in reality the shift to production-based racing was a highly strategic, and perfectly legal, anti-competitive move by the motorcycle oligopoly. With this one change the Big Four Japanese conglomerates took complete control over the off road motorcycle universe. They could now become friendly enemies, rather than having to fear one another. By deciding what they would produce, and when, they became the defacto guardians of innovation, progress, and development. And they insulated themselves against disruption. Innovation, such as it is, became incremental rather than revolutionary – with new developments being rolled out at a pace that made the most sense for the oligopoly’s bottom line.

Controlling markets, controlling minds

They had already been working, since the mid-1970s, on mastering the three basic forces of mass markets – shelf life, shelf space, and mind space – but now they had substantially raised the bar for anyone who wanted to come in and change the rules. 20-plus years later the off road motorcycle market is a prime example of pseudo-variety – the ability to convince us we have choice when we really don’t.

The side effects of this have been profound. Many, if not most, of the motorcycle buying public has lost the capacity to even conceive of life outside the oligopoly’s rule. The chopper and custom motorcycle guys are the lone throwback. But in the dirt bike world it’s almost laughable to suggest that anything other than what the oligopoly offers should exist. Motocross has been turned into Supercross, severe injuries are far more frequent. But we accept this as if there could not possibly be an alternative. And maybe there can’t. Maybe we no longer have the capacity to drive change. Maybe we are so fat and happy with our video games and our extreme sports that we’ll just accept whatever the oligopoly wants us to have. Except for those who don’t. And they go somewhere else – to some other sport or hobby. Which is too bad, because there is an opportunity there for someone, but not as long as the game is rigged.

I got to looking around for some new MX news sources tonight while listening to the excellent Jason Weigandt/Jim Holley call of the Minneapolis SX event. I came across MXNewsFeed.com, which spiders the net all day looking for MX news and sends it out via private news feed plus a free RSS feed for regular folks like you and me. After checking that out I decided to google “off road access news” to see what’s available for tracking our fight to have access to our public lands. I found some scary stuff.

The first group I found is PEER – Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:

As a service organization assisting federal & state public employees, PEER allows public servants to work as “anonymous activists” so that agencies must confront the message, rather than the messenger.

Public servants, my ass. This is an organization of self-serving bureaucrats. Not one of them has a real job. To a person they suck the government tit for their sustenance. They don’t add one single dollar to US GDP. All combined they don’t add a single decimal point to our productivity. They do nothing but suck the life from hard-working Americans like you and me in their mealy-mouthed government jobs but they have the gall to proclaim themselves protectors of the planet.

One of PEER’s top objectives is to end what they call Off Road Wreckreation. This list of news releases is filled with the sort of factless hyperbole and screeching histrionics that litter the environmental-wacko-loon approach to news. But it’s the sort of thing we need to be aware of. This is a bunch of people whose salaries we pay, whose livelihood depends on our taxes, and they are dead set on ending our favorite form of recreation.

PEER is also all about Under Cover Activism, seeing as how most right-thinking Americans would resent the hell out of their “public servants” running around screeching about their religious beliefs. You’re free to protest if you have your own money and your own time. But you aren’t free to protest me if I’m paying your salary. But the eco-jihadis are self-loathing religious nuts. After reading a little of their shrill, overwrought news I got nauseous and had to stop. But I’m going to keep tracking this as well as look for other 2nd- and 3rd-tier groups (e.g. not the Sierra Club, Green Peace, etc that most of us already recognize as loons). Stay tuned as I learn more. This battle is serious, and we need to know our enemy.

cone-head_linerFrom Don Morgan, inventor of the cone-head motorcycle helmet liner technology, comes an e-mail update on this interesting approach to helmet safety. According to Don, the response to his appearance on “The New Inventors” (which named the cone-head 2007 Invention of the Year) has been huge, with interest from around the globe. A helmet using the technology will be released later this year into the Australian and NZ markets. He has signed a license agreement with an overseas helmet manufacturer which allows them to determine when and where helmets become available.

I hope Don’s licensing agreement is not exclusive, or at least provides for limited exclusivity. It would be a shame to see this development get only limited testing and exposure due to a tie-up in licensing. For a bit more background on the technology see this transcript from an ABC-TV interview and Cone-head helmet not a bonehead idea in the Brisbane Times.

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.

From Mike Kincaid of Rampant Racing comes this link to two video interviews over at SPEED. There is a 4 1/2-minute interview with Rob Dingman, AMA president, and a much more informative 10-minute interview with Roger Edmondson of the Daytona Motorsports Group. If you are concerned about the future of American motorcycle racing I think the Edmondson interview will give you hope.

It’s official, the AMA is selling virtually all the Pro Racing properties (everything but SuperCross and ArenaCross) to the the Daytona investment group led by Jim France of NASCAR and ISC, and Roger Edmondson, President of the Grand American Road Race Series. Here is a video of the Daytona press conference and here is a complete transcript.

I think this is good, for a lot of reasons, but I wonder how it will affect the National Promoters Group that has worked so hard to build outdoor MX into the first-rate show that it is today. I suspect they will be fine, but it’s probably a difficult time for them right now. This is a big day. More later…

Update: The National Promoters Group has issued a press release in support of the AMA sale. The language of it indicates to me that they were pretty much left out in the cold on this deal. But I have to think the Daytona Motorsports Group will rely heavily on NPG to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is work to better outdoor MX. One thing I don’t think will happen – I don’t think DMG will try to kill off outdoor MX which what it often looked like the AMA was trying to do.

moto-tek_06_smallFollowing a brief exchange over on the CousinWeedy Yahoo! group I realized I needed to add a link to 4 Speeds Forward, the CZ tech site run by Weedy member Craig Walker, to the Resources links here. CW has a great set of online CZ manuals. He also has a nice review of the Moto-Tek 3in1 Motorcycle Stand. This looks like a nice option for keeping your vintage bike in an upright position while you’re clunking around the garage in a stupor looking for that flywheel puller or clutch tool. The price has gone up a bit since CW did his review – it’s $169.95 now as steel prices continue to climb. (Side Note: Here’s more info on just why steel prices are going through the roof. It’s just going to get worse.)

Cycle News is reporting today the sale of the road racing properties of AMA Pro Racing will be announced tomorrow. The reported buyer is a Daytona, FL investment group led by Jim France, president of International Speedway Corporation.

While the France family has its detractors, there is very little downside to this purchase if it happens. Given the state of the AMA, aligning motorcycle racing with arguably motorsport’s most successful business model can only be a step up. Plus, the France family has shown a decided interest in and understanding of the need to maintain a healthy grass roots involvement through their “Come Home to NASCAR Dirt Track” promotion effort.

It was earlier reported that all the racing properties — including motocross, supercross, ATV, and offroad — would be sold as a unit. this no longer appears to be the case. Not sure if that’s good or bad. Professional Motocross could benefit from a business model like NASCAR. For more on this topic see AMA Motocross Is Not NASCAR, The Cost of Inner Conflict, and The Nonprofit Professional.