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.