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.