There is a very disturbing letter in the upcoming (November 26, 2008, Issue #47) edition of Cycle News from AMA member Jerry Fouts. Jerry is the ATV Congressman for District 36 and attended the 2008 Congress.

I have long wondered just how effective the AMA Congress really is at effecting change in the organization. Here’s what I wrote in August of last year:

  1. Can ~5% of the financial power of the motorcycle industry exert any meaningful economic influence over the other 95%?
  2. Can ~5% of the financial power in the motorcycle industry exert any significant bargaining power politically, economically, or socially?
  3. When the AMA must decide whether or not to take an action that will benefit rider-members but will significantly anger the 6-member motorcycle oligopoly – who control $150 billion of capital and 80%-90% of the market – will the rider-members prevail?

If you answer yes to any of those questions you live in a very different, and vastly more naive, world than I do. Like it or not it’s all about the money. The AMA cannot represent the riders and the motorcycle industry at the same time because we, the riders, are not equal to the industry. Our interests and needs are not going to align perfectly with the industry. And we are stupid if we think our paltry membership (250,000 members is about $10 million in dues) is going to get us equal footing in a conflict.

Fouts’ letter specifically addresses the sale (or transfer) of western region AMA Hare Scrambles racing to WORCS, and the summary dismissal of the many hard-working Districts that have put on events for years (in some cases for decades.) His issue is more the secretive, unilateral way the transfer was handled than with the transfer itself, although he has some fairly strong criticism of the transfer’s consequences.

As Fouts states, AMA President Dingman is intent on taking the AMA from a club-based entity to a big-time corporation. This is a natural consequence of the AMA’s nature as a servant of the motorcycle industry.

You see, it takes the big to serve the big. This is an unalterable rule of oligopolies. Fouts notes that the Districts have historically delivered the majority of AMA members. This is probably true, but they have not delivered enough. The Districts have delivered the enthusiast member, the member who joins AMA to race, specifically offroad racing.

In 2006 off-road motorcycle sales accounted for only 25% of total motorcycle unit sales. As dirt bikes usually sell for less than street bikes, we can assume they account for even less than 25% of total revenues. Add to that the sale of offroad bikes continues to decline and we can see that there are not a lot of net new members to be brought into the AMA fold through this channel.

This makes the offroad market quite a bit less important in a long-term growth strategy for the AMA. This view is consistent with the AMA’s past history. Fouts notes that, while the AMA joins in on land use issues, it is the Districts that carry the banner forward and do all the hard work. Other organizations, such as the Blue Ribbon Coalition, actually do most of the heavy lifting on offroad issues at the national level.

Dingman has made it clear that he wants the AMA to become like AAA — a national corporation that serves millions of drivers, not racers. He’s also made it clear that professional racing in any form is not a part of the AMA’s future. Fouts’ interpretation of the AMA’s most recent action is that Dingman also has little regard for the current Districts’ role.

Taken at face value, this means that we, as offroad riders, will be left with little if any meaningful representation in the AMA. Over time the organization will grow more and more to suit the greater majority of street riders. We will be fed the company line from the motorcycle oligopoly regarding what is and is not important to dirt riders. Whatever they want us to know, we will know. What they don’t, we’ll have to find out on our own.

Professional racing has been handed to NASCAR, with all the consequences (both good and bad) that entails. Professional racing is a business endeavor. There is little we can do to affect that. But offroad riding is a passion, and one that deserves protection.

The AMA has long ignored this subset of the motorcycle community. It seems that now this stance is being codified into the corporate structure of the organization. So where does that leave us?

There is no real equivalent to the SCCA for offroad riders. What organizations exist are fractionalized and often work poorly together. Our political representation is weak, and likely to grow weaker as the AMA de-emphasizes offroad riding.

This is a problem we will have to solve ourselves, and doing that will not be easy. We are not a cooperative group. We are highly individualistic and prone to going off to do it our own way rather than sacrifice some of our personal desires in order to further the greater good of a group. But we will have to get past this if we are to survive.

We will have to find it in ourselves to quiet our more outspoken tendencies and learn to work with offroad riders of all persuasions. We need a new organization that can effectively represent all offroad riders, without the industry baggage and politics that have always plagued the AMA.

I don’t know if this is possible. The motorcycle oligopoly rules the market with an iron fist, and too many riders are all too happy to do whatever the oligopoly wants as long as they get a little eye candy every year with bold new graphics. But it’s imperative for our survival. Will someone step up with a compelling vision of what a new, national, offroad riders group should look like?

female_mech_calendar_2009Here’s a pretty cool thing to hang over your workbench next year — the 2009 Female Mechanics Calendar from Sarah Lyon Photography. Now this is not your typical bikini-clad, super hot, supermodel calendar with mouthwatering hotties draped over equally mouthwatering pieces of hot rod art.

These are real women, working on everything from Ferraris to jet airplanes.

Based on the preview photos, some of these women are no slouch in the looks department, either. I don’t know about you, but an attractive woman who can actually do something is far hotter in my book than an anorexic supermodel clothes horse. But that’s just me. Anyway, I thought this was cool and deserved a post for those of you who like real women. Check it out.

This L.A. Times story, “Women drive increase in sales of motorcycles, survey shows” out yesterday quotes the new Motorcycle Industry Council 2008 owner survey with some interesting statistics:

Sales of cruisers, sport bikes, tourers and off-highway or dirt models are all down in 2008 compared with last year, but scooters and dual sports (bikes that can be ridden on the street or off-road) have seen 50% and 30% gains, respectively. Overall sales are expected to be down this year. Through the third quarter they were off 2.2% compared with the first nine months of 2007.

The survey also has some interesting statistics regarding women riders, noting that 12.6% of motorcycle and scooter riders are now women, up from 9.8% in 2003. According to the article the periodic survey will be maintained and updated online beginning in 2009. Full results of the 2008 survey will also be released in early 2009.

Whatever else you may think about the recent election, one thing is certainly going to change — public policy about the public’s right to use public lands. Specifically, our right to ride and responsibly use public trails and land will be under even greater assault.

The latest major assault on our rights as American off-road enthusiasts is the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008. Please visit the AMA Rapid Response Center or Save the Trails to let your representatives know you want them to kill this bill.

This bill is bad by it’s very nature. There are more than 140 separate parts in it, and you can bet your last dollar that no one voting on it knows what they all are. Any bill in Congress with the word omnibus in its title is bad. Period. No exceptions.

The word omnibus means dealing with many items at once, and it’s the straight path to hell for decent legislation. Omnibus bills are expressly designed to obfuscate their contents, create hidy-holes for pet projects, and get things passed that would never pass on their own if they had to survive the harsh light of open debate. They are a favorite tool of corrupt, lazy politicians and special interests, who use them to hide things for which there is no public support. Half the time there are no, or very few, specifics in the bill at all when it is passed. Most of the specifics get written later by useless bureaucrats. Great, huh?

The only sure thing about this bill is that, as off-road enthusiasts, we will be worse off if it passes. It’s possible (but very difficult) to get good land use legislation. But it requires open debate, consideration, participation by the public, and lots of hard work. The Omnibus Bill got none of those things. It’s a shortcut, half-ass, slap-and-go, piece of lame duck legislation. Let your Representative know that we’ve had enough of their stupid legislating and they should just go home.

After more than a year’s wait, middle-aged motocross fans everywhere will be pleased to know that new episodes of The Motocross Files will begin airing this month on SPEED TV.

The first episode will be David Bailey, airing on Nov. 16 at 6:00PM ET, followed by Gary Jones. The Mark Barnett episode will air Nov. 23 at 6:00PM ET.

For more info see SPEED TV.

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.