We have written here before about what price fixing in the rubber market means to the motorcycle industry. The corporate corruption on the part of our beloved suppliers continues.

According to this Oligopoly Watch post “Getting hosed“, the EU competition commission recently issued $173 million in fines to six global corporations for conspiring to fix the price of marine hose. Included in the list:

  • Bridgestone Tire and Rubber (Japan)
  • Trelleborg SA(Sweden)
  • Manuli Rubber Industries (Italy)
  • Dunlop Oil and Marine (UK-based, but a part of Herman conglomerate Continental Tire Group)
  • Parker ITR (Us/Italy)

Any of those names sound familiar? Getting credit for an also-ran position is Japan’s Yokohama, which chose to expose the cartel to avoid fines. These companies control the great majority of a world-wide commodity product — rubber — that is used for a lot of motorcycle parts besides tires.

According to the article, there is some hope as the UK appears to be moving more aggressively toward criminal investigations of complicit executives. It’s about time. After a dozen years of letting companies do whatever they want we need a serious redirection of anti-trust action.

As a side note we, as motorcyclists, need to be extremely cynical that global corporations have our best interests at heart. They do not. Not Honda. Not Suzuki. Not Yamaha. Not Kawasaki. Not BMW. Not HD. None of them. And we need to be extremely vigilant that these companies do not co-opt our rider organizations for their own goals just because they have the money.

Time for a rant. I fully grasp the need to placate sponsors. I know they pay the bills. I know that teams and events can’t survive without them. I know we love them. But please, can we stop rewriting history every time a title sponsor changes?

Ricky Carmichael is not a 5-time winner of the Daytona Supercross by Honda (well, maybe Honda actually was the title sponsor every year the GOAT won, but that’s not my point.) Jeremy McGrath is not a 7-time Monster Energy Supercross champion. Mr Daytona Scott Russell is not a 5-time winner of the Daytona 200 by Honda.

I am sick and tired of reading that every past champion won some event sponsored by this or that company or product. It completely destroys continuity and rewrites history. Scott Russell won the Daytona-freakin-200. Not the 200 by Honda or Yamaha or whoever the color of the month is. Monster Energy didn’t even exist when Showtime was racing and he damn sure never won a Monster Energy Supercross title.

I know most of this crap comes from lame-brain PR people who’s only job is to shill for one company or another. And I know the bosses love to see the sponsor’s name in every piece of crap that goes out the door.

But can we at least pretend that we have a modicum of respect here. Can we at least make believe that there is something more important about the history of event than just today’s title sponsor? I throw up in my mouth a little bit every time I read that junk.

I love the Cobra Motorcycle company. It’s a great American story and proof that you don’t have to be Japanese to make a competitive dirt bike. I wrote about Cobra last year in a piece on just that topic.

Now this Detroit Free Press article on Cobra features Cobra as an American manufacturer who is growing sales, even overseas, despite the recession. According to the article Cobra sold 1,100 combined motorcycle/ATV units last year. That’s nothing compared to the Japanese. But since when does that matter?

1,100 units is nothing. The Big Four plus KTM sell about a quarter million dirt bikes a year in the US across their entire product lines. If you knock it down to just the 85cc and under size it’s a lot less, but still more than 1,100 each.

Yet 1,100 units is enough for Cobra to make a profit, have employees, manufacture in the US, and keep growing. What’s more, they win races.

In dirt bikes winning on the race track is what matters. And Cobra does that.

Cobra bikes already boast an impressive racing record, winning dozens of amateur motocross national championships. Chief competitors include motorcycles from Austria’s KTM Power Sports AG and Italy’s Polini Motori.

The company has 100 dealers across the United States, including Waterford, Jonesville and Ludington in Michigan. Last fall, Cobra hired its first employee in Europe, where it is signing up distributors.

Cobra bikes gained a following in the mid-’90s based on their performance. Bud Maimone, an owner of a tool and die shop near Youngstown, Ohio, created the bikes for his son to fill a niche that he didn’t think anyone was serving well.

Hilbert, Cobra’s president, and seven other investors are buying the company from Maimone, a process expected to take a few years. Half of Cobra’s investors, including Hilbert, are former auto engineers.

A small American motorcycle company owned by reformed auto engineers. Selling bikes, winning races, and pushing forward. That’s the kind of innovation we need to get the country back on track, not $1 trillion bailouts so corrupt bankers can buy new corporate jets.

The AMA Pro Racing-sponsored team of Jeff Ward, Scott Russell, and Jason Pridmore completed the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 11th place. The team suffered a near race-ending pit fire around noon on Sunday, with four hours left to complete.

“Mr. Daytona” Scott Russell had just climbed into the car when he smelled fuel. The crew lifted the deck lid and everything went up in smoke. Russell dived out of the car as a hail of fire extinguishing powder was aimed at the flaming vehicle.

The crew worked to clean up the mess and get the car back on the track, managing to complete 649 laps and cross the finish line in 11th place.

Daytona Prototype, and the equivalent American LeMans LMP1, are probably my favorite kind of four-wheel racing. For me it brings back the glory days of Can-Am McLarens, Jim Hall’s Chaparrals, the incredible Porsche 917, and the killer Ford GT40.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a golden era orf sportscar racing, when technology and innovation came from iconic mavericks more than big corporations. Wild ideas were routinely tried on the race track, and being different was a badge of honor.

Sadly, that has all fallen away, much as has happened in motorcycling. Technology has come too far. We know the very best ways to do almost everything. And advantage is measured in milliseconds by onboard computers. But I still remember…

mccook-racing-header54pxThe latest issue of McCookRacing.com is out, with two really good interviews. Headlining the issue is an interview with former AHRMA PR Director Alice Sexton. Alice ran for AHRMA Trustee this past December, on a platform of radical change in an organization that is staid and, many would say, stuck in a past that is long gone.

Based on the official platform letter Alice published in Vintage Views and the comments in this interview Alice is a real fireball. There are probably a lot of people in AHRMA who don’t like her, but the lady looks like someone I’d want on my team. Well worth reading if you care at all about what happens within AHRMA.

The second is an interview with Rick Doughty of Vintage Iron fame. Doughty has also been a key part of forming the USVMX movement.

This is a long interview, with some rambling stuff at the front that might throw off some readers. Once you get past that bit Doughty gets into how he started Vintage Iron, how he got involved with AHRMA, what he’s doing now, and how things look to him in the future.

One comment Doughty makes is that the Vintage movement is really strong worldwide, but the stagnant US economy makes all motorsports look weak right now. I know that’s true. And it looks to me that the Euro VMX scene is just killing it with a high level of participation, support, craft industry, etc. No doubt, this is the kind of activity that has convinced Doughty and others the time is right to move out from under the AHRMA banner, despite a general economic malaise. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

Tonight’s show on Pit Pass was good. Good interviews, especially if you’re interested in industry stuff like I am. Important note: The crew mentioned that their email has been broken and they were not aware of the problem. So they asked that any listener who has emailed the show and not received a response to please send it again.

One thing that caught my attention was a brief mention from Tony Wenck as the second hour began about the FIM MX1 World Championship being shortened (again) with the postponement of the planned USGP round. I usually check the MotocrossMX1.com site a couple of times a week, but had not heard this yet. This cancellation comes on the heels of the cancellation of the South African round due to financial difficulties.

What Tony talked about, and what I want to discuss, is the overall trend of downsizing in industry, what it means, and what we should expect. There were 40,000 layoffs in the US this week as US companies cut back. That sounds devastating, and it is if you’re one of the 40,000.

What we have to remember is that business is cyclical. Companies that are flush with cash, booming with business, and running as fast as they can — which is what many US companies were doing between 2004 and 2007 — wake up one day and realize they’ve made a mistake (or several.)

They’ve hired too many people, taken on too many new product lines, acquired too many companies, or expanded too fast. Often the easiest way to solve a problem when you’re growing is to throw more people at it. Unfortunately, this is not the most efficient way, and often far from the best way, to solve a problem. As long as things are great everyone ignores it. But when things get tight it’s time for everyone to readjust to reality.

This readjustment process is what politicians call a recession. It’s when everybody backs up, re-evaluates what’s important, what works, and what doesn’t. Ultimately, the smart companies come out better than they were. They focus on where the money comes from, and they dump, at least for a time, the arrogance that makes them think they are infallible. The market speaks very loudly in a recession. That’s good. It hurts for a while. That’s bad.

The motorcycle industry has a lot of smart, resourceful, entrepreneurial people. These people will find new markets, lean out their business, improve customer service, and find ways to grow. They won’t be swayed by scare stories on the news every night. They’ll keep working and learning and adapting.

In a year or two we’ll look back and see the industry stronger as a result of the current problems. The motorcycle is a great way to forget your problems for a while. It’s a great way to save on gas. And it’s a great hobby for families and friends. Just hang in there. It will get better.

usvmx_logo-th5Rick Doughty, of Vintage Iron fame has announced the new, national VMX series — the U.S. Vintage Motocross Series.

This has been in the works for a while. It’s the first vintage national MX series (to my knowledge) not promoted by the American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association (AHRMA). The off-road portion of AHRMA in general, and the MX group in particular, has suffered quite a few issues over the past couple of years. Many of the local and regional clubs upon which AHRMA was based began to chafe under the organization’s rules, politics, and restrictions.

Even my own Southeast region group defected and went off on their own in 2007 after months of internal discussion and debate. A couple of others across the nation did the same thing — establishing their own series and point structures. Add this to the existing base of non-AHRMA groups and you have a fairly large collection of riders who wanted to a national series outside of the AHRMA umbrella. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

I have mixed feelings about this. The sport of Vintage MX has grown and matured and it’s a natural consequence of growth that people will have differing desires and objectives. In this sense, the USVMX series is a sign that the sport is growing and the market is evolving to serve it.

Competition also serves to send a message to incumbent players that things may need to change. If there is enough momentum to support this new series, AHRMA will be forced to re-examine it’s policies and procedures in light of dwindling membership and attendance at their own races.

Make no mistake — it’s far from assured that USVMX will survive. There is always risk when a startup takes on the challenge of a well-established competitor. And that’s where I’m concerned. While VMX has grown, it’s not clear that it’s grown enough to support two national series. With the economic slow down it’s possible that one or the other will not survive.

If USVMX ultimately survives the consequences for a financially strapped AHRMA could be serious. The organization is already in severe financial trouble after a lengthy and controversial law suit. I don’t know what percentage of the AHRMA membership is just in it for VMX, but I suspect it’s not inconsequential. I would hate to see AHRMA seriously damaged.

I wish Rick and the entire USVMX team well. In the end, the market will win. What economist Joseph Schumpeter termed “creative destruction” will ultimately reshape the VMX landscape to what the market wants. It may be a bumpy ride, and we may not end up where we thought. But that’s the way it is these days.

Youthstream announces that effective immediately all the users of MotoCrossMX1.com and SuperMotoS1.com can post the contents, including news and photos, to their Facebook friends. Woohoo.

MotocrossMX1.com has some of the worst, most vapid motocross content on the planet. It’s a veritable black hole (and I don’t care what that moron John Wiley Price says, that’s not a racist statement) of useful news and comment.

Bah. Humbug.

This press release from the AMA says the Office of the US Trade Representative has dropped small-bore motorcycles and scooters from a proposed tariff plan aimed at retaliating against European bans on US beef.

According to the AMA its members, the Motorcycle Industry Council, individual manufacturers, dealers, and others had contacted the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative opposing the idea of the tariff.

In a statement released on Jan. 15, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab noted her office late last year sought comments on which of more than 100 European goods should be subject to the tariffs.

“Approximately 600 comments were received by the requested due date of Dec. 8, 2008,” she said. “An interagency committee of trade experts and economists reviewed the public comments and provided recommendations to the USTR with respect to modifications (to the list of products subject to additional duties) that would result in a more effective action, while taking account of effects on the U.S. economy, including consumers.”

There’s no such thing as a free market, and every government engages in putting up trade barriers for all sorts of reasons. Most of them do far more harm than good. This particular idea was worse than most. Good riddance to one small bit of governmental meddling.

Dave Despain is one of my favorite sportscasters. He’s sort of a “professor” of motorsports and covers a little bit of everything — even though everything these days is about 90% NASCAR.

This little video has been around since 2006, but I just found it. It’s hilarious, and was no doubt quite cathartic for Dave. I’m sure his call screeners purposefully select the biggest train wrecks for the show but still, it has to be tough to listen to some of the crap he hears week after week after week.

Even if you’ve seen this before, it’s worth watching again. Don’t we all wish we could do this.