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.

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.

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.

pursang250-smA 32-year-old Spanish automotive designer and a partner plan to relaunch the historic Bultaco motorcycle brand with the release of a modern 450cc motocross bike with retro-modern styling taken from the beautiful 1970’s-era Pursangs.

Jim Palau-Ribes and partner Roger Gubert have been working on the project for seven years and hope to build a prototype 450cc bike this year. They have formed a company named Pursang Motors for the venture. Whether the two can actually pull this off or not is open to question, but it would certainly be nice to see them succeed. Found via Motocross Action Magazine.

This is only tangentially about motorcycles, and only in the sense that it points to how the world of the future will work. But it’s an important insight into our future. This NYTimes editorial by Thomas Friedman (author of “The World is Flat” and “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”) is about a new kind of car company called Better Place, based in Palo Alto, CA.

The revolution that Better Place is betting on isn’t in what they’re doing — electric cars — but in how they’re doing it. The company is taking the business model Apple Computer used to revolutionize the music business and applying it to green transportation.

The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy — such as wind and solar — as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure. This consists of electricity charging spots with plug-in outlets — the first pilots were opened in Israel this week — plus battery-exchange stations all over the respective country. The whole system is then coordinated by a service control center that integrates and does the billing.

Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T. That way Better Place, or any car company that partners with it, benefits from each mile you drive. G.M. sells cars. Better Place is selling mobility miles.

So what’s the motorcycle connection? Maybe it’s KTM and their Zero Emissions Bike or their patented hybrid, two-wheel-drive technology. It doesn’t appear to be the existing behemoths of the industry, including Honda, Harley-Davidson, or BMW.

But Friedman’s point is that, wherever it comes from, it will come. And probably sooner rather than later. As motorcyclists we should be prepared for what entirely new business models could mean to our pass-time, and to the political environment in which we exist. Greater access to quiet, green transportation will make our loud, smoking bikes even more of an outlier, and subject to even greater regulation.

We need to get our act together now, and figure out how to create a united effort to protect the rights we still have, while we still have them.

ktm_2wd_hybrid_450Austrian motorcycle manufacturer KTM has filed patents for a new, 2-wheel-drive, hybrid motorcycle. Following KTM’s announcement of their all-electric zero-emissions bike, which is planned for production by 2010, this hybrid features an internal combustion engine driving the rear wheel with an electric motor driving the front wheel. I don’t know exactly how it works, but under braking the electric motor acts as a generator to recapture energy from the wheel and store it back in the battery.

KTM is smart to be getting a head start on this. Ever since Algore (the guy who invented the internets) published his book labeling the internal combustion engine as the primary cause of all Mankind’s troubles, the EcoNazis have been chomping at the bit to rid the planet of this scourge. I hope they don’t succeed, but there’s little doubt that there is a lot of money to be made for the companies that can effectively harness the power of the electron to provide motive force.

I just hope future generations are still able to feel the thrill and hear the roar created by capturing the power of fire in the internal combustion motor. Found via Motocross Action.

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?

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.