metroracingMetro Racing, the classic motogear supplier, has joined our list of AMA survey sponsors. Metro is providing one of their standard, long-sleeve jerseys in the size and logo of your choice — a $30 value — as an incentive for one lucky winner.

This brings our total sponsors to four. I’m very pleased at the interest shown in the survey so far. We’re closing in on our goal for responses. If you’ve not entered your opinion yet, please take a minute to do it now. We’ll probably close the survey December 31 and begin tabulating the results.

mas-logo-md1Motorcycle Accessory Shop in Mesa, AZ has offered a nice package of 480 Racing accessories as an incentive for our AMA survey. The accessory package includes a gas cap vent, safety wire, and extruded safety wire washers — a $25 value. The package will be given away to one lucky winner after the survey closes. Thanks to Uncle Bill and Gussie Ramsey at MAS for their support.

motorsport-publications-logo_36Chris Smith at Motorsport Publications, LLC has agreed to sponsor our How Do You Feel about the AMA? survey. Chris has generously offered a free, 1-year subscription to Classic Dirt Bike magazine ($50 value) to be given away to one lucky respondent after the survey closes.

You must use a valid name and e-mail address when completing the survey in order to be eligible for the drawing. If you have already completed the survey and provided a valid email address when you did so, then you are already entered. No need to complete the survey again. Please, only one entry per person.

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.

Ok, ok. Call me a cynic. I was watching the new TNT show “Leverage” tonight and there is a scene where some defense contractor is talking about buying Congressmen. He says, paraphrased, “You can get a US Congressman elected for $50,000 to $100,000. But once you get them in the re-election rate is over 90%. You can get 18, maybe 20 years out of them. Buying a Congressman is the best investment you can make.” It is absolutely true.

If the AMA wants to actually protect the rights of motorcyclists the answer is to unabashedly buy Congressmen. I don’t care what you think, I don’t care how offensive this idea may be to you. This is inarguably, demonstrably, the way the world works. It’s not open for debate. If you don’t understand this you are either incredibly naive or in denial. Either way you’re wrong. And if we want our rights we’re going to have to pay for them.

Last night I got an email from Tony Wenck, producer of Pit Pass Radio, to let me know they’re interviewing AMA CEO Rob Dingman on tomorrow night’s show. Tony asked if I had any questions I wanted him to ask.

It’s short notice, but one of the things I want to do is gauge the feelings of the vintage community on the AMA, so I put together a short (4 question) survey I’m asking my fellow vintage enthusiasts to take. The survey is being sponsored by Motorsports Publications, LLC, the distributor of classic European magazines. When you complete the survey you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a free, 1-year subscription to Classic Dirt Bike magazine!

I also submitted the following questions to Tony (thanks to Rick Salazar for his input.):

  • It’s apparent that significant, positive changes are underway at the AMA, but there is a legacy of mistrust among much of the off-road community (at least in TX and across the southeast where I have always lived) that the AMA has taken our dues and done nothing to promote or protect our rights. One of the ways to address this type of mistrust is improved transparency into an organization’s sources and uses of funds. Are there plans to improve visibility into the AMA’s financial operations, and let the members see where the money comes from and where it goes?
  • I was very encouraged by the recent profile of AMA Board Chairman Stan Simpson in American Motorcyclist. He seems to have a very strong off-road background and may be the kind of personality that can legitimize the AMA in the minds of many off-road enthusiasts. Does the organization have a plan for uniting the fractious, scattered, and highly individualized off-road rights efforts into a more cohesive, nation-wide effort?
  • While the AMA is distancing itself from the business of professional racing (a move I applaud,) the men who risk their health and lives for a career in racing are still motorcyclists and deserve representation. In many cases they are icons and our heroes, and we owe them a lot. Seeing people like Danny Chandler and David Bailey living near poverty or going without needed medical care for lack of funds is a tragedy. Does the AMA have any plans to develop (or push for) long-term benefits/pension plans for the professional athletes in our sport? (I realize this could ultimately put the AMA at odds with the very companies they sold the racing organization(s) to.)
  • In the professional arenas where the AMA is still involved, are there any plans to alter current rules favoring a specific technology (four-stroke engines) and level the playing field for other approaches?
  • Also in professional racing with AMA involvement, are there any plans to restructure the purses to better support the smaller teams and independents rider who fill the gates but do not finish in the top 5?
  • As a corporation, does the AMA see any future role for itself in preserving, or even acquiring, private land for use by off-road enthusiasts?
  • The disability rates for our professional athletes are among the highest in major professional sports. Does the AMA see any role for itself in researching causes, impacts, and solutions?
  • Recently a long-time AMA Congress delegate from District 36 wrote to Cycle News with a some interesting, if uncomplimentary, observations. What role does the AMA see for the district structure and the Congress in the future?

I will post the survey results — summary statistics and no names, of course — here when I have enough response. If I get 100 responses by tomorrow afternoon I will forward the results to Tony at Pit Pass to share with Dingman. Please be sure and catch the interview tomorrow nite.

Here’s your government at work, again. This time the morons in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — the bureaucratic jackasses responsible for trying to globally mandate ridiculous, user-hostile, US Copyright laws written for the benefit of Disney and Hollywood — are trying to use small- and mid-displacement European motorcycles as a bargaining chip in a pissing match over hormone-fed beef.

The deal is that Europe doesn’t want hormone-fed beef. I don’t blame them. But the US says it’s fine. Good stuff. And we should be allowed to sell it in Europe despite the fact they don’t want it. The US got the World Trade Organization (WTO) to agree with them, but Europe refuses to lift the 20-year ban.

So the Beef Lobby, a vehicle of the massive US agribusiness oligopoly, has convinced the Trade Rep they should go out and tax all the Euro products they think people won’t fight back over.

Once again, big business writes the policies that affect us all, and writes them to their own advantage without regard for what it means to real people like you and me. I don’t know who to contact on this. The Trade Rep is taking comments until Dec. 8. Let’s hope that someone hits these guys with a clue-x-4. Motorcycles don’t belong in an agriculture trade dispute. Here’s the letter (pdf) the AMA sent to the Trade Rep.

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?

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.

Two things of note this past week in the world of motocross (three, I guess, but I’m not all that interested in who hired Chad Reed — it was obvious someone would) – Youthstream opens U.S. office in southern California, and CycleNews publishes an interview with FIM president Vito Ippolito confirming the FIM’s intentions to grow a Supercross World championship (Cycle News Issue #32, Aug. 13, 2008, pg 7.)

Neither of these things is unexpected, but together they are an important warning — nature abhors a vacuum, particularly the vacuum created when the AMA sold off professional racing.

Under the AMA pro racing in every discipline except road race and SX was a goat rodeo and a national embarrassment. Getting out of the racing business was overwhelmingly the right thing to do. Selling most everything to Daytona Motorsports Group was the right choice. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get some new and different problems in the bargain.

One problem is that Supercross is a sort of bastard stepchild, grandfathered under a very nearly perpetual contract to LiveNation, a company whose business is live event promotion. LiveNation produces nearly 30,000 events each year, ranging from monster trucks to rock concerts. The AMA still has significant interest in, and rules-making rights for, SX under this contract. Although there have been rumors that these rights might be sold off as well, it’s not clear that they will be. This has split the US motocross scene in two, with the AMA/LiveNation on one side and the new AMA Pro Racing’s MX Nationals on the other. There’s currently a big disconnect between the worlds of MX and SX, and there is no longer a single entity to represent the US in international discussions. The moves by Youthstream and Ippolito are opening volleys in the war to fill the gap in this new world.

In the same issue of Cycle News Henny Ray Abrams’ “Chicanery” column lays out a doomsday scenario. Abrams is a firebrand, a muckraker, a hyperbolic prophet of doom who is unhappy no matter what the AMA does. He’s excoriated Rob Dingman since he took the helm of the AMA. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, I like to read his stuff. In Abrams’ vision LiveNation/AMA/FIM expand the SX World Championship to the point it sucks so many dollars, riders, and dates from the US Nationals the series collapses. The relevant quote from Ippolito is this:

The FIM is interested in having events outside of North America. If we have a World Championship, it must be a real World Championship. We have to push in this direction, and LiveNation agrees that this is important. They understand and are very interested to help have rounds outside of North America.

Abrams is right about a lot of things. Add 4 or 5 dates to the SX series, throw in the extra travel time to Asia and Australia, and you could have a real conflict with current MX National dates. At the very least you create a really long season. Now consider the Youthstream move, which has the following stated goal:

Youthstream USA has been formed to expand Youthstream’s worldwide operations and bring world-class events to the USA and other markets. This includes future Motocross and SuperMoto Grand Prix events and the prestigious Red Bull Motocross of Nations.

Do we not have world-class events here already? Do we not have the fastest motocross and Supercross riders in the world? How many former World Champions come here to test their metal after winning the FIM’s European “World” Championship? Again, from Ippolito:

In the Supercross World Championship we have 90-percent American riders, and in the Motocross World Championship we have 90-percent European riders. The problem is, Where are the American riders in the World Motocross Championship? Where are the European riders in the World Supercross Championship? Are these World Championships, or not? In MotoGP and World Superbike it is more universal.

And that is the problem. There’s no incentive for American riders to go to Europe, especially since the world’s largest, fastest motocross market (that would be us for those of you keeping score) is not included. Bringing 1 or 2 GP rounds to North America is not likely to solve this problem. We’re Americans. We don’t like eating a different ethnic food every week. We don’t like dealing with customs and passports for a bunch of little countries when over here we would just call them states and be done with it. It’s all quite fun as a vacation, but as a lifestyle, or as a way to make a living, it grows tiresome.

To get a handle on this the FIM and Youthstream need a piece of the US market. They need a way to change the perception of the MX Nationals in the US and the World, and to bring the MX Nationals underneath the “World Championships” in a way that is palatable to US fans. That’s why they bid on the MX Nationals series. And that’s why it’s a good thing Rob Dingman didn’t sell it to them.

We are looking at the opening rounds of a battle for world domination. The old status quo, where both sides muddled around in their own way, is falling. The US is the battleground — LiveNation/AMA/FIM on one side, AMA Pro Racing/MXSports on the other. My guess is that a truce will be formed. If the FIM push too far they will lose. There is no historical evidence that a European-based motorsports championship can dominate an American market. AMA Pro Racing/MXSports know this. But it would also be very cool to have some GP rounds and big international races here. Both side know this, too.

What is likely is a growing chasm between SX and MX, with more and more riders choosing one or the other. Arenacross is an attempt to create a grassroots version of SX, and there is a lot of territory in the US where small, indoor facilities are very popular for large parts of the year. Lots of little mini riders are growing up practicing on small SX tracks. Sooner or later motocross will be forced to abandon its younger American sibling and go head-to-head for riders and fans. If it is to survive it must have dedicated resources across the business spectrum – not merely become a stepchild of larger, Supercross-focused organizations.

To this end, Dingman’s decision may ultimately prove to be the right one, but we’re likely to see a lot of bloodshed in the meantime.