Note: In 2009 this website moved to WordPress and the system referred to in the post below is no longer in use.
New MuddyWatersMX reader Chris Wilson recently asked the following question:

The code used on this site exposes the email address of the registered commenters. In the item in the right-hand margin that says “Logged in as X”, the name inserted as “X” is a direct email link to the address used when registering to comment. That means that any email harvester crawling this site will be able to collect my email address.

Can you confirm or deny and/or fix?

I thought this was a good opportunity to explain how the system works for everyone. First, let me put your mind at ease. The content system used for MuddyWatersMX has been around a long time and its privacy features are quite robust.

The link you see in the right-hand column that says, “Logged in as YourNameHere” is only seen by you – and only when you are logged in. It’s just a link to your account settings, which are tracked by your e-mail address. No one else can see it. And no harvester can get to it. If you logoff the site you will see that your name and account info disappear.

The only place that your e-mail address is ever exposed — and this is exactly the same as Yahoo! and Google Groups e-mail lists — is in the FROM: address when your posts go out to the MuddyWatersMX mail list.

But we even give you control over that. The MuddyWatersMX system provides a completely anonymized FROM: address in outgoing list mails for any registered user who wants it. You can change this setting in your preferences.

I hope this clears up any confusion and thanks to Chris for prompting me to write it.

It takes approximately 150 million years for organic matter to become oil that we pump out of the ground. We all know the ramifications of this – finite oil supplies, ever-growing demand for a limited resource, economic upheaval as supplies dwindle in our energy-hungry world. We also know the basics of renewable energy – government subsidized ethanol production, rising corn (and food) prices, a lifetime, government-guaranteed annuity for ArcherDanielsMidland, etc. And the attendant problems of switching our vast base of petroleum-based engines to alcohol.

But what if we could reduce that 150-million-year cycle to three days? What if we could create, in that three days, a grade of crude oil that is as high, or higher, than any currently available bio-oil? An oil that is really oil, not an alcohol substitute for oil.

a startup company called brief video on how the algal biodiesel process works. Here’s a C-Net video on the broad applications of this algae-based oil.

Although algae-based oils have been discussed for decades, this is first time that a scalable, industrial-grade process for producing them has been developed. The implications for this, if it ultimately proves viable, are enormous. Paired with high-performance, clean diesel technology — such as that developed by Audi and Peugeot for their endurance racing teams — could significantly change the automotive landscape.

What about CO2 emissions? According to Solazyme:

The algal biodiesel fueling the car is made through Solazyme’s proprietary process for manufacturing high-value, functionally-tailored oils from algae. This process, which uses standard industrial fermentation equipment, yields a biofuel that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is biodegradable, nontoxic and safe.

That almost sounds too good to be true, and maybe it is. But it’s clear (at least to me) that the current approach to ethanol is not even a short-term solution. Trading food for driving is a dumb approach. It takes at least six months to grow a crop of corn for ethanol, then you have to break it down into its constituent parts to make the fuel, which basically wastes all the corn parts. With single-cell algae you don’t have to wait six months, and you don’t have to break it down nearly as much.

This isn’t a panacea. The algae has to be fed sugar to grow, and the sugar comes from corn syrup, sugar cane, wood chips, etc. So it’s still going to require some sort of organic matter. But it doesn’t have to be a primary food stock. This looks like something worth watching.

Editor’s note: You may want to read Long live the two-stroke: Part 1 and FIM to put 2-strokes on even footing in 2010 for more background.

Recently a vintage racing/CZ friend posted the following query here:

Hey Terry, Correct me if I’m wrong because I’m not totally sure, but hasn’t Calif banned 2 stroke sales there or Continue reading

According to this Dec 21, 2007 press release (pdf) from the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme, the Permanent Bureau has decreed the following:

2) Motocross Classes: as of 2010, single cylinder engines will be used in MX1 and MX2 and multicylinder in MX3, whether 2 or 4-stroke (open concept). The cubic capacity will be 250cc in MX2, and up to 650cc in MX3. Discussions are currently being held about the cubic capacity in MX1. A decision should be taken in the next three months. Concerning the MX2 class, a maximum age limit of 23 years will be introduced. Moreover, a World Champion will be allowed to defend his title only one time (in the following year).

3) The FIM Junior World Championship will have an additional class as of 1.1.2010: 65cc. All the classes (65cc, 85cc, 125cc) will be exclusively 2-stroke.

I think this is a move that’s long overdue. I’d prefer that there not be a specific technology decreed, even for the tiddler classes, but I’m glad to see this happening. For far too long MX has been run as a corporate organ for the Big 4 Japanese mfgs. We can only hope that AMA/DMG/NPG follow suit.

A rule whose time has passed

The idea of granting 4-strokes a 2:1 displacement advantage (30% in MX3) was fine 20+ years ago, and was intended to prompt the development of competitive 4-stroke engines. That purpose has been served. But for at least the last 10 years the net effect has been to kill all 2-stroke technical development. This, I have been told, was at the behest of Honda, who have been dedicated to eliminating 2-strokes from the market since shortly after Soichiro’s death in 1991.

The end result has been a very cloistered, cozy, little world of coopetition for the Big 4 in MX. They leisurely roll out technology as it suits their budgets, without fear that anyone new will come along and rock their boat. Now that may change. We have long needed technical rules that foster innovation and invite new players into the sport. One of the reasons so many of us are not interested in modern bikes is they are so damn boring – not an ounce of personality amongst a warehouse full of them.

The myths of modern marketing

We have all heard the anti-2-stroke arguments — 2-strokes can’t compete anymore, 2-strokes can’t meet emissions standards, 2-strokes are too hard to ride, etc. Many of these “everyone knows…” comments started in a Honda marketing department and their pervasiveness should serve as a lesson to us that just because a major motorcycle manufacturer says a thing is true, doesn’t mean it is. Thanks to Honda and their motorcycle keiretsu we are well past the point where even general comparisons between 2-stroke and 4-stroke MX motors are valid. You simply can’t compare a technology that hasn’t been developed for a decade in any meaningful way to the state-of-the-art in another technology. It’s nonsense.

In conversations with a well-placed industry engineer I was told that the real issue for Honda (who, ironically, have declared they will produce no 2-strokes after 2010) is intellectual property – they don’t own any patents on two-stroke technology. So, like any big, market-dominating company, they attempted to kill off what they could not control. It appears they have failed.

Which is better?

This does not mean that the different designs don’t have relative advantages and disadvantages. In a Cycle News editorial titled “R.I.P. Two-Strokes? Not So Fast” (Cycle News issue #26, July 2, 2008, pg 60) Michael Scott discusses the 2-stroke situation in the context of the dissolution of the 250GP road race class. He lists a number of the well-documented, legitimate differences in the 2-stroke vs 4-stroke debate — simplicity via fewer moving parts, lighter weight for a given displacement and, typically, better power/performance at the smaller displacements. Scott interviews Aprilia two-stroke engine designer Jan Witteveen and notes that modern technologies have brought two-stroke fuel efficiency, emissions, and performance well into the modern era. Modern direct injection significantly lowers the amount of oil needed in the cylinder, and there are already 2-stroke engines which meet stringent Euro-3 emissions standards. With newer materials like ceramics and carbon fiber the need for oil injection may soon be completely eliminated.

Witteveen is, understandably, a 2-stroke advocate and insists, “There is definitely a need for the two-stroke motorcycle engine, particularly in small capacities.” He recently designed the innovative Maxtra 125 for Chinese company Haojue and is currently working on a rather secretive project for the future of the 2-stroke engine. It is likely the emerging markets (like China) that have driven the realization that 2-strokes are not only viable, but necessary. Cost matters in these markets and 2-strokes have, historically, been cheaper to design and manufacture.

No favorites

It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out. I’m curious why this rule change hasn’t seen more conversation on this side of the pond. It has to be pissing the Big 4 off, having spent millions developing, marketing, and selling the mythical advantages of their 4-stroke race bikes. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t favor 2-stroke over 4-stroke. What I favor is choice, free market policy, innovation, competition, and variety. MX has been the cozy playground of the Big 4 for nearly 30 years. It is the role of the FIM/AMA to safeguard the future of motorcycling for all of us, not just for a handful a big corporations. It’s high time they gave us an environment that encourages new players to get in the game. This is an important step in the right direction.

I look forward to the new discussions that should come out of this change. For the first time in a long time we might actually get new blood into the MX marketplace. At the very least we can begin to have productive discussions about engine technology and what the future might hold. It’s great to throw off the stifling blanket of corporate market speak that has controlled our choices for decades. We can only hope the US sanctioning bodies follow the FIM’s lead.

Here’s an interesting product I came across recently from ISC Racers Tape — Surface Guard Tape. According to the company it’s “a bullet-proof, 8 mil clear, urethane paint protection tape. You cannot puncture this tape with a pen.” It has a semi-permanent adhesive and protects against UV, extreme temperatures, and automotive solvents.

I’ve been using a product called Snider’s Paint Guard from Aerostich to protect the paint on my Guzzi from saddlebag rubs and such. It’s a clear plastic film that adheres like static film. It work pretty good, but it’s hard to apply to compound curves. But it removes easily. I don’t know how well the Surface Guard removes after it’s been on a few weeks or months – especially if it’s been in the sun a lot. But I’m going to get a roll and see. I can see how this would be really good to protect the frame from rub marks around the footpegs after you’ve spent a few hundred dollars for a nice powder coat job.

Michael Scott’s “In The Paddock” column in the new Cycle News, (pg 60, July 2, 2008) is all about the two-stroke motorcycle engine, its past, present, and future. Some interesting stuff there. Mostly Scott talks about road racing and the death of the 250 GP class, which DORNA has killed effective 2010. But he also interviews Jan Witteveen, legendary Aprilia two-stroke engine designer and gets his views on the state of the two-stroke, plus discusses possible changes at the FIM to bring the two-stroke back to MX.

According to Scott, Witteveen recently designed an innovative two-stroke 125 for Chinese company Haojue and is “working on a project for the future of the two-stroke engine.” Scott goes on to discuss the “death” of the two-stroke and, like others with whom I’ve spoken, lays the blame at the doorstep of Honda, who were the first of the Jap conglomerates to declare a moratorium on two-stroke production.

In fact, I’ve been told by one well-placed industry engineer that the entire affair at Honda has little or nothing to do with emissions, performance, or cost but rather with patents. He claims that Honda has no patentable two-stroke technology and, therefore, no way to control that segment of the industry. So they declared it a “very bad idea”, Yamaha meekly followed, and voila! the two-stroke is dead.

Or is it? According to Scott the FIM is now proposing a return to two-stroke racing in MX:

Over on the mud, they’ve already made the switch from two-stroke to four-stroke, and now there is a significant backlash. Four-stroke racing dirt bikes are expensive to buy, and virtually impossible for an amateur mechanic to maintain. Engine blowups can be financially crippling. They also have a strictly limited service life, making them lose value rapidly. And two-strokes are lighter and more fun. In response to these problems, which afflict all but factory riders, the FIM are now proposing a switch back to an all two-stroke formula, with the plonkers actually banned.

Now don’t go blaming me for the problems Scott attributes to four-bangers. I was actually told by one fellow that anyone who can read a manual can do a proper job servicing a modern four-stroke MX race motor. But then, I also know that people as well respected as Stu Peters (CMC founder) and Tim Cotter (MXSports.com and promoter of Loretta Lynn’s) feel that the maintenance cost and complexity of the modern four-stroke are serious problems for the long-term health of the sport. So it’s not just me, folks.

On the other hand, I’d hate to see four-strokes banned in MX, and I think that unlikely. After all, I’m sure Honda are dead serious about not making them anymore. But there should be displacement parity such that the two technologies can compete on more-or-less equal terms. Then the racers can choose. And that would be good for everyone. What we have now is an arbitrary policy imposed, essentially, by one big Jap conglomerate. It’s not to the racers’ benefit, it’s not to the fans’ benefit, it’s not even to the environment’s benefit. It’s mostly just to Honda’s benefit. And I’m getting tired of that.

Update: You may be interested in reading this article posted on July 10, 2008 which goes into more detail on this topic.

c1_07_rear3qwhI’ve been watching a two-hour documentary from Discovery Channel on MotoCzysz (pronounced moto-siz), the 100% American-made, from scratch, MotoGP machine. Yes, you read that right – one dude from Portland, OR (who isn’t even an engineer) decided he could take on the world and build a world-class MotoGP prototype racing machine from scratch. It’s taken him 3+ years and approximately $5 million, but he’s gotten damn close. Here’s a Cycle World web article from this past March, and there’s a full story in the July ’08 issue of Cycle World.

Of course, there’s a little problem that DORNA changed the MotoGP rules last year to require 800cc bikes and the MotoCzysz C1 is a 990 like the rules required when he started, but Michael Czysz is not giving up. He recently had a breakthrough test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and now lists among the believers several GP-caliber road racers.

Michael Czysz has taken, literally, a clean-sheet approach to building a motorcycle. He hired a couple of ex-Cosworth engineers to make his engine concept a reality – using a split cranksahft, 4-cylinder monoblock design. They have developed their own hydraulic/electronic slipper clutch, and even engineered their own suspension from scratch. The bike features a twin-shock rear and single-shock front suspension. Imagine that – no single-shock linkage rear suspension. How could that possibly work?! Starting from his garage, Michael Czysz is very close to completing a journey no one thought possible – creating a world-class MotoGP racing machine from scratch. This guy has balls the size of grapefruits.

I’ve written a lot here about what I perceive as the problem with American MX. I’ve couched my argument in terms of Production Racing, and tried to make the point that our singular focus on production racing has made us little more than slaves to four ginormous Japanese conglomerates. But I realize now that production racing is a symptom, not a cause.

The cause is a lack of balls – we don’t have any. We have the fastest MX racers on earth. We have more of them than anyplace else on earth. We have the most successful MX series (Supercross) on earth. We have the most competitive outdoor MX series on earth. And yet we are all at the complete mercy of four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers and we do nothing about it.

Every year we slobber over their bold new graphics and whatever technology advancements they deign to grant us as if it were manna from Heaven. We beg and plead and grovel before them to get their support for our races. We rely almost 100% on them as the financial backbone of a sport that we own. We do whatever they want, whenever they want it. The Japanese must be laughing their asses off behind our backs.

The typical vintage guy’s cop-out of “I don’t care about modern bikes” doesn’t wash with me. I want to know why the hell not? I’ll tell you why, because there’s only four of them and they might as well be fraternal quadruplets wearing red, green, yellow, and blue sweaters. And modern MX guys are so invested in the status quo anytime someone raises a complaint about the state of modern MX machinery the real argument gets completely lost.

The next time you go out to buy your new, modern MX bike, and you slap those bold new graphics of balls on your jeans where real ones ought to go I want you to think about Michael Czysz. There ought to be a place in modern MX where the Japanese don’t get to make all the rules. There ought to be a place where innovation and creativity and the small operator have a fighting chance of survival. We should be ashamed of having followed the Japanese like Pavlov’s dogs for 30 years. Our fathers would have been. And their fathers before them. We should be ashamed of accepting four different colors of “good enough”. Good enough is for soap and deodorant and cardboard boxes full of tasteless microwave dinners. But this is America and we should not settle for “good enough” in a sport that is all about passion and emotion. The machines matter. The heart and soul that goes into them is as important as the heart and soul of the riders. We have forgotten that.

And to Michael Czysz – you are a genuine American hero. Here’s hoping your dream becomes the vibrant reality it deserves.

cobrajumpTo my knowledge only one (1) company has successfully entered the motocross market since 1985 – the small Hillsdale, MI firm of Cobra Motorcycle Mfg. What did Cobra do? They brought innovation to a market the Big Four were ignoring. They met a need. They built good products – right here in the USA.

Once – in almost 30 years – has new blood successfully entered the motocross market. And they only did it in minibikes – 50cc-85cc. Ask yourself – is this really the best it can be? It’s difficult to make a credible claim than an industry (any industry) is healthy and competitive when it’s consisted entirely of the same five (really four) suppliers for more than 25 years. Are we really that naive? Or, like the Soma pills in Orwell’s 1984, have we swallowed the company marketing sedative so long we no longer care to see reality?

A little background

Back in December I wrote an article about how production-based racing has affected the motocross world. The article got quite a few readers (it was first featured over at McCookRacing.com) and drew fire on some of the discussion groups. People came away from reading it with a lot of different opinions, but it was clear that almost no one got my main points, which are these – the single-minded, all-encompassing “production bike” mentality that has consumed two-wheel racing has had a lot of negative consequences. And we have all been so totally brainwashed with it that most of these consequences are completely invisible to us.

Production-based racing is a great thing when it is provided as an alternative to hand-crafted racing machines. But take away the incentive and motivation to build handcrafted racing machines and you have an anti-competitive, controlled marketplace that ultimately provides less choice, less innovation, and higher costs. Think about it – motocross racing is now so thoroughly dominated by four global corporations (KTM is a bit player that exists solely at the behest of the Big Four to “prove” they are not anti-competitive. Ducati remains in road racing for the same reason.) that sanctioning bodies and promoters will do almost anything to keep them happy. Does that sound like a healthy environment to you?

But it’s not just that. Production-based racing stacks the deck for the factories – in an obvious, definable way. Here’s a quote from Cycle News journalist Henny Ray Abrams talking about the proposed 2009 AMA road racing rules in Cycle News issue 23, June 11, 2008:

The closer racing is to production, the greater the advantage to the factories. Power isn’t the issue – it’s torque. The factories can produce parts that aren’t available to privateers. They can also produce parts that appear similar in every way to the production unit, but are about as related as Ben Spies is to Ben & Jerry’s

Road racing isn’t motocross, but the parallels are clear. Setup your racing rules for the factories and pretty soon you have a self-reinforcing loop that guarantees no one new ever disrupts the big corporations’ neat little world. Factories love production racing because it controls competition, not because it benefits the racers.

We are now on our fourth full generation of motocross racers who have no idea that a competitive bike can be fielded by anything less than a global mega-corporation. And they are right. It would probably cost $50-$100 million dollars to enter the market with a competitive dirt bike that could sell enough copies to meet homologation requirements and pay for its development and manufacturing costs. Even the venerable Harley-Davidson (via its Buell subsidiary) gave up after a brief flirtation with the idea.

What is reality?

Reality is that very few successful forms of motorsport are restricted solely and completely to production-based racing. Here’s a quiz for you. Name a successful, well-known motorsports franchise with the following characteristics:

  • Requires every racer, every championship, and every discipline to race vehicles based solely on what a major manufacturer produces
  • Restricts their entire racing field, in every class, to the homologated machines of a handful of multi-national corporations.
  • Has achieved success and popularity without a single new manufacturer or constructor entering its ranks in the past 30 years.

Championship Off Road Racing (CORR)? Nope. IndyCar? Nope. F1? Nope. American LeMans? Nope. Rolex Sports Car Series? Nope. How about dirt track racing? Sprint cars? Midget cars? Nope, nope, and nope. Not even NASCAR, arguably the most successful motorsports franchise in the world – one that even has Stock Car in its name – doesn’t require production racing in any of its championship classes.

But motocross (and nearly all motorcycle racing) is quite literally defined by these characteristics. Every so often an economics genius with a degree from Obvious State pipes up in a newsgroup with a comment like “Motorcycle companies are in business to make money. There’s nothing new about that.” I’m always amused by the attitude of such people. Defense contractors, cell phone companies, mortgage bankers, and stock brokers are also in business to make money. I wonder if they have the same laissez-faire attitude toward them? Do they blithely accept that whatever such companies do is acceptable and provides the best options for customers? Or do they think these companies do whatever they can to stave off competition and manipulate markets in their favor? So why are motorcycle companies exempt from this same healthy skepticism?

What does this mean?

I’m not arguing that big motorcycle companies are bad. They aren’t. I am arguing that blindly accepting the Big 4 view of the world, and quietly rolling over for whatever they do has taken a toll. The bountiful cottage industry that existed in motorcycle racing from the 1920s through the 1970s is dead. The talented framemakers of the past have been relegated to building replicas of (production) vintage bikes (because even in vintage we can only race production bikes). Even in flat track – which is the last remaining outpost of the custom frame – the AMA tried to kill custom frames as one of its last official acts. There is no room for innovation or the small startup company that wants to do things its own way. There is only one way, the way of the Big Four. All the business, all the sales, all the development must be an offshoot of what the Big Four want to sell.

None of this is suggesting that we don’t have good bikes available to us. We do. We also have lots of beer available to us on the store shelves. But did you know they are nearly all produced by the same five companies? And that soon it may be the same three companies? Yes, your local grocery’s refrigerator case is filled with dozens and dozens of different, brightly-colored cans and boxes, but there are not dozens and dozens of different beers. There are a handful, with minor variations supported by different packaging and advertising campaigns. Thankfully, the beer industry doesn’t have a big governing body that makes it illegal for small brewers to come up with new ideas and (eventually) get them to market. And the micro-brewery industry is pretty healthy. So why is it so hard to imagine a smaller, more creative subset of the motorcycle industry?

What can be done?

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the production rule in motorcycle racing, time to let a different drummer set the beat. Not in professional racing, certainly. That horse is long gone and nothing is going to wrest professional motorcycle racing out of the hands of the Big Four anytime soon – too many people have built their empires sucking the Big Four teat while we, the motorcycle racers pay the price of extremely limited choice.

But maybe there is opportunity at a different level. Maybe there is a place – somewhere between vintage and the 450f – that a different type of motocross bike can exist. Maybe there is a market for a sport that is competitive on bikes that are lighter and less optimized for Supercross-style racing, racing that is fast and fun but a little less demanding in the death-defying category.

I have no idea, but I do know that you can have a lot of fun, and really good racing, on different technology platforms than what the multinational corporations provide. Car racers of all kinds prove it every weekend. I have some thoughts on what such a platform should strive to achieve. More on that in Part II.

As noted the other day, I spent last weekend at the Diamond Don’s Riverport AHRMA national. What a mudfest! I’d like to say that I had a great race and finished in the top three in my class, but that was not to be. I was running well in the first moto of Sportsman 250 Novice when I stalled the bike in a corner. Getting restarted cost me several positions and I ended the moto in 6th. When I went to the line for the 2nd moto the bike died in staging, re-fired after 20-30 kicks, and died on me about 2/3 of the way into the first lap leaving me to push it home. So that didn’t go all that well.

But even with that I still put in about 10 good laps wearing the Leatt brace for the first time. I mean it was the very first time, I had not even fitted it onto my neck prior to doing my first lap of practice at DD’s.

So, how did it feel? It felt like nothing, really. I didn’t even notice it was there. Previously I wore a rather bulky set of hockey-style shoulder pads. These pads offer great protection if you’re a hockey player, and they offer good body protection. But the giant shoulder cups always interfered with my head movement, really limiting my ability for left-right rotation. It was always really annoying.

With the Leatt I had absolutely no interference with normal head movement. It was actually a great improvement over the hockey pads. In fact, the Leatt was less restrictive in head movement than even the CE-approved shoulder armor in my street riding jackets. My big complaint about those jackets is just that – I can’t rotate my head enough to safely see over my shoulder when I need to.

Given that the Leatt was way less restrictive than any of my previous riding gear I guess it’s small wonder that I didn’t notice it at all. I felt more comfortable on the bike than I have in a long time. The downside, of course, is that I have less protection for the shoulders. I did wear a smaller, modern chest protector from EVS, and I have an RXR Protect flak jacket-style protector to try. But neither does much for the shoulder area.

Still, that’s a trade-off I will make for better neck protection, less restriction, and raising my survivability ratio in the event of a major header.

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.