ancover0409A couple of months ago I was interviewed by Associations Now magazine for an article on AMA CEO Rob Dingman. The author did a good job. The article is on the challenges and problems Dingman has faced, and is facing, remaking the U.S.’ largest motorcycle rider association.

I want to thank the author, Kim Fernandez, for quoting me correctly and in context. That’s increasingly rare in this age of sensationalism and spin.

The 2008 Vintage Dirt Bike Survey on the AMA is now closed. We exceeded our goal of 150 respondents last week. We have taken the survey offline and are now analyzing the results.

Prize winners will be notified shortly and results will be posted as soon as possible. It may be a couple of weeks, as sorting and organizing all the answers into a meaningful picture is a bit of a challenge. But I can tell you already it will be interesting, and there are some surprises (at least for me.)Stand by for more…

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?

Here’s the press release from the AMA regarding final approval of the Pro Racing/DMG deal. I’m sure the road race community is up in arms over this, and I feel for them. The changes underway there have created a lot of friction with the riders, factories, and race track owners. There’s a lot of bluster going on now between all sides. As Dave Despain said in his Wind Tunnel editorial a couple of Sundays ago, a lot of this is posturing for negotiation, so let’s get to negotiating guys and get it worked out. Davey Coombs of RacerX Illustrated made the same point — time to move forward — in a recent editorial I can’t find right now.

But the NPG have been busting their butts in a way that has not been seen since… well, I don’t know when. They are really working hard and professional MX seems to be rocking and rolling. More changes are to come, but we can hope that DMG will stick with the horse that brought them and let NPG do what they know how to do better than anyone.

In the end, this is the right thing to do for motorcycling and professional motorcycle racing. It may get worse in some quarters before it gets better. But it will get better. And there is no use in carping about it. It’s done. Let’s all move on now and make it the best we can.

AMA President Rob Dingman continues to emphasize that the AMA needs to be a better member services organization, providing better benefits to members. This has been a consistent theme in every interview Dingman has held over the past year. That worries me. While Dingman is always careful to mention that the AMA needs to protect the future of motorcycling and be stronger on the legislative and government front, it is always secondary to member benefits.

Motorcycling is not the same as “motoring”. It’s not even close. Driving an auto is taken almost as a basic right in this country. While there are eco-freaks who would like to rid the roads of cars and have us all on bicycles that’s just not going to happen anytime in this century. But we could very well lose the right to ride a motorcycle, particularly offroad.

Motorcycles are extras, luxuries, nonessential, risky, dangerous, etc. They are constantly under assault from the NHTSA, insurers, and other government regulators. Motorcyclists are also nonessential. We are innovative risk-takers, nonconformists, hard-asses, loud-mouths, and a lot of other things. We don’t like rules, we don’t like being told what to do. And we don’t give a damn (often to our own detriment) what other people think. This sort of approach makes us a target, and we have a lot of powerful groups aiming at our backs.

This means we need strong legislative action. We need to be spending money, lots of money, on lobbying and campaign contributions. It doesn’t really take that much to buy a Congressman. But we need to buy a lot of them. And having an association that models itself after AAA is scary.

Now maybe Dingman is thinking that first he has to get the membership into the millions, by any means necessary, before he can actually have weight to throw around in Congress. Maybe that’s true. And maybe focusing on member benefits is the way to do that. But I don’t need anymore cheap camping passes or other things I can already get from AAA. I need an organization that is going to fund land access action, fight aggressively for my right to ride, fight just as hard (if not harder) for my right to ride offroad, and provide strong leadership and resources to local and state groups that take the battle to the grass roots level.

Rob, you may need to provide better member benefits to grow the association. But you better make sure they are the right kind of benefits. And you better very quickly get to a point where you can lay out a strategy and financial plan that makes it clear you’re going to use our money in a way that makes the biggest impact on legal and regulatory issues. You better make it clear that we’re not sinking our money into another association that’s going to provide towing service and road maps and camping passes. We already have AAA. We don’t need another one. And if you can’t do that the AMA may as well be dead. We’ll go somewhere else.

From Mike Kincaid of Rampant Racing comes this link to two video interviews over at SPEED. There is a 4 1/2-minute interview with Rob Dingman, AMA president, and a much more informative 10-minute interview with Roger Edmondson of the Daytona Motorsports Group. If you are concerned about the future of American motorcycle racing I think the Edmondson interview will give you hope.

It’s official, the AMA is selling virtually all the Pro Racing properties (everything but SuperCross and ArenaCross) to the the Daytona investment group led by Jim France of NASCAR and ISC, and Roger Edmondson, President of the Grand American Road Race Series. Here is a video of the Daytona press conference and here is a complete transcript.

I think this is good, for a lot of reasons, but I wonder how it will affect the National Promoters Group that has worked so hard to build outdoor MX into the first-rate show that it is today. I suspect they will be fine, but it’s probably a difficult time for them right now. This is a big day. More later…

Update: The National Promoters Group has issued a press release in support of the AMA sale. The language of it indicates to me that they were pretty much left out in the cold on this deal. But I have to think the Daytona Motorsports Group will rely heavily on NPG to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is work to better outdoor MX. One thing I don’t think will happen – I don’t think DMG will try to kill off outdoor MX which what it often looked like the AMA was trying to do.