In recent years motorcycles have become easy targets for 'safety' legislation. Will the law get less friendly in the U.S.?
I am starting this column with a real sense of unease because I am all too well aware of how much readers dislike me discussing politics in a motorcycling feature. Regardless, it is a subject I need to address because riders all over the world are in real danger of being legislated out of existence. This is not a hyperbole, but a hard, cold fact.
Currently, the greatest problems facing riders are in the European Union. Originally, the 27 countries which make up the EU were a free trade organization but now there is an increasing impetus toward a forced political integration which will, in the dreams of the Eurocrats, form a European super state to rival the United States of America.
Why should this be of the slightest interest to you as you head off to Laguna Seca for MotoGP
, or smell the sweet air of the high desert as you ride your Tiger 800
to Denio Junction?
To answer this question we need to look at history. Toward the end of their lives, all great empires become ossified by their increasingly effective Civil Service. In simple terms, the administrative weight destroys them. The Western world represents a unified empire and, as even a cursory reading of history tells, is now coming to the end of its life.
However, before an empire’s demise comes a period of intense bureaucratic activity. This is the epoch we find ourselves in at present.
There are several ways to look at the situation. The easiest and most attractive approach is to get on our bikes and do nothing; stick our fingers in our ears, shut our eyes and just hope it will all go away. But it won’t.
The second way is to rage and foam and vent our spleen by writing invectives to motorcycling websites and magazines. This gives the impression of doing something when the only value is cathartic in that it makes the individual writer feel better.
Finally, there is the hard and rocky route which has no interest for any us: the hard slog of politicization.
Let’s look at why bureaucrats want to kill motorcycling through legislation. First and foremost they live in the land of milk and honey. Here are some interesting facts about the Eurocrats who are the real legislative power in Europe.
Did you know that 40% of all EU Officials earn more than $100,000 a year?
Since much of the community is against bikes and bikers it has become increasingly easy for politicians to pass anti-motorcycle policies. This is why activism amongst two-wheeled enthusiasts is more important than ever.
If you happen to be a non-Belgian – the European Parliament is based in the Belgian capital, Brussels – you will get an additional 15% ‘Foreign Service Allowance.’ You could live just over the Belgian border in France, Luxembourg or the Netherlands but you will receive the 15% bonus.
As an EU official your minimum holiday entitlement will be 42 days a year – obviously plus public holidays – but if you’re so kind as to work slightly outside your official 37-hour week you’d be entitled to a further 24 days’ paid vacation.
This point needs stressing: As a Eurocrat you can legally and happily be absent from your post for a minimum of 13 working weeks every year, plus public holidays.
You will also enjoy free private schools for your kids, subsidized travel and a breathtakingly generous pension.
Now I would like to say that this is a problem unique to Europe, but I would bet my G.50 against an unfair parking fine that the same situation applies to Capitol Hill. In short, bureaucrats are doing extremely well throughout the world. There is another problem. Administrators are very good at administration. I used to do quite a lot of work with Government Ministers in Britain, and believe me their staff are stunningly intelligent and as sharp as a well-honed Bowie knife.
They also know all the systems by which a country – any country - is governed and, by contrast, we are complete and utter amateurs at the political game.
Finally, they are pushing on an open door in terms of choking motorcycling to death because much of the community is against bikes and bikers. Imagine having a barbecue in your backyard on Sunday afternoon and being deafened by the local bike club roaring past on un-silenced V-Twins. It’s easy to dislike such a clearly identifiable group.
Now, let’s have a look at what’s called ‘Realpolitik’ in the political trade. It’s a German term which means manipulating the masses to achieve your end.
The first step is to make sure that you protect your position. In the case of bureaucrats you need to continue legislating in order to keep your job. If this sounds almost childishly simple, ask yourself one simple question: What would you do to keep a job which paid $100,000, gave you 12 weeks holiday a year and a 37-hour week? If you could keep your job, and stomp on a particularly unpopular segment of the community – and get praised for your zeal – how good would that be?
Riders need to look no further than the defeat of the lead ban on youth model ATVs to see how important their vote is.
Next, you have to generate ‘evidence’. This does not have to be empirical evidence, subject to peer review, but any survey which produces the results which you need. Let me show how this works in practice. A few years ago one of the areas near to us undertook a piece of research to find out how many people found stepping in dog droppings unpleasant.
In a way this was a surreal experience because 6% of those surveyed actually didn’t mind, which shows that the English are either incredibly tolerant - incapable of understanding even the simplest question when posed by a researcher - or have some quasi sexual fetish for having canine feces on the bottom of their shoes.
With motorcycling you find out how many people would like to see fewer riders killed on the roads and, therefore, a reduction in the number of orphans and widows.
So now you have a mandate: reduce the accident rate amongst motorcyclists.
You then go to your political masters and say to them: “Minister, are you in favor of reducing the number of motorcycle fatalities, or would you prefer to see an increase in the number of orphans and widows which will have been caused by your inaction.”
And don’t believe that this doesn’t happen in real life – it does!
Now we’re getting somewhere. You have the ‘evidence’ which shows that motorcycling is unacceptably dangerous and your political masters have given you the green light to reduce the death rates and thus protect the future orphans and widows. Happy days all round.
This is the state of affairs in which we now find ourselves in Europe. There is a veritable tsunami of measures planned to restrict the right of the motorcycling communities, and most are ‘safety’ focused. There is also a bonus available to Eurocrats. ‘Safety’ standards can be raised whilst protecting polar bears and penguins from dying through the global warming caused by naughty motorcyclists. Truly, a double whammy!
High visibility vests might aid in rider safety, but should it be mandatory law in order to operate a motorcycle?
Some of the most pernicious new laws are those planned by Irish and French governments. Both of these countries are now implementing legislation which would require riders to wear high visibility clothing at all times. Now you might think wearing a high vis vest is a good thing or, like me, a waste of time – but do you want to be told that you will ONLY be allowed on the road if you wear prescribed clothing?
No more riding to the race track in your stylish leathers, unless they are covered in fluorescent plastic. No more nipping down to the store for a bag of cookies in your jeans and t-shirt. In fact, you will not ride anywhere unless you dress as the government dictates.
The ‘evidence’ for these laws was infantile. Surveys asked if it was easier to see someone standing still in a high vis jacket or a black one? Once again, this was dog poo research in action.
There was no attempt to see whether a rider was more visible or if there was any evidence that motorcyclists wearing high visibility clothing were less likely to be hit by drivers. These regulations have been brought into law simply because of the belief that this might be a good thing. In any case, who cares? Motorcyclists are an easy target.
Once these regulations have been enacted by the French and Irish governments, Eurocrats will seek to have the rules implemented throughout in pursuit of the Holy Grail of Harmonization.
Meanwhile, Eurocrats are demanding a whole raft of measures throughout Europe to ensure that riders are ‘environmentally aware’ and that motorcycles are ‘made safer’. First, it’s the environment. It is proposed that exhausts will only be allowed to be replaced by OE manufactured units – nothing else will be acceptable.
The same will apply to ECUs and a bike’s fuel injection system. Both will be tamper proof and will be locked to manufacturer specification.
Do you like to do a bit of maintenance? I do, but I wouldn’t be able to under this legislation. Frangible bolts, which can only be removed by a dealer with special tools, will prevent any part being changed and all the electronics will be locked down and accessible only to authorized dealers.
Some of the new measures being looked into throughout Europe include tamper proof designs which can only be altered by manufactures. Kiss your modifications goodbye.
Not even professional shops will have access to the code unless they are approved, so forget that ex-race team genius mechanic working on your bike.
Even the size of tires will be prescribed and your bike will be subject to roadside inspection, and confiscation, if you do not comply.
And if you think that all of this is of no interest to U.S. riders you’d be wrong. Bureaucrats are now part of a world-wide community, and once the idea of raising safety through high visibility clothing or enforcing anti-tampering regulations has been introduced in one part of the world, it won’t be long before everyone else seeks to catch up.
So is it all doom and gloom? Well, ironically no. Let’s start at the beginning again. You may have a painfully low opinion of your Congressman or Senator. You may think that he or she is a power-mad ingratiate with the sexual morals of an alley cat and the fiscal probity of Al Capone, but they represent the best political system in the world: one person, one vote and what passes for free and fair elections. Having worked in the old Eastern Bloc countries under Communism, I know that our democracy is truly a thing of beauty and wonder. Better still, politicians live in fear of you – they truly do.
I don’t know what the math is in the U.S., but when I worked with British politicians 50 letters from constituents on a single issue was a major post bag. The reason is simple. Ordinary, normal, sane people are not interested in politics and, therefore, it is unusual when they are roused.
Look at the success achieved from fighting the Lead Ban. Another ‘safety’ measure designed to reduce the pool of potential motorcyclists was, through the outstanding efforts of the AMA and individual riders, revoked.
Surprisingly, it is quite easy to persuade politicians that anti-motorcycle legislation is bad for them. Motorcyclists can be quickly mobilized to become single issue voters. In practice this means that voters will ignore a politician’s stance on the economy, education, immigration and a whole stack more measures if they are angered by a single issue which damages motorcycling.
If politicians can be made to have genuine fear of losing votes over complete and utter non-issues like changing the oil filter on your bike or wearing a high vis vest, they will make their displeasure known to administrators and the proposed laws will simply disappear like snow in the Spring.
"In parallel with rider action, we have to have a trans-national organization funded by manufacturers which will lobby politicians in every country in the world."
So what happens now? First, every rider – dirt bike, cruiser, AT, classic and sport bike – must be sensitive to any potential legislation which affects motorcycling. When you do see anything on the horizon, write to your representative at the state and national level and express your hostility to the measure.
Then spread the word through social networking, the media – both motorcycling and general – so that everyone else knows what is happening.
In parallel with rider action, we have to have a trans-national organization funded by manufacturers which will lobby politicians in every country in the world.
Again the numbers are fascinating. The gossip is that Honda
spends around $300 million racing MotoGP and Yamaha
a bit less. Just think what an international lobbying group could do with 10% of this. With a fund of $50 million every piece of anti-motorcycling legislation in the world could be fought. Once administrators know that motorcyclists are not an easy target they will move on to horse riders, lawn mower operators, skunk breeders or mushroom gatherers - and leave us alone.
Once more, America provides the lead. Just look at the NRA for a model of successful lobbying.
I realize that this has not been a STM of joy and happiness, but thanks for reading it. We all need to pull together on this one. Now, I’m off to the workshop to change a faulty fuel tap on our G.50 – without safety goggles or fluorescent pink overalls - but definitely with a huge smile!