Because They Are Organized

All Rights Reserved © 2017 Thomas W. Day

At the 2015 International Motorcycle Show, I stopped at the DNR’s booth to pick up the latest trail maps and while I was there I asked why there are so many trails accessible to ATVs and snowmachines and so few for motorcycles. The answer was pretty simple, “They are organized.” It struck me that we motorcyclists are the equivalent to Will Rodger’s politics, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Likewise, I’m not a member of any organized motor vehicle group, I am a motorcyclist.

ATV owners have ATV Minnesota and a few dozen other political active groups.  There are about as many Minnesota snowmobile groups as there are Minnesotans. Snowmobiliers We have a group that battles against helmet laws, the almost perfectly useless AMA, and a hand full of gangbanger biker “clubs,” and the Shriners. It’s not really that bad, but when it comes to political action it sure seems like we’re as unlikely to band together for a common cause as Democrats are to show up to vote more than once every two or four years. We are not an organized political force. Yeah, we have the AMA and Always Beer at the Event, but those two entities have different agendas: the AMA wants to put butts on seats for its manufacturers and ABATE fights helmet laws and sells beer. Neither of those agendas do anything useful for motorcyclists who actually ride their motorcycles; let alone doing something for commuters and people who who use their motorcycles for regular transportation. Outside of pretending that helmet laws are freedumb-oppressing unreasonable regulations, responsible exhaust noise and pollution are anti-safety, and wasting money on ineffective “safety training” while opposing rational licensing laws, what has ABATE or the AMA done for motorcyclists? They’ve wasted our money, for one thing. I guess that’s more like something they’d done to us, rather than for us.

Every year, gangbangers wearing “colors” and pirate outfits show up at the state legislature in late January for the “ABATE of Minnesota’s Annual Bikerday at the Minnesota State Capitol.” This is when they attempt to demonstrate that bikers are scary assholes and that our government and elected officials should be afraid of them. “Important” policy recommendations like “No Change to the Adult Motorcycle Helmet Law,” “Oppose Changes to Motorcycle Insurance Requirements,” “Curtail Profiling of Motorcyclists in Minnesota,” and “Improve Motorcycle Training and Awareness” are their talking points. Look it up, they aren’t shy about the bullshit they’ve been spouting for a couple of decades or embarrassed at the awful motorcycle safety statistics produced by their political “success.” Like the gun lobby, it’s more important to them that they “win” than that Americans and motorcyclists’ quality of life is improved.

As for off-road motorcycle “organizations,” it’s even harder to find examples that anyone outside of the groups’ clubhouses know about. In fact, the DNR guy I spoke with (and a friend who works for the National Forest Service)  didn’t know there were off-road motorcycle groups in the state or nationally. That, to me, is more understandable than the lack of on-road motorcyclists organizations. Off-road riders are often independent, adventure-riding, solo types. That sort doesn’t easily get drawn into organizations, meetings, or politics. Racers only belong to organizations like the AMA because it’s a necessity for some events. Like me, lots of racers have tolerated all of the bullshit they can stand by the time they quit racing and remaining a member of the AMA and suffering more of that incompetent bureaucracy is not likely something they’ll put up with when they don’t need that membership card to go racing.

The on-road crowd seems like it would be a natural for effective politics: they often travel in groups, wear uniforms, go to meetings, and don’t seem to have any sort of aversion to political rallies. Since 2007, the AMA has lost 28% of its already paltry membership (this link is to an excellent article by ex-AMA employee and Lifetime AMA Member, Lance Oliver, and you should read it). There are lots of reasons, all good. One would be that the AMA hired a failed politico wingnut asshole, Wayne Allard, to “represent” a group of people in an organization that is increasingly old, white, paranoid, uneducated, and timid/conservative. Meanwhile, the motorcycle population oddly includes women, minorities, and people under age 48 (the AMA member’s average age). Another reason for the AMA’s continued irrelevance would be it’s failed “leadership.” Since Rod Dingman took over in 2007, not only has the AMA steadily lost membership the organization (loosely defined) has been running in the red for several million dollars every year. Dingman, however, is still receiving a quarter-million dollar salary and getting big bonuses for his failures. He’s turned the AMA into a dysfunctional and inbred bureaucracy, mostly staffed and mismanaged by non-riders. So far, nothing has come along to replace the AMA and that isn’t a good sign for the future of motorcycling.

Organizations in general are not doing that well in the “age of information.” People don’t join trade or recreational groups the way we and our parents did. “Virtual participation” seems to be the way younger people want things to work, but it’s not working very well for them, so far. The people who can make changes are the ones who show up. The lobbyists and politicians and bureaucrats who make and enforce the rules are always there at every city council, county commissioner, state legislature, and federal congressional meeting. They show up. They get what they want and the rest of us wonder why. You can have a million tweet readers and twice that many Facebook followers and still accomplish nothing until you show up in force. That’s why, as lame and unrepresentative as they are, ABATE gets its agenda on the calendar. They may not get bills passed, but they apparently get good ideas squashed or ignored. The rest of us don’t even know there is a legislative event to attend and participate in, but ABATE’s lobbyists and members will be there on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 to make their case and to make the rest of us look even more irrelevant in the process. It’s not like anyone is fooled by a couple dozen pirates wandering around the state capitol building. We aren’t even close to being 1% of 1% on the highways on the best of days. Everyone knows that, including the politicians. Until we actually have an organization that represents the best interests of actual motorcyclists, fewer people who matter will take us seriously until they decide to stop dealing with us altogether.

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