Annals of unintended consequences: New lead law wallops dirt bike industry

The recent brouhaha over lead in imported toys for children has had an unfortunate consequence -- denying kids 12 or under the right to buy new off-road motorcycles and ATVs.

According to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 prohibits the sale of these vehicles to minors because some, not all, of them contain parts that exceed allowable lead content levels; even though, as the AMA responds, this lead is in battery terminals, valve stems, or brake components not likely to come into contact with the rider, and therefore the risk of contact is consequently very slight.

This ruling is bad for both the industry and kids who enjoy two- and four-wheeled off-road recreation. Manufacturers such as Honda (HMC), Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki manufacture lines of bikes for off-road riding and the very popular sport of motocross racing. The Motorcycle Industry Council estimates that the industry could lose $1 billion because of this ruling. Cam Arnold of the MIC told me that manufacturers and their dealers have stopped selling youth MX bikes and ATVs until this issue is resolved

The ruling also hurts the tens of thousands of youngsters who take part in motocross and ATV racing across the country. While many look upon the sport as risky, one walk through the pits on race day will show that it is, more than any sport I'm familiar with, an activity shared by the entire family. Savvy promoters go to great lengths to minimize risk. And since off-road recreational riding is also a family sport, this ruling could impact a lot of families' summer plans. Areas dependent on off-road recreation tourism dollars can't be happy about this situation, either.

A representative of the AMA tells me that the issue is due for review by the Consumer Products Safety Commission soon. A protest rally is scheduled for April 1st in Washington, D.C.

For the bike manufacturers, retailers, riders, and those dependent on their tourism dollars, the day that reason returns to this issue can't come soon enough.

Tom Barlow is a former Membership Development Director of the American Motorcyclist Association.


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