Friday, April 3, 2009

No more suckin' paint, kids. Or ridin' minibikes.

I guess I kinda got a theme today. Following up on the post below, here's an example of bureaucratic stupidity that has the motorcycle industry positively ablaze right now. The government does a lot of stupid things, but this one takes the cake.

By David Edwards in Cycle World, but there are thousands of articles about it. Links and video.

Your kid licked a battery terminal lately? Sucked on a Schrader valve?

Neither has Jason Horne's son Logan, but when Mr. Horne took the family's Polaris ATV into his local dealer for servicing, he was turned away, told it was now illegal for the shop to sell or work on minibikes and small all-terrain vehicles.

For that you can thank the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, enacted last fall and put into effect February 10. The law had noble intentions—to protect children from lead content in toys following the recall of millions of Chinese-made items—and was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. It imposes a tough new lead-content limit of 600 parts per million for any product intended for children under 12.

Problem is the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency charged with "protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products," to quote its own website, has chosen to apply the law to youth ATVs and motorcycles, effectively banning them.

"Some ATV and motorcycle parts unavoidably contain small quantities of lead," explained Paul Vitrano, VP and general counsel of the Motorcycle Industry Council. "Lead in these components is necessary, either for safety, as in the case of facilitating the machining of tire valves, critical to assuring air retention, or for functionality, such as the lead in battery terminals, which is needed to conduct electricity."

Trace amounts of lead are also found in electrical connectors, brake and clutch levers, engine cases, carburetors and frames, none of which are likely to be ingested by children. The lead strengthens the metals and resists corrosion, said Vitrano.

Financial repercussions of the ban are staggering, especially for an industry hit hard by last autumn's economic free fall — the Christmas sales period, prime time for kids' dirtbikes and quads, was the slowest in years. Now add the new lead-content rules, which as interpreted by the CPSC block the sale of up to 100,000 units. Dealernews estimates that the value of inventory now sitting in warehouses that can no longer be sold exceeds $100 million. Factor in sales, service, parts, accessories and payroll (if employees have to be laid off) and the downside could be $1 billion in lost economic value annually for the powersports industry, predicts the MIC.

There was a chance in early March that some well-placed gumption could have put all this right. The CPSC has the power to grant exclusions. The MIC petitioned for such an exclusion in this case based on existing European Union studies and analogous exemptions for lead in components of full-sized motorized vehicles.

"Our expert toxicologist says the lead-intake risk associated with riding is significantly less than the default lead levels for food and water," said Vitrano. (my em)

Those negligible amounts—in essence, not detectable, said the expert—failed to persuade the CPSC to grant exclusion. Neither did the thousands of e-mails and letters sent in by concerned enthusiasts. Instead, the commission claimed to be conscripted by guideline language disallowing exemptions if there is "any"* possibility of absorption of lead into the body of a child.

"The CPSC's narrow and literal interpretation was not helpful to our request," said Vitrano in a diplomatic understatement.

The commission's non-action throws the matter back into the legislative arena, which could be a time-intensive process given the government's many issues these days. To get the latest on the situation and to find out how best to make your voice heard on this matter, check in with the MIC's website,, and its "Stop the Ban" section.

Luckily, we have friends in high places. Missouri State Representative Tom Self (, for instance, whose family rides and races off-road.

"The Consumer Product Safety Commission needs to take a common-sense approach to implementation of the CPSIA's lead provisions in order to avoid major disruptions to youth ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts, owners, manufacturers and the dealer network of thousands of small, independent businesses which employ tens of thousands of Americans," wrote Self in a house resolution. "While protecting children from those products that truly present a lead risk is important, there should be a waiver or exclusion for products that do not present risk to children."

That kind of pragmatic, straight thinking will take you far, Mr. Self. Maybe even all the way to national office. I'm thinking Chairman of the CPSC for starters...

*One word. One poorly chosen word out of God knows how many pages in a law, probably not even read by those who signed it into law, and the CPSC is so bureaucratically chickenshit that they feel they are required to take it literally and fly in the face of common sense, thus wrecking a fine family sport and a good percentage of a whole industry. Especially in these harsh economic times. It is not only stupid, but downright unconscionable. Besides, there's liable to be a whole generation of kids deprived of the thrill of roosting the neighbor's rose bushes. And replanting them with a sore ass. Heh.

Yes, of course we want to keep kids safe from lead poisoning, but in forty years in the motorcycle biz I've never even once seen a kid break open his bike's battery and snort the contents. Or lick the paint. I will admit to seeing them eat various parts of the bikes on their way to the ER, but that's more metaphorical than literal.

Lead is a poisonous heavy metal. It is everywhere on this earth, along with other heavy metals like uranium, and can be found in trace amounts in our bodies like every other goddam element. Anyone who has ever watched me prepare to do any kind of work would say I have an overload of lead over work ethic in my ass, but that's another story.

This law is good intentions gone awry and run amuck. Just another brick in the road to Hell.


From Jean Turner of Cycle News, April 1:

Michigan Congressman John Dingell wrote a letter to the CPSC, basically asking Acting Chairman Nancy Nord to explain what the problems are with the new law. Dingell asked a list of questions, one of which was “...Does CPSC believe that [youth motorcycles] present a risk to children for the absorption of lead?”

Nord was surprisingly supportive of the OHV industry in her response. Her letter read: “The possibility that children will suffer significant lead exposures from these classes of vehicles appears to be remote at best.” She went on to say (in an underlined sentence), “A child using an adult ATV as a substitute would face a far graver and more immediate risk than that of the possible lead exposure from the youth ATVs.”

Following are the CPSC’s list of potential solutions:
• postponing the deadline for sales (not manufacture) of products above the limits;
• lowering the age limit for children’s products;
• exempting some or all children’s products that are not kept in the house, such as bicycles and ATVs;
• giving the CPSC greater discretion to exclude products that pose a negligible risk;

So rest assured: the CPSC is listening. They understand what our industry is going through and wants to resolve this problem.

This one saddens me:

Representative Henry Waxman and Senator Barbara Boxer are the two who wrote the lead regulation of the CPSIA. Boxer can't even be troubled to respond to those who suffer in the disastrous wake of her poorly thought-out law. In fact, Malcolm Smith himself received a letter back from the California Senator thanking him for voicing his concerns about the budget crisis.

I guess Babs, who represents the state with the most motorcycles, mine, has bigger fish to fry than worrying about a little $billion$ industry. Sigh.

To his everlasting credit, Malcolm also defied the ban and continued selling kids' bikes out of his dealership. Malcolm was the star of On Any Sunday and a motorcycling legend.

There is currently a rally going on in Washington D.C. today (not an April Fool’s joke) including more than just powersports industry supporters, but members of many other industries that have been affected by the CPSIA, including makers of toys, clothing, books and bicycles.

“My favorite ones are children’s medical devices,” Hilbert said with a laugh. “There are [leg] braces for kids with Polio that have to be pulled off the market because they can’t meet the letter of the law. It’s highly ridiculous at some levels.”

Holy shit! Forget not bein' able to go dirt riding! This law is gonna have kids crawling instead of walking if something isn't done!

In fairness, it appears that the CPSC is aware that this legislation is awful as written and are aware also that something needs to be done. They are under-funded and under-staffed, which I think can be summed up with the following:

Bush administration x corporate profit x deregulation + castrating & downsizing consumer protection = plenty of Chinese lead for every child.

The well-meaning CSPIA is a hurriedly and poorly written overreaction and needs to be corrected. The snail pace of legislative action is not a help.

Forgive me for giving so much space to this, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I think motorcycles and all the other motor sports are the absolute finest family activities there are and a terrific way to give kids something fun and exciting to do and keep them out of trouble.

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