Saturday, July 28, 2007
Thoughts on motorcycles
From a recent posting on MTBR about trail access:
I'm sort of torn over this issue. I used to ride (and race) dirtbikes, both at the track and in enduros/trail events, and while it was wicked fun, I can understand how seeing and hearing motos on the trail would drive other trail users totally nuts.
IMO, motorcycles and motorcyclists have put themselves in this position (being almost universally hated by other trail users and banned from most trails). Here's why:
-Instead of aiming to make motos quieter, lighter, and lower impact, while keeping performance levels relatively constant, AMA racing rules (concerning minimum bike weight) dating from the 1970s prevented any manufacturers from attempting to build really lightweight , quiet, trail-worthy bikes. Given that bikes had to be heavy to meet AMA rules, the only way to improve performance and get a competitive edge was to add power and suspension, which is exactly what the moto companies did. The result is that today pretty much every bike out there is heavier, more powerful, and louder (and smellier) than it needs to be. If you look at a modern trials motorcycle, you can see the potential that exists with modern materials and technology - trials bikes don't lack power or capability (well, ok, except that they're only geared to go 20 mph), but they're amazingly quiet and lightweight, and hence don't tear up a trail anything like a 300 pound XR650R. They're very close to being downhill bikes with a motor.
-The moto industry ignored trail access until it became a problem, and marketed their products primarily to young, speed-crazed men. Go flip through a moto mag at the supermarket sometime (even an enduro/trail riding oriented one like Dirtrider - which is where I stole the pic) and you'll see a lot of 20-something guys with tatoos ripping up berms and doing jumps, along with dyno tests for 80+ hp motors. Look at pipe reviews and you'll see nothing much about how quiet they are - just whether they comply with the (ridiculously loud) regs or not. Trail riding etiquette is taught and respected by the best of the moto folks, but there are too many hillbillies who got their hands on a clapped out RM out there who don't yield and ride out of control, and the moto folks don't do a great job (IMO) of self-policing. Give the idiots a bike that's way too heavy (and hence hard to stop, and hard to keep going without digging a rut in the trail) and way too powerful, not to mention loud, and you have a recipe for disaster. Go walk (or ride) around the Bookcliffs north of Grand Junction if you want to see the results.
Where am I going with this? I see the mountain bike industry headed the same way, for similar reasons. "Trail" bikes have 6+ inches of travel these days, and any idiot with a credit card can buy one to go bomb down Apex out of control. In the days of rigid bikes, that would never have happened. Does that mean we need to get rid of suspension? No, but it does mean we need to recognize that the capabilities of the bikes often exceed those of the rider and do a better job of beating the rules of the trail into people's brains. New bikes should be sold with an IMBA membership as part of the purchase price - in the long run, this is a benefit for the customer, the bike shop, and the manufacturer. Bike magazines should spend more time writing up great rides, trails, and experiences and less on the latest carbon fiber widget - because without an appreciation for the tenuousness of our access to those trails, they'll be gone in a generation, and so will the business of making carbon mountain bike widgets.
I think the bottom line is that the average rider either A) doesn't realize or B) doesn't care that trail access is threatened. We should work to make people aware of the problem and invested enough to care about it, or we'll be on the outside looking in (awesome bikes, no trails to ride them on), just like the moto folks.