Back in August, I was asked by American Motorcyclist Magazine Managing Editor Jim Witters for a interview concerning my involvement in the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)’s EAGLES program. American Motorcyclist is the official magazine of the AMA, and I was delighted to see it highlighting the AMA’s political advocacy program.
The motorcycling lifestyle is under threat from several angles. Environmental groups attempting to curtail responsible access to public lands. The sport continues to be damaged by a negative media image, and the sport touring segment continues to age without enough young people coming up through the ranks. Programs like the AMA EAGLES program are essential to combating those conditions and others that threaten the future of the motorcycling lifestyle. By equipping volunteer members who can advocate for the motorcycling community on the local, state, and national political levels, the motorcycling community is able to make its diverse community seen and heard.
I was one of several individuals interviewed for the article in American Motorcyclist. Due to space limitations, my full responses to Jim’s questions could not be reproduced in the article. My full, unedited responses can be read below.
How long have you been riding motorcycles?
I got into motorcycle riding a lot later in life than many of the other riders I know. I got my motorcycle endorsement in 2006, when I was 23, but did not start riding until Spring of 2007. I grew up in Upstate New York, and I took the MSF course in October (the weekend after a massive snowstorm). So I waited until old man winter had finished wrecking havoc before buying my first bike.
Is you riding mostly street or off-road?
I have been a strictly on-road rider. While I originally got into motorcycles after seeing what my friend’s Yamaha YZZF600R could do, I did not have the money for a true sportbike and ended up with a 1982 Honda CB450T for my first bike. I started riding back roads just to learn how to ride better, and gradually got hooked on doing longer distance rides rather than trying to ride at break-neck speeds on public roads. I am working on building a track bike to appease the speed demon in me, but am primarily a long-distance/sport touring road rider for now.
What is your current bike(s)?
My road bike is a 2003 Yamaha FJR 1300 that I bought in January 2015. The only real farkles I have added are a Sargent World Sport Seat and Spiegler brake and clutch lines. Since 2009 when I bought my previous bike (a 1998 Suzuki Bandit 1200S), I have been averaging 10,000-15,000 miles a year.
When did you decide to become more politically active in motorcycling issues? What prompted that decision?
It has been a gradual decision due to my life-long interest in politics and public policy. One of the first things I did when I started riding was join the AMA. At the time, I was trying to learn more about the sport, and the information for new riders on the AMA website proved to be very important to getting me into motorcycling the right way. As I read the American Motorcyclist magazine and reviewed the AMA’s position papers on motorcycling issues, it became apparent to me that motorcycling is facing tough challenges in the public policy arena on several fronts. For years I had used my knowledge of both motorcycling and politics to develop ideas about how to confront the motorcycling community’s public policy challenges that were both technically feasible and politically viable. When I became aware of the AMA EAGLES program, and immediately realized the potential opportunity to put my ideas into action with the support of the AMA.
Were you politically active before that on non-motorcycling issues?
Not particularly. I keep abreast of a wide range of political issues as part of my interest in the political arena. I have also done a couple minor volunteer things (e.g. door to door campaigning) for friends’ causes. That said, have shied away from direct involvement due to some of the goals I have set for my future political career. I have long been disenchanted with what I observe as the diminishing quality of what I see coming out of Washington, DC. However, when I see stories about drivers who injure motorcyclists being shown leniency, or have been stuck in the queue for a motorcycle-only checkpoint, or am forced to buy an original equipment exhaust system because an aftermarket exhaust system (that would pass the AMA’s SAE-approved sound meter test) would mean risking getting a ticket for an equipment violation, it is apparent something has to be done.
Is your EAGLES participation prompted by your desire to become more politically active? Or just to help out the AMA as a volunteer?
It’s a bit of both. Once I get my Ph.D I will become very politically active and will begin my career in elected politics. However, the more important issue here is furthering the AMA’s goals of protecting our freedoms to both ride and race. We, as a community of riders right across this country, are faced with a wide range of challenges. Many of those challenges are from sources that do not hate motorcycling, but simply do not understand it. Environmentalist groups who want to practice conservation of open land are laudable. However, those same groups need to understand responsible off-road riding on those lands, in general, does not pose a threat to their conservation practices. Similarly, towns and villages that pass so-called “bike bans” need to be educated about motorcycling, and provided with counsel about developing policies that address the issue of excessive motorcycle noise without punishing all motorcyclists for the actions of a few riders.
Have you taken direct political action on a motorcycling issue? If so, please explain what the issue was, what you did and why? What was the outcome?
Not as of yet. A college I was attending appeared to have a somewhat hostile attitude towards motorcyclists. While many of us who rode into campus parked on sidewalks and were not ticketed, the “official” motorcycle parking area was on the far end of campus, and only four spaces were provided. I ended up leaving the school before I took action. However, I had drawn up plans for something I called a “ride-in.” If my efforts to lobby on behalf of the motorcycling community at the college had failed, I was going to contact the AMA and other motorcycling organizations I am involved in and organize a protest event. Basically, the plan would have called for a large of a group of riders to meet at a designated off-campus location, then ride into the campus area together and take up as much of the on-street and visitor parking as we could. It would be a great demonstration of both the unity and diversity of the motorcycling community. I still keep that idea in my back pocket just in case I run into a similar situation one day.
What are your plans for becoming more involved?
The first steps I plan to take are coordinating my efforts with the AMA’s needs and building up my contacts in the political arena. Based on my unique background and knowledge of public policy, I want to coordinate my efforts to make sure my talents are making the biggest impact they can for the motorcycling community. As a future politician, this is also an excellent opportunity to begin networking with elected and appointed public officials who I will be working with on a wide range of issues in the years to come. As the Road Racing Reporter for iHeart Media’s Two Wheel Power Hour Motorcycle Show, I have built up a list of contacts within the motorcycling community. By developing a presence in the political arena, one of my goals is to bring together members of both communities, on an as-needed basis, to foster the development of effective public policies that affect the motorcycling community.
What would you say to AMA members who may want to get involved, but are hesitant?
I would tell them that they do not need to do that much to make a big difference. A former classmate of mine in graduate school had a saying, “Each one, reach one, teach one.” I had adopted a similar mentality toward the discipline of professional motorcycle road racing in the U.S.. Wayne Rainey, Chuck Aksland, and Richard Varner have done a phenomenal job with developing the MotoAmerica brand. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of rebuilding the sport. What the sport needs is each fan do just a little to help the series grow. Whether it is volunteering at a MotoAmerica event, providing sponsorship to a MotoAmerica rider, helping a family afford getting their kids into racing, or just inviting friends to come with them to events, if we each move the sport forward one inch, just one inch, there is no telling how far and how fast we can move the sport forward, together. It is the same with motorcycling in general. You do not have to be a big name lobbyist in Washington, DC to make a difference on the issues that affect the motorcycling community. If we can grow the AMA EAGLES ranks and equip more AMA members with the knowledge and skills to advocate for motorcyclists’ interests, and we can each make even one inch of progress on the issues the motorcycling lifestyle is facing, just imagine how fast and how far we can advance and protect our freedoms to ride and race.
What else would you like to get across in this story?
I would say one of the biggest challenges the motorcycling community faces is the image of motorcycling. Walk up to random people in your local shopping mall and ask them what comes to mind when they hear the word “motorcycle”. Chances are they will say biker gangs, kids popping wheelies down the freeway, or stunts in movies. A lot of times when I talk to non-riders about motorcycling, I feel like I am having to work hard to show I am neither a cautionless thrill-seeker or a juvenile delinquent. While we, as a community, cannot directly stop those who propel the prevailing negative media image of motorcycling, we can do an awful lot to advance a far more positive image of it. Sometimes I am rushing while I am touring, trying to get to a destination on time. But when I stop at an Interstate rest area and someone asks me about riding, I always take time to answer their questions and be friendly. Should I have to do that? Probably not, but I realize the importance advancing a more positive, friendly, safety-conscious, inclusive image of the sport. I think it is important that groups like the AMA and MotoAmerica work together to positively challenge the negative media stereotype of our community. In the public policy arena, people come up with brilliant public policies all the time that are never adopted. Real progress on public policy issues, motorcycling-related or otherwise, is a product of consensus. For us, the motorcycling community, we need to gain the support of the non-riding community on many of our issues in order to have a more effective voice at the state and national level. However, it is impossible for someone to effectively support something they do not understand. This is not to say we need to make every American a rider (though that would be great). What is needed are two things: (1) A better, general understanding of our community and chosen lifestyle, and (2) a better realization that our freedom to ride is tied to a culture of personal freedom. We need to do more to invite non-riders into our community. This is not meant to be a method of recruiting new riders, but rather recruiting new supporters. Those who want to curtail our freedoms to ride and race often know very little about our lifestyle or passion. Often they are trying to solve a problem they do not fully understand. It is important that those individuals are given the opportunity to learn more about the motorcycling community, so that they can understand how much some of their ideas or policies may unintentionally harm our freedom. We, as a community, may also want to look at building alliances with other groups whose freedom is also under attack. We absolutely need accountability with motorcycling to ensure the freedoms to ride and race are not abused. However, as I am fond of saying, accountability is a method of ensuring freedom; not unilaterally suppressing it. The freedom to ride and race and fundamentally part of a culture that promotes individual liberty and accountability over high-handed micro-management by government.
I would also like to make a particular note about getting young people involved in advocating for the motorcycling lifestyle. As a member of the up-and-coming generation, we have by-and-large become disenchanted with our Western existence. While we are blessed with a quality of life many do not have access to, it has been opined countless times that the later Generation Xers, Generation Yers, and Millennials are very apathetic toward politics and public policy. I would argue differently. Look at some of the politicians that have struck a chord with my generation. Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and even Donald Trump have, on the average, better engaged younger people than more traditional politicians like John Kerry and Mitt Romney. My theory for this is that the traditional political marketing techniques, which center around repetition, targeted personal attacks, and appealing to deeply-held values, are a turn off to the best educated and economically depressed generation in American history. Many of us grew up following what we were told to do: Go to school, get good grades, and you’ll get a good job and you will find economic security. The reality has not matched the bedtime stories for many of us. It is nearly impossible to convince this generation of the reality of the American Dream when many of us are living at home or move in with our friends to dingy apartments while working retail jobs and volunteering to try and get experience. We are also a tech-savvy generation that is not as wowed by marketing schemes. In the YouTube world we now, and for the foreseeable future will exist in, young people now have access to far more of the reality of so many parts of the world than what the 30-minute evening news could ever deliver. Our difficulty to impress with fancy, inauthentic marketing gimmicks and our financial struggles have made us a very cynical generation, and for good reason.
On the surface, this makes the outlook for the motorcycling lifestyle and the advocacy for it appear bleak. A generation that does not have the disposable income previous generations have had, and a lack of enthusiasm or even distaste for what is commonly viewed as a stale, ungenuine political system does not appear to be very reassuring. However, to me, the very core of what motorcycling is is what will make the difference for us. For those of us who ride, what is more real than the feeling of riding? The freedom, sensation, and adventure that gets our souls revved up every time we put the kickstand up is about the most authentic thing I have ever experienced. Motorcycling is also very personal. Unlike so many corporate goods and services we can obtain in a shopping mall or a big box store, each motorcycle and rider is a unique pairing. Whether it is the type of motorcycle we buy, the accessories we put on it, the roads we chose to ride, or the places we chose to travel to, each pairing is a unique, exciting, authentic story unlike any other. What we need to do is not try to tell the up-and-coming generation to ride. Rather, we need to share our experiences and lifestyle with them, and show them that our community and lifestyle is all about what they are all about. As for advocacy, we are a resourceful, creative, motivated, and compassionate generation. Thanks to the likes of social networking outlets, we are staying close to friends and family that in generations past would have been long forgotten. We are interacting with more other members of our own generation that generations past. With each of those interactions, we are learning a little more about each other and the many cultures and places we all come from. So when it comes to advocacy for the motorcycling lifestyle, I firmly believe this up-and-coming generation, with our strong sense of connection with each other, mastery of technology, intolerance for the inauthentic, and ingenuity is primed to promote and protect the motorcycling lifestyle in new, creative, and more effective ways. This generation has shown itself to be one to stand up for a good cause. We only need show them just how much the freedoms to ride and race are worth standing up for.