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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @ atvsource.com

July 2009 - Off The Pegs

A World of Contradiction

If you need proof that we live in a world filled with contradiction, look no farther than to our own sport and the simultaneous orders coming from the federal government of late. The economy has analysts rightfully concerned and the remedy, naturally, is to spur spending to get things on the fast track to correction. “Stimulate business growth by circulating your dollars,” is the theme from one side. Indeed it makes sense, domestic businesses require profits to stay alive and to pay their employees (who then take and spend those proceeds to keep additional businesses afloat) and so the cycle goes . . .  Unfortunately, amidst orders to increase spending, the ATV market has been stymied by the CPSC’s youth ATV ban that many were hoping would have been overturned in a recent re-evaluation.

Vague wording, nonspecific implementation, and lack of feasible alternatives have basically left the manufacturers unsure of what to do about the law at this point. Enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike have banded together (both physically and through online petitions) to express protest only to have their argument fall upon deaf ears. In the mean time sales of new equipment marketed to riders under the age of 12 have been halted, parts and service have been put on ice, and for much of the country this is prime riding season.

Perhaps I’m being a bit cynical in the apparent seriousness of the ban, but wouldn’t simply re-labeling all of a given company’s models as sold for adult-use only get around the legal nonsense? After all, it’s pretty unlikely the vehicle in question is being sold to the youngster anyway and, if after having been made aware of the facts and potential dangers of lead-exposure, a parent deems it safe enough to allow their kid to ride, then the government did its part. I find it difficult to imagine anything more frustrating than laws designed to protect us from ourselves.

I was surprised in my research of this heated topic to discover that some companies like DRR have been able to continue selling their youth-oriented ATVs as if the February10 fiasco had never taken place. Apparently, this crackdown hasn’t exactly sunk up upon the industry like many (including me) believed. DRR had the presence of mind to begin taking advantage of CPSC meetings that were being held over the past three years. In these sessions, the CPSC presented manufacturers with data and facts on how their investigation and determination of a product’s lead-content would go down. In the quad-business in particular, one of the criteria targeted whether children’s fingers could easily access the components that contained dangerous levels of lead. Valve stems, battery terminals, and metal cables were among the hot spots evaluated.

In an effort to stay in compliance with the CPSC’s criteria, DRR used this information to either cover up the areas or, when that wasn’t an option, to swap out the component in question for one made of a different (see lead-free) material. As such, the company’s 50, 70, and 90cc mini-models are still being loaded onto trucks and trailers for immediate use by eager children nationwide. Of course, even in a scenario as solid as the one BRR and a few other companies created for themselves, it’s still a gray area as to whether or not cycle shops will be allowed to repair these units, or for that matter have access to parts specific to minis regardless of the OEM’s initial compliance (as the law doesn’t differentiate between brands).

The bottom line is simply that until a healthy dose of common-sense (since the voice of the people is apparently not enough) sweeps across the powers that be and overturns the lead-ban’s influence over quads, the riding season is quickly passing. More alarming still is that this whole disaster couldn’t come at a worse time. The poor economic conditions of late have put a hurting on many ATV dealerships/repair shops even before all of this controversy started. For many, the CPSC’s inflexible decision has given no alternative in terms of staying afloat. Family-owned dealers with decades of history are being forced to close their doors permanently in record-high numbers. If that trend continues, it’ll be especially difficult to adhere to the government’s other concern: Getting consumers to feel good about spending again. Of course, potential mini-ATV buyers could always use the money saved once their local shop goes under to go out and purchase something else to stimulate domestic business. Like a new car, for example--until they realize that dealership’s gone, too.


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