The following was published on the American Motorcyclist Association website on Feb. 16, 2017.
Understanding the grassroots impact of the ‘Bikes for Beef’ tariff
Motorcycling has bonded my family from the beginning, and it would destroy me to see it strangled by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s intent to place a tariff on 51-500cc European motorcycles imported into the United States. By doing this, we would be punishing only ourselves as Americans.
In case you aren’t familiar with this proposed tariff, the short synopsis is this: The European Union has a strict limit on the amount of hormone-raised beef it will import, all but eliminating U.S. supplies to the continent. In December 2016, the Obama Administration began the process of punishing the EU by imposing a 100 percent tariff on certain motorcycles they send over here. That means nearly doubling the cost of these motorcycles, if this tariff is passed.
My dad, Wally Wilson, grew up building motorbikes out of scrap parts and lawn mower engines. He eventually bought a real dirt bike and started racing motocross and enduros. When he graduated high school in 1977, he opened a Husqvarna dealership in Pataskala, Ohio. He went on to race in four International Six Days Enduros in the early 1980s. This year, Wheelsports Inc. celebrates it’s 40-year anniversary. Now in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, the dealership sells KTM and Husqvarna dirt and street bikes.
It’s just my mom and my dad working there, together, six days a week, and it has provided our family with both income and an immense amount of quality time together riding motorcycles.
To say my life revolves around motorcycling is an understatement. I have ridden dirt bikes since the age of 5, street bikes since the age of 16, graduated college with a journalism degree to go work for two motorcycle organizations–the Motorcycle Industry Council and the American Motorcyclist Association–and I teach street motorcycle safety classes for the state of Ohio on many weekends. Plus, I volunteer my time with local motorcycle organizations, assisting them with communications and event organization.
Motorcycles are a huge part of how I enjoy the outdoors, how I have developed friendships, how my family spends its time together and how I make a living.
I’ve tried to remain calm after seeing all the comments on social media about how this tariff is “no big deal” or we should just “make them in America,” but I can’t stay quiet any longer.
My parents’ dealership and so many other Americans’ jobs are under attack for a completely unrelated cause. The dealership is how my parents provided for my brother and me our entire lives, working hard and volunteering their time in the evenings or weekends for nonprofit motorcycle club activities.
It’s how we spent nearly every weekend, camping and riding dirt bikes as a family.
Slapping a 100 percent tariff on European motorcycles isn’t going to help Americans. It will not force motorcycle companies to “make it in America.” It will only destroy jobs for the thousands of Americans who sell, work on and make accessories for European motorcycles.
Moving an entire production process to America doesn’t happen overnight, it certainly isn’t cheap (prices of bikes will rise due to the expense), and it doesn’t solve the current dilemma. It just isn’t realistic.
Manufacturers, dealers, employees–entire families–will be shattered, if this measure is implemented. These people are your neighbors, your friends, your fellow motorcycle enthusiasts. These are fellow AMA members whom you might just need to have your back when a motorcycling freedom you enjoy is threatened.
Those of you who own a business understand the struggles and the immense amount of work it takes to succeed.
Those of you who work day in and day out to save your hard-earned dollars for a motorcycle of your choice understand why taking action against this measure is important.
Owning a dealership isn’t as glorious as it appears. I’ve witnessed my dad work his butt off for my entire life, and it hasn’t always been easy. The motorcycle market crashed in 2008, yet he persevered.
The lead law wrecked kids’ rights to ride in 2008-2009, but my dad persisted. Thanks to the AMA, others in our industry and thousands of motorcyclists taking action, we changed that law.
To the street riders who think this isn’t your problem: It is. It’s no secret that hundreds of thousands of street bike riders got their start on smaller off-road machines. You may ride a 500cc or larger street bike, including big V-twin cruisers and tourers, but European makers of 51cc-399cc motorcycles used for racing and trail riding provide nearly half the units available to U.S. consumers. And nearly a quarter of the market in the 400-500cc class.
If dealers can’t sell those smaller units at a reasonable price, how will these businesses remain viable?
Why would you let the hobby and jobs of your fellow motorcycle enthusiasts be destroyed?
The AMA works to protect our rights as motorcyclists, both on- and off-road. Collectively, AMA memberships have allowed the organization to fight for safe fuel, eliminate unfair measures like motorcycle-only checkpoints (a road-only issue that we all stood together on), battle health insurance discrimination and more. We need to stand together now, whether the issue affects your defined segment of motorcycling or not.
To the off-road riders who ride Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha or any other non-European brand, why take the choice away from your fellow Americans?
Parents should be able to afford motorcycles for their kids to learn to ride. And those young adults working two jobs to save for a motorcycle should be able to afford their hobby or preferred mode of transportation.
We shouldn’t look at it as an attack on a few brands of motorcycles. This is really an attack on the motorcycling as a whole. I cannot sit back and silently watch Americans’ transportation choices and careers be destroyed.
Let’s put our differences aside as “off-road riders” or “road riders.” We are all Americans who enjoy motorcycling, and we need to stand up for ourselves–for all motorcyclists.
Please join me in taking action to stop this from being implemented by the USTR. Visit www.americanmotorcyclist.com > Rights > AMA Action Center. We’re stronger together.
–Heather Wilson is the AMA recreational riding and volunteer assistant manager