It Might Be A Wing and a Prayer Holding Your Custom Bike Together
If you’re one of those motorcycle obsessives who can’t bear to leave your bike stock, you’re in for some sobering news.
A couple of the heavyweights in journalism took a close look at the inside of the aftermarket motorcycle part game, and what the Washington Post and Bloomberg News Service found out might make you quake in your Joe Rocket boots.
The investigation found that a good share of the custom parts riders use to stamp their taste preferences on their motorcycle could violate Federal laws, and at least according to some dealers and consumers, pose a clear and present threat to biker safety. Experts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency and honchos at the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) voiced their concerns regarding the designed, monitoring and installation of custom motorcycle parts widely available in this country.
NHTSA and federal safety experts are saying that while equipment failure hasn’t caused a large number of crashes, that might not be cause for comfort as the federal government hasn’t conducted a comprehensive study of the causes of motorcycle crashes since way back in 1981.
Here’s what’s making lots of people nervous; that study from back in the day found that modified bikes were seriously overrepresented in crashes. What the safety mavens are worried about is whether or not aftermarket parts meet safety standards, comply with Federal regulations and clean air concerns and that parts meet standards set for the purpose they were built for.
Many riders build custom motorcycles from scratch, and for the most part, they use items ordered from a number of different catalogs. Experts say the quality of some of those parts appears to be a major issue, and items like poorly-welded frames, lighting products which melt or catch fire and other various malfunctions have actually cost riders their lives in some cases.
A number of stated examples of dangerous sub-standard parts are included in the reporting.
Chief among them, it seems it’s the bike kits which generate a large number of the most disturbing complaints.
Texas biker Jeff Byram broke more than 20 bones after being thrown from his motorcycle, a motorcycle built from a kit, when it essentially disintegrated as he cruised along a two-lane country road. Byram and his attorney hired an engineer who ultimately determined that a weld attaching the front fork to the frame had failed.
“Superglue would have held it better,” said Byram.
“NHTSA tends to focus on things where the most deaths occur,” said former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook. “They want to save the most lives they can with the dollars they have. On the other hand, motorcycle deaths have been going up when other deaths have been going down. That would suggest that maybe there’s something more here.”
NHTSA in 2000 endorsed a series of safety recommendations for the nation’s 8 million motorcyclists, and those guidelines were eveloped by a national panel of experts. Recommendations included a call to study the role of modifications as they relate to motorcycle crashes and suggested that the government work with after-market parts manufacturers and vendors to make safety a priority.
While the NHTSA can pursue civil penalties against after-market parts companies that sell noncompliant products and the agency can also launch investigations and require that manufacturers conduct recalls for products found to be defective or unsafe, budgetary concerns make those kind of actions rare.
So when it comes to aftermarket and custom motorcycle parts and modifications, riders really have only their judgement and common sense to fall back on to protect them.
So brothers and sisters, caveat emptor is the rule of the day. Oh yeah, let the buyer beware…
Choosing the right parts and making sure you’re getting quality pieces might be the only thing separating you and your bike from a preventable accident, so choose wisely and go with products from well-known manufacturers with a track record of solid citizenship.