You can thank our lead paint-loving friends in China for this one. It is now illegal to sell a kid's dirt bike or ATV in America. Effective Feb. 10, 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) was passed to deal with lead content in products primarily intended for children. This wide-sweeping and comprehensive law has banned the production, importing, and sale of Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) marketed to kids 12 years of age or younger.
If you subscribe to almost any off-road motorcycle magazine, you have probably heard about this totally absurd interpretation of this legislation and blew it off as something that would never happen. Well, it did, and it is a kick in the teeth to a motorcycle industry that is already suffering from a slow economy, since kids' dirt bikes are always popular.
Here is what has happened: In the past few years you probably heard about kids' toys made in China that turned up to have lead-based paint on them. More toys were tested, and lo and behold, lots of Chinese-made toys had lead-based paint. For those of you who don't know, lead is extremely toxic, especially to growing kids. So our government did what they should have done, and dropped the hammer on kids' stuff containing over 600 parts per million of lead. The problem is "stuff" has been defined to include small dirt bikes and ATVs designed for kids. Most of the metal parts on your bike are made of some type of steel, aluminum, or copper alloy that may contain trace elements of lead. If you have a bike with a battery, it definitely contains lead.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has interpreted the new law in this way: Small bikes and ATVs (OHVs) are made for kids under 12 years of age. These products may contain parts which contain over 600 parts per million lead, thus, these OHVs present a lead-poisoning threat to children, and can't be sold until they are proven safe.
Knoxville-area consumers and bike shops are already feeling the effect of this law. Dave Farris, owner of Sportcycle KTM in Maryville, says that he can't sell any 50cc or 65cc kids' dirt bikes or parts to these bikes. "At this point I haven't taken the bikes off the floor yet, I just have signs on them that says they can't be sold," he says. "Some dealerships have taken all the bikes off the floor. Until all of the parts of the bike are tested, and pass the 600 parts per million test, I can't sell those parts either." He went on to say that he can sell 85cc bikes, because they are for "Persons 13 years of age and older and over 165 pounds." KTM has had some parts tested, and they can be sold as soon as they are certified safe.
This brings up another issue on parts. Some parts, such as levers and grips, often fit more than one model of bike. So, even if you ride a larger bike that isn't made for kids, if the part numbers are the same, you can't buy that part until it has been tested and approved for sale. Word on the street is that some area parts managers have had to try to explain to irate customers why they can't sell them the part they need.
Besides preventing you from buying kids' bikes, this law also prevents you from buying riding apparel for kids under 12, at least until the gear is approved. "For over two months I couldn't sell kids' riding gear or boots," Farris says. "Now there are some products that have been approved."
The Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA), and the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) is on our side trying to get this sorted out, and they have been from the beginning. There is a section of the new law that allows for excluding certain products. Section 101(b)(1) of the law allows for "Exclusion of Certain Materials or Products with Inaccessible Component Parts"—simply put, if a child can't get to the parts containing traces of lead, and/or can't ingest or absorb the lead, the item can be excluded.
This makes perfect sense. Junior isn't going to be eating bearings or chewing on the battery terminals, so what's the problem? The problem is that the law took effect before the SVIA and the manufacturers could file for an exemption.
The CPSC did not impose these restrictions, Congress did—but CPSC interprets and enforces the laws. Petitions have already been sent to the CPSC by all of the major manufacturers, as well as the Motorcycle Industry Council, but the reply from the CPSC was, "We can't change the law."
There is hope. Congress (or the president) can take care of this whole ridiculous issue with one swipe of a pen. We just have to let them know that it needs to happen now. We need for Congress to pass an Amendment to the Exclusion Prevision of the CPSIA Act.
So how do we make that happen?
The AMA has been fighting for the rights of on-road, and off-road Motorcycle riders for years. If you aren't an AMA member, I strongly suggest you consider it. Get on your e-mail machine, go to amadirectlink.com or mic.org, and click on the banner that says "Help Stop the Ban." This will lead you to information on how to contact your State Senator, and the CPSC.
Hopefully we can get this bit of legislative stupidity taken care of soon. Take a few minutes and send an e-mail or letter voicing your concern. Even if you don't have kids that ride, do it for those who do.
Russ Townsend has been riding on and off road motorcycles for over 25 years. He has been active in promoting new legislation for OHV users, is a lifetime AMA member, former racer, and current Secretary of the Volunteer Riders dirt-bike club.