Bikers versus Brussels: Round One

Motorcyclists plan a massive demonstration outside the EU Parliament in Brussels next week ahead of a committee vote on legislation designed to prevent them from modifying their bikes

By Marc Abizeid

 

Dear residents of Brussels: Lock up your daughters, hide your goods and stay off the streets Tuesday. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of riled up bikers from around Europe are gearing up for a massive motorcycle rally outside the European Parliament November 22 in opposition to proposed anti-tampering motorcycle legislation.

They’re message is clear: EU, get your hands off our bikes.

But still elusive is what the legislation will actually stipulate once it’s up for a vote on December 5 among members of the parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee which has been tasked with reshaping the law. The vote was originally scheduled for November 22 (hence the biker protest) but was pushed back in order to have more time for review.

“It’s going to be up in the air until the committee vote, and even then that’s not the final stage,” says Stephane Reynolds, assistant to British MEP Malcom Harbour, chair of the IMCO. “But the picture becomes clear after the committee vote and before the parliament (plenary) vote.”

The original draft was met with fury by European motorcyclists when it was introduced last year. The main contentions among bikers included several key provisions that would apply to motorcycles manufactured after the date of the law’s implementation.

Those provisions would: prevent riders from modifying their bikes to increase power, torque or speed outside the standards set by the manufacturer or defined by the vehicle’s category; require bikes to come with anti-lock brake systems; require on board diagnostic equipment to warn of potential malfunctions, and; require bikes to come with automatic headlight-on. The main argument in favor of the law is to improve road safety and emissions control.

Similar protests have erupted in France and the UK in past months over the legislation

So, what’s the problem?

For many motorcyclists, their bikes represent their livelihoods. They see the legislation as an attempt by the EU to take away their hobby to modify bikes and restrict their freedoms on the road.

“Motorcycles are a big part of our culture in the UK,” says British MEP Marta Andreasen who has come out in firm opposition to the law. “This legislation has no value, it will just hurt our community.”

Andreasen has even drafted a petition that would force Parliament to debate the legislation should it collect 100,000 signatures, although the petition is still far from reaching that target.

There is also the question of how the law would affect small businesses that produce after market parts for specific models. If anti-tampering becomes a reality, those businesses would likely be limited to manufacturing parts for older models.

“I find this unfair,”Andreasen adds. “I suspect it’s the result of lobbying by big companies like Bosch (which produces ABS) which would profit from this legislation.”

For motorcycle manufacturers, the fear has been that requiring anti-lock brakes and on board diagnostic equipment would drive up their costs, making the bikes more difficult to sell, especially during such periods of economic woes in Europe. Some current models intended for value may go extinct altogether.

Are all these fears warranted?

The upcoming protest has received widespread support from motorcycle groups

“The proposal for a new law still requires some improvements,” says Aline Delhaye, General Secretary of the Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations (FEMA).

“We consider the new delay of the voting on the draft as positive since it shows that MEPs are willing to listen once again to the compromises proposed by FEMA and by the motorcycle industry.”

IMCO members continue to cycle revisions to the law. No one can tell for sure what the final law will resemble, but Reynolds says motorcyclists shouldn’t have too much to fret over.

“It looks like the majority (of the IMCO) is in favor of deleting the bulk of the anti-tampering provisions. There will be a couple of points that will remain about defining powertrain, but basically, our point is that anti-tampering doesn’t really have a place in this draft law,” Reynolds says. “It’s more of a member state issue.”

That would certainly please the motorcycle community and groups working to lobby parliament against the law, or certain provisions within it. It has also been signaled that the provision requiring manufacturers to install costly on board diagnostic equipment would likely be scrapped as well.

As far as requiring headlights to remain on at all times, Malcom Harbour had previously indicated that the committee would be unlikely to budge. The issue of ABS may still be a cause of concern to motorcyclists. According to Reynolds, the committee remains in favor of requiring ABS for all full-sized motorcycles. The debate on the issue is centered on whether or not the law should also require scooters to come with ABS as a required feature.

“The consumer organizations and their associates want ABS on scooters because they are convinced it will bring them safety benefits, but it looks like that plays into the hands of Bosch,” Reynolds says. “In our view, the real safety benefit for scooters is combined braking system. Bosch disagrees.”

FEMA has revealed its willingness to compromise on certain issues. The group even supports some provisions of the law, such as the introduction of stricter emissions limits.

“We are aware that we will also lose some of our positions, especially our opposition to mandatory ABS,” Delhaye says. “But that does not mean that FEMA objects to the proposed new type approval regulation as a whole.”

On the other hand, some bikers and their supporters like Marta Andreasen see no room for compromise.

“I don’t believe the law will be watered down to the level that the lobbyists will still be happy,” she says. But regardless, her position is firm: “My position is to reject this law completely –There shouldn’t be any legislation.”

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