February 16, 2009 in City

New lead rules put dirt bikes in storage

Federal ban is an outgrowth of regulations for toy makers
Associated Press
 

HELENA – A new national limit on lead in children’s products – which has toy makers scrambling for new testing methods and retailers for storage space for inventory they’re not sure they can sell – also is forcing motorcycle dealers to pull dirt bikes off showroom floors.

It became illegal Tuesday to sell off-road machines geared for children younger than 12 because parts in them contain lead at levels greater than 600 parts per million. Most motor vehicles have such parts.

“I think they took this law a little too far,” said Margie Hicklin-Krsul, the owner of Redline Sports, a sports bike dealership in Butte. “I’ve never had anyone come in and say, ‘My child keeps putting parts of his motorcycle into his mouth.’ ”

About 100,000 of the bikes – popular for trails, zipping around backyards and racing on motocross tracks – sold last year for $1,500 or more, according to industry estimates. The ban, not yet permanent, is a blow to motocross racers of any age who want a small bike and now won’t be able to get new equipment or repair what they have.

Dealerships – where sales already were sputtering due to the recession – received notices over the last month that they must pull the bikes off showroom floors. Industry leaders say some 13,000 dealers are now stuck with $100 million worth of inventory that may end up worthless.

Congress tightened lead limits on children’s products last summer after a series of discoveries of dangerous lead levels in toys, and the rules took partial effect last week when a judge nixed a 12-month reprieve while the Consumer Products Safety Commission finalizes them.

The law won’t be enforced for a year, but retailers can no longer sell products that contain materials in question. And they may find once the rules are clarified that the inventory now filling their storage rooms is worthless.

Congress is getting an earful. U.S. Rep. Danny Rehberg, R-Mont., fielding angry phone calls over the issue, blamed “government bureaucrats” for bungling implementation of the original law.

Makers of dirt bikes and motocross equipment are seeking an exemption for their products, but the federal consumer agency is still reviewing the request.

“We’re hoping that they see their way to a difference between a children’s necklace and a motor part that has very little chance of being ingested by a child,” said Tim Patnode, spokesman for American Honda.

Dealers worry the ban will have the perverse effect of pushing kids onto larger, more powerful models if the ones running with engine displacement between 50 cubic centimeters and 100 cubic centimeters are no longer available. They also say the ban will discourage families from introducing young riders to the sport.

The ban applies to used and new small off-road machines – and the parts to service them. Even the agency administering the ban understands it might be counterproductive.

“It is critically important to the Consumer Product Safety Commission that youth models be available because we are the federal agency that has investigated numerous deaths involving young riders who jumped on to adult-size ATVs,” said Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the commission.

But he said the agency is reviewing thousands of products to decide if they meet the new lead standards.

Renton Motorcycle Co. outside Seattle moved 169 dirt bikes and ATVs off its sales floor last Tuesday. After selling about 600 starter bikes and ATVs in 2008, the shop now may not be able to service them or accept them in trade for a bigger bike, said sales manager Mike Dunaway.

“If someone has a little 50 and their son’s now grown up, how can we move them up to the next model?” Dunaway asked.

Dealers have been warned that a single violation of the law carries a fine of $1,825 and penalties could run to $1.8 million with repeated offenses.

For the time being, most manufacturers are offering to cover the cost dealers face each month for the stock they are holding in hopes the ban will be lifted.

“We’re going to park them in the back room and wait for the government to decide what to do,” said Wayne Gabbert, owner of Outdoor Motor Sports Inc. in Helena. “It’s another one of these good-government deals where they try to save everybody.”

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