The Power of the Internet
Many years ago, long before the words "download", "bandwidth",
and “porn surfing” were used daily by the semi-technical general
public, hard-core computer geeks of the world created a quirky
system for communicating with each other electronically. I was made
aware of this system at the beginning of my freshman year at the
University of Illinois, when a letter from the Administration building
showed up in campus mail. The letter advised me that all incoming
freshmen were being given a free account of some sort that could be
accessed by computer terminal, and this account would enable us to
send electronic messages to each other. Today we call it e-mail, but
in the Fall of 1989, I didn't know what the heck it was or how it could
be useful.

This was all explained to me in detail by my brother Jim, a computer
science major finishing his senior year at Illinois. He showed me that
by accessing the free account, not only could I communicate
electronically with other people, but I could also visit a vast number
of newsgroups (today's version of message boards) covering just
about any topic I could think of. Two topics immediately came to
mind: motorcycles and sex, in that order. Both were covered in the
newsgroups. Motorcycle discussions were located in a broad
category that began with the letters "rec", meaning "recreation." Sex
was covered under "alt", which I assume meant "alternative."

To access the message boards, I had to walk to the English building
on Wright Street, a 10-minute hike from my dorm, and log on to the
university's mainframe computer in a dark basement computer lab,
jockeying with the hard-core computer geeks for the best terminals.
By typing in the correct combination of commands, I could read
messages posted by people all over the world who shared common
interests. And I could post my own messages and read the
responses. At that time, there was but one message board for
motorcycles, called "rec.motorcycles". A few years later, as the
newsgroup grew, "rec.motorcycles" added a sub-category, "rec.
motorcycles.dirt".

In the early days of newsgroups, there were no forum administrators,
no registration process, and generally no rules whatsoever. Those
who frequented rec.motorcycles (and later rec.motorcycles.dirt, or
"RMD") tended to be "techies" of some sort or college wannabe
computer geeks like me. Any comment, any statement purported as
fact, was open to debate that could rapidly deteriorate into ridicule.
Any contributor could be subject to a wide variety of creative insults.
It was a cyber-space version of National Geographic on location in
Africa: a chance to view the weak being eaten by the sharp-tongued.
During my freshman year at Illinois I posted a comment that all
scooters are dangerous and was soundly criticized for posting such
a generalization (understand that at in those days, college campuses
were overrun with tiny-tired scooters operated by city kids with little
experience on two-wheeled motorized vehicles...I had the same
feelings then for scooters and their riders that I have for ATV's now).
While this "flaming" was a blow to my fragile 20-year-old ego, a
valuable lesson was learned about the politics of communication:
always qualify a statement by using words such as "most",
"somewhat", "usually", or anything else that gets you off the hook if
your statement is challenged.

While the internet world expanded, so did RMD. After college I took a
5-year hiatus from electronic communication, due to the fact that I
was working at barely subsistence-level wages and wouldn't shell
out my hard-earned cash for a computer. Things changed when I
came to St. Louis and began working for a bank that was generous
enough to provide internet access for everyone. I immediately
rejoined RMD and found that it was formatted a little differently but
the content was generally the same.

Flame On

Between 1993 and 1998, RMD had grown considerably but its
personality had changed little. A typical "thread" often went
something like this:

Rm250dude: What's normal compression for a 1983 RM250?
Frisco Kid: Geez, everyone knows it should be 190 pounds.
Fried 'Maters: Yo RM - what cave you been livin' in the last 15 years?
SoCal#1: Yeah, this guy's a couple bricks short of a load.
SonomaGuy: Everyone knows RM's suck anyway.
HondaRulz: Dumb sh-- should have bought a CR. That RM's a
waste of time.
GoodFella: Hey, lighten up, he just asked a simple question.
Fried 'Maters: GoodFella, you're in the wrong newsgroup...try alt.
lesbians.basketweaving.
SonomaGuy: Rm250dude and GoodFella probably play hide the
sausage together.
Frisco Kid: Yeah, total bone smokers.

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration. I have to admit I found it
entertaining....until the day I became RMD's whipping boy.

It all started so innocently.

The RMD regulars were a loyal bunch. When word spread about a
good dealer, they sang its praises. On the flip side, an aftermarket
product labeled "bad" by RMD was shunned, and anyone admitting
to using that product was soundly ridiculed. By the time I began my
second tour as an RMD regular in 1998, a certain mail order outfit,
who will remain nameless, had achieved "sacred cow" status on
RMD. Over and over again, the RMD'ers recommended this company
for its great service and prices. I needed a seat cover for my KTM, so
I gave them a call without shopping around and ordered what was
recommended by the friendly guy at the other end of the phone.

When the seat cover arrived, I discovered the magic behind this
company's business model: the package was drop-shipped from a
distributor's warehouse. It was a great way to run a mail order
company. Buy goods on standard credit terms from a distributor at
wholesale prices, and have them shipped from the warehouse
directly to the consumer. Inventory management wasn't an issue
because they didn't take delivery of products. Shipping concerns
were nonexistent because the distributor handled deliveries and
didn't charge the mail order company anything extra for this service.

Inside the shipping box was an invoice from the distributor (which I'm
pretty sure I was never intended to see) showing the wholesale cost
to the mail order company. Naturally, it was less than what I had
paid the mail order company. Waaaay less. A second invoice from
the mail order company, delivered separately, showed full retail price
on the seat cover plus another $10 or so listed as shipping charges.
At that point I was annoyed for two reasons. First, I had been
charged full retail price. O.K., my fault for not shopping around, but
the RMD'ers neglected to mention that the company's good prices
could only be had by asking them to match someone else's price.
And second, they charged me for shipping even though they didn't
incur any delivery costs. Granted, they could charge whatever they
wanted and I accepted their price, so it must have been fair, right?
True, but it didn't keep me from being irritated.

I posted a summary on RMD of my experience with this "sacred
cow", in which I disagreed that they had the best prices and
expressed my dissatisfaction that they had represented an additional
charge as being for shipping when there clearly was no delivery cost
to the company. Predictably, there were many responses, all
negative. I was flamed. The RMD'ers took to my remarks as if I had
vulgarly insulted their mothers.  It had to be one of the worst
flamings in the history of RMD.

A week or so after my post, I began to receive a trickle of e-mails
from other RMD'ers who'd had similar experiences with this mail
order company. They didn't speak out publicly for fear of the flaming
that was bound to follow, but were happy that I was a willing chump.
In the end, I gradually phased out RMD in favor of moderated
message boards that were friendlier and much better organized.
While it still exists today, RMD is far from the single source of online
dirt bike discussion that it once was.

I Can't Believe It's My Own Web Site!

At some point in the year 2000, I stumbled across Yahoo! Geocities,
a freebie web site hosting service. "Free" and "Web Site" got me
thinking, why not share my love of dirt biking with the rest of the
world? After all, there were only 100,000 or so similar sites to choose
from, so there was clearly a need for one more. Actually, the need I
saw was for well-written stories of racing from the rider's perspective.
The magazines did a good job of describing the off-road scene from
a spectator's view, but most of the coverage was on National-type
events attended by pro-level racers. I wanted to read first-person
race reports from average guys like me, describing the various
obstacles that less skilled riders face each time they compete. This
type of writing was hard to find, so I began composing my own race
reports and posting them on my web site.

What followed was the product of a single guy with plenty of (some
would say too much) free time. The content of the web site quickly
grew beyond what I had ever imagined. At the time I began writing
about racing, I had purchased my first KTM and was learning about
the quirks of a European dirt bike. Time after time, people would post
the same questions on internet discussion groups about heim
bearings and mushy front brakes and other common KTM issues.
After gathering some knowledge about these subjects through
personal experience, I added to the site my thoughts and
suggestions about KTM-specific issues. People actually found them
helpful, so I added more. The web site soon became a resource for
lesser-experienced KTM owners and a source of entertainment for
those wishing to read about the misadventures of an average off-
road racer.

Over the years I've received a steady stream of e-mails from people
who have enjoyed the web site. A few have mentioned that the race
reports encouraged them to get into racing, which is especially
gratifying. There are many things a person can do to add value to
our sport, but helping convince someone to get out and ride more
often has to be near the top of the list. That's powerful stuff.