|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-
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.
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
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...
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
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.