Some of the products that Doyle had sold by the thousands — from undersize mirrors and lights to high-performance carburetors — appeared to violate federal standards meant to keep the roads safe and the air clear of excessive emissions. Other parts that showed signs of being dangerous weren’t covered by any standard at all.
Doyle started researching the fine print of federal law after a series of after-market parts broke while he was customizing bikes. He was also engaged in a dispute over shipping and billing with one of his biggest parts suppliers.
“I felt like my chest had a piano on it when I realized the number of products I had sold, as well as countless ignorant dealers,” said Doyle, whose business, known as the Hog Farm, is now shuttered. “But no one wanted to hear it. No one wanted to investigate it. The government was letting these companies sell anything they wanted.”
From the hard-core to the weekend enthusiast, motorcyclists for generations have customized bikes by replacing manufacturer’s parts with high-
performance exhausts, larger carburetors and sleeker mirrors, lights and turn signals. The practice has vaulted into the forefront of pop culture with celebrities like Jesse James and reality shows such as “American Chopper.” Customized bikes will be on display in the District this weekend when hundreds of thousands of riders take part in the 25th annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle tribute to prisoners of war and troops missing in action.
But many after-market parts sold in plain sight online and in catalogues fail to comply with federal safety standards or the Clean Air Act, according to safety and environmental experts contacted by The Washington Post. Other parts not covered by standards are widely considered dangerous, such as passenger seats stuck to motorcycles with suction cups.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency regulate the industry but struggle with limited budgets and resistance from some parts of the motorcycle industry. The laws themselves can be confusing, with nuances that make oversight difficult.
Parts installed on bikes used solely for competition, for example, are exempted from Clean Air standards. Parts that fail to comply with federal safety standards, such as undersize mirrors and lights, could be used legally to supplement standard equipment.
“I could probably go online and look at a catalogue and buy a variety of things that may put my motorcycle out of compliance,” said Peter terHorst, spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Association. “The question in my mind is: Does the requirement apply to the manufacturer or to the operator of the vehicle? It’s a slippery slope.”