Jul 20th 2022
The Right to Repair & How it Affects Motorcyclists
There’s no hiding that motorcycles are expensive, both to purchase and to maintain. In the motorcycle community, there’s a big culture of using our bikes to the full length of their lifespan. That often means making repairs and modifications to keep the bike road safe and comfortable for the rider. The vintage bike community is one of the most committed groups of riders, constantly replacing and repairing parts, all for the love of their motorcycles.
An obstacle to this loving and meticulous culture is that motorcycle manufacturers have historically not made it easy to find information about parts and have put warranties at risk, especially for newer bikes. As technology develops it seems that companies put more and more effort into obscuring information or designing products that become obsolete after a few years.
This disincentive to repair and forced need to buy new hasn’t just affected us motorcycle owners. Car owners and end users of devices like phones and laptops have all suffered the consequences of this trend in planned obsolescence. But that could all begin to change with the right to repair.
What is the Right to Repair?
The right to repair rests on the idea that people who purchase and own a product should be able to repair it themselves or take it their choice of technician, rather than rely solely on the original manufacturer. It seems simple in concept but there are a lot of barriers to this right. In order to truly attain the right to repair, four main components need to be upheld by tech and vehicle brands:
- End users, along with independent technicians and mechanics need to have reasonable access to manuals, schematics, and software updates. Wide availability of information can better position consumers to not only DIY their repairs but also make informed choices about which experts to seek services from.
- The parts and tools to service devices and vehicles, including diagnostic tools, should be available to individuals and third parties. Modern technology—including that shiny new Harley in your garage—often uses proprietary components like microchips and batteries that are only available through the manufacturer.
- It should be legal for the owners to unlock, adapt and modify their device or vehicle. You’ve paid money for the product so the manufacturer shouldn’t be able to dictate how you use it. This most frequently applies to software in phones and laptops but can have wide effects
- Products should be designed with the potential for repair in mind. It seems silly but there are plenty of manufacturers who specifically design their products to prevent repairs and force consumers purchase new versions when something goes wrong. For a long time, Apple didn’t even offer battery replacements for their products.
The right to repair movement has straightforward demands. It is the responsibility of our government and tech companies and manufacturers to make repair viable for consumers.
History of Right to Repair
Why are we only just now getting to this in 2022? Well, right to repair advocacy actually has a longer history that has led us to this moment. In 1975 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) along with the US House of Representatives, issued the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act in response to merchants' widespread misuse of warranties and disclaimers. This new federal law aimed to provide consumers more overtly declared and readily understood warranties. Legally speaking, this allows most Americans permission to repair their property. What it didn’t account for was consumers’ ability to repair those products, which would become increasingly problematic as technology got more complicated.
The real fight began when individuals started advocating for access to those four main elements of right to repair. Massachusetts voters passed a law in 2012 that required automobile companies to provide consumers with the same diagnostic and repair information made available to their dealers. The info would be provided through a non-proprietary interface and would include the same content and form as is provided to the manufacturer's dealers. The law passed with an overwhelming 86% of voters in favor.
Then in 2018, the FTC sent letters to major automobile, cellular and video gaming companies, warning that their warranties were unfair. These disciplinary letters focused on warranties that stated consumers could only use specified parts and service providers to keep their warranties intact. And of course, those exclusive parts and services were not offered by the manufacturers for free. They had the choice to either adjust their warranties or make the tools needed for repair free.
Most recently, President Biden signed an executive order in July of 2021 that pushes the FTC to take further action to promote the right to repair for third parties. We’re still watching the outcomes of this sweeping executive order roll out.
How Does Right to Repair Affect Motorcyclists?
Okay, we promise that’s the end of the legal history lesson. I’m sure your brain is churning on how all of this right to repair information impacts motorcycle owners and independent repair shops. Here’s what you need to know.
Every warranty is different, and some companies are already considered “repair-friendly.” For example, BMW and Honda both regularly produce replacement parts and have relatively accessible repair manuals for you or your mechanic to use. But for manufacturers that are less fix favorable, making repairs and modifications can be a confusing and frustrating line to walk. Customizing your bike may void your warranty. You may have long wait times and high prices for repairs with certified dealers. At worst, you may be forced to purchase a new bike if certain parts are unavailable or can’t be replaced.
And the reality is that most of these problems aren’t going to change overnight. Even if the right to repair is codified in law, it will take years to adjust consumer expectations, allow for independent technicians to learn new repair manuals, and for manufacturers to create products that are future focused. While the focus of the right to repair movement has largely been on electronics and cars, we’re beginning to see this conversation creep into the motorcycle space.
FTC Takes Action Against Harley Davidson
In June of 2022, the FTC charged Harley Davidson, along with MWE Investments (a dealer of Westinghouse brand power generators) with illegally restricting customers’ right to repair. Once again, this charge was based on the use of warranties that prohibited consumers from using independent dealers for parts or repairs. These types of warranties restrict choices for repair, tend to cost more for consumers, and undercut independent dealers.
This initial action merely serves as a warning to Harley that they need to adjust their warranties and come clean with consumers. If they fail to do so, the company could face up to 46k for every violation of right to repair terms.
Riders can consider this the first of hopefully many wins in the right repair entering the motorcycle industry. Harley owners are less likely to be at the mercy of the manufacturer for parts and services. It also opens the door to motorcycle customization without automatically voiding the bike’s warranty.
Protecting Independent Dealers Like HeliBars
We’ve always been advocates of motorcyclists taking control of their ride and adjusting where needed to get the most enjoyment and comfort out of their bike. Our patented handlebar risers do fit into the category of aftermarket parts and modifications. HeliBars products have bolt-on capability with no need for cuts and custom mods, but there is always the potential that modifying a new bike could void your warranty.
Though we’ve never directly run into any trouble with bike warranties, we’ll never know how many riders have avoided making necessary improvements to their bike out of fear that adjustments would nix the protection of their warranty. We’re excited to see how the right to repair changes the motorcycle modification and repair landscape. If you’ve been avoiding adding risers to your Harley model, now might just be the time to start exploring how you can improve the ergonomics of your ride—and keep your bike warranty!
What Happens Next with the Right to Repair Movement?
First and foremost, we’re looking to see what actions the FTC takes in light of Biden’s executive order. We’re not usually ones for reading trade news, but it might be worth checking out everything that has happened in the year since the 2021 Promoting Competition in the American Economy order. You can also learn more about the right to repair, access repair guides, and join the community movement at iFixit. And if you have something to share about how right to repair has affected your experience as a motorcycle rider, shoot us a message to start the conversation within our community!