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3rd July 03


Do you belong to a good bike club? Rowena Hoseason does. But she's also heard of some which are less wonderful...

Why would you join an motorcycle club? We talk about many of the good reasons why you might want to elsewhere on the site (have a look at the club section in the Directory and see them for yourself), but what's been bothering me just lately are all the reasons why you wouldn't want to. What! Reasons for NOT joining a club? Isn't that some sort of heresy?

The T160 and the Sunbeam kept them pinned against the wall for three hours until the photographer was ready.

My slide into sacrilege started when I read one club's annual accounts this year. While many single model and smaller marque clubs are pretty petite, with less than a thousand members, this was one of the bigger beasts -- a popular marque, with a buoyant membership. And no, I'm not naming any names here! If you recognise your own club in anything you read, well, then you can draw your own conclusions. Let's call them the 'Squirrel' Club, because it seems somehow appropriate (and not because there's anything to do with Scotts going on here).

The 'Squirrel' Club's bulging membership was reflected in its bulging bank account. The members and committee had worked hard all year to promote their events and merchandise, and membership had grown, and the 'Squirrel' Club had made a healthy four-figure profit.

Well, yippee! That's really good news, innit? That's what we want to hear: confirmation that at grass roots level our hobby or 'special interest' or personal passion or way of life or whatever it is happens to be fit and well and thriving.

I'd be grinning from ear to ear if I understood that this sizeable sum had been put to good use. But no. If I read the accounts properly then it appears to have been added to last year's profit, and the year's before that, and so on and so much. The 'Squirrel' Club is earning more in interest each year than I earn in total some months!

What's it for, this stash of cash? Is it to further promote the enjoyment of the 'Squirrel' marque? Is it a hardship fund for 'Squirrel' Club members who can't afford to keep their 'Squirrels' on the road? Is it to manufacture more 'Squirrel' spares (especially those hard-to-get acorns)? Is it to host an all-singing-and-dancing 'Squirrel' Day to celebrate the 'Squirrel's' Centenary?

Err. Dunno. They're not saying. But they do think they'll have to put up the membership fee next year, as postal rates on the club's magazine are going up… Pardon?

So let's look at a positive example instead, before I cynic myself into an early grave. I'll name this club 'cos I'm saying something nice about them; it's the TR3OC. Every year, they go out on a massive limb to organise the Beezumph Rally. It's worked out OK for 11 previous events, but each winter the TR3OC committee has to decide to take the plunge and spend every single penny of the club's money (and sometimes a little bit more too, financed from their own pockets). Being fearless fellows, they tend to go for it. What else is the members' money for?

Actually, the money could used be for loads of other purposes, heaps of them similarly beneficial to the club's membership. Whatever the TR3OC decide to spend their sponds on is OK by me, because it's being put to good use on behalf of the members. Similarly, the Ariel Owners MCC have used their resources extremely wisely, and took the opportunity to secure the Ariel Motors Ltd brand -- it's in safe hands, because of the enthusiasm of the club. And the AJS & Matchless Club, like several others, not only run a secondhand spares scheme with their club funds, but they've also had key components re-manufactured over the years. Good show, folks! Isn't this what clubs are supposed to spend their hard-earned funds on?

And then we come to one of the ways of earning those funds; the matter of advertising rates. Many RealClassic readers will have found us because we've been taking ads in several club magazines, so I'm a little bit familiar with the subject. Most club publications offer ad space at extremely reasonable rates, especially for businesses which they think offer something useful and/or interesting to their members. This means that very small specialists -- the one-man bands with which classic biking abounds -- can afford to offer their wares directly to the people who need them most without being crippled by big business overheads. It should work well for all concerned.

I want to know what's going on just out of shot to their right...

However, there are some clubs who don't see it like that. They just want to charge as much as they can -- at fully commercial rates -- to anyone who will pay their price. The result is that the only ads in their magazines are from big companies, and look pretty much the same as you'll find in all the glossy, commercial magazines. Where are the one-man bands? Elsewhere, that's for sure.

It's not even as if club members are cut any slack. I know of one business which has grown over the years from small beginnings into a thriving international parts supplier. From Day One, the proprietor was a member of his marque club -- I think he might even have been one of the founding members. Now he's happy to pay to advertise, but even as a long term member he would have to pay full whack at rates similar to those of The World's Number One™ classic bike magazine. And it's just not cost-effective -- he'd make no profit on the parts he sold -- so he doesn't advertise the specialist parts he sells to the club he's always been a member of.

Is this out of kilter or what?

So. Why would you NOT want to join a motorcycle club? I think you might well be discouraged when 'the club' seems to exist for the benefit of 'the club' and 'the club' alone. Any club which exists for the benefit of its members sounds like a damn fine idea to me. I rather suspect, however, that many club committees don't realise there's a difference…

What do you think: should clubs be run on a commercial or a charity basis?


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