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Feds thwart sales of kids’ bikes, ATVs

Dealers stuck with stock because sales of items containing lead are banned.

Rider’s World Executive Salesman Mark Scappatura looks over smaller-size Honda dirt bikes in the showroom on Friday. A recent federal law bans items containing lead to be sold for use by children under the age of 13. Rider’s World has about a dozen kids’ dirt bikes and ATVs

Pete G. Wilcox/The Times Leader

A recently passed federal law banning lead-containing children’s items includes dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.

Local dealers left with unsaleable stock say they’re suffering as a result and that the law could create unintended health threats.

The law, passed in February, bans the sale of products that contain lead that are intended for children under 13 years old. Critics say that though ostensibly meant to prevent children from ingesting lead, the law’s over-broadness has effectively shut the door on products for kids that include lead but present no threat to their health.

“No one’s going to be licking the side of an ATV,” said J Hanley, the sales manager at Two Jacks Cycle & Powersports in Wilkes-Barre.

In fact, the ban itself could cause an increase in injuries as parents buy models not designed for children. “A lot of people want to do that. They want to buy ATVs for their children that are just too big,” Hanley said.

“Instead of eating it and getting lead poisoning, he’s possibly going to have an accident on it and get hurt because it’s not the right size for him,” agreed Mark Scappatura, manager at Riders’ World in Wilkes-Barre. He added that parents will sometimes attempt to misrepresent the age of their children, and he’s had to question them about it.

That’s why the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is tasked with overseeing the ban, has asked regulators to not enforce the ban for the powersport industry for a year.

The law also bans lead-containing parts for models designated for the 12-and-under crowd, which include anything with an engine under 70 cubic centimeters. That makes helping customers fix the models they already own problematic, Hanley said. Sometimes there are after-market parts customers can get elsewhere, but he said that he’s unable to supply factory parts.

“It’s more of a customer-service issue than it is a bottom-line issue. It’s just the fact that I want to serve my customers, and I can’t,” he said. “If that’s how old they are, I can’t sell them anything. I take their name and number and call them when I can. … We have money invested and can’t do anything with it.”

The problem arose when attorneys for Japan’s “big four” powersports companies – Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha – warned dealers that the law could be interpreted to include their products, said Dennis McCartney, who owns CBXMAN in Edwardsville. That forced dealers to remove all affected models from the sales floor and find space to store them while the industry scurries to secure a political or regulatory solution.

Hanley said Suzuki and Kawasaki have “redesignated” some models for older ages, affixing warnings that they’re not intended for use by anyone under 13. McCartney said the industry’s lobby is working to get an exemption or amendment to the law, and hopes to have it within 60 days. “There’s movement in both houses of Congress right now,” he said. “They recognized that it was a mistake. … I never saw this sticking, and the reason is it’s too big of a business.”

Sixty days isn’t fast enough to avert a sales dip, said Scappatura. “That’s the whole summer,” he said. “When you sell, this time of year, 10 to 15 of them a month, it hurts. … They’re repeat customers. If you don’t get them on in the beginning you don’t get them back on later.”

Beyond that, fathers and sons often ride together, he said. “Now they can’t do it because if the kid eats the bike, something might happen to him,” he said. “They can’t get the kid one, so the father isn’t going to buy one for himself, so you actually lose two sales.”

McCartney, who read in an industry publication that the ban could cost $1 billion in sales a year, said he sold about 60 of the roughly $1,000 models around Christmas alone. “It would not have been the end of the world if we were not allowed to sell these … (but) for a small dealership like us, that’s a lot,” he said.

Given that and the safety commission’s request for a stay of enforcement, McCartney is selling the parts and bikes. “If they felt like it, they could come in, and they could say, ‘We don’t recognize the (safety commission’s) recommendation.’ ” he said. “We’re willing to take a chance. We’re pretty small fish.”

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