Harglo Performance, the UK's longest established supplier of European junior motorcycles, has greeted the Home Office crackdown on illegal mini bikes with enthusiasm.
An estimated 300,000 mini motorcycles have been imported into the UK from China over the past two years, many selling for as little as £100 and this has devastated sales of children's motorcycles from established European factories, which are often considerably more expensive. Industry experts calculate that sales of these have declined by 80-90% during the period 2003-2005, a decline so dramatic that few manufacturers will be able to sustain production for much longer.
The cheap imports have led to a massive increase in illegal use, particularly among youths riding these mini bikes on public roads and in public places, as well as accidents, which in turn has prompted the Home Office to act as part of its RESPECT agenda. Trading Standards officers are also becoming increasingly active, in response to complaints about sub-standard and dangerous mini bikes and mini motos. The European Commission's Consumer Affairs department has identified examples of these cheap imports with serious safety issues, such as unguarded drive chain and sprocket, which present a trapping and contact hazard to the user, and fuel system and electrical circuits that are inadequate (due to lack of a protecting fuse and poor shielding of the fuel tank from heat), causing possible fire hazards. Inadequate welding and low-grade nuts, bolts and screws compounded these problem areas.
"Until now it has been difficult for customers to understand why they should pay over £500 for a European child's motorcycle when they could buy something looking similar over the Internet for a quarter of the price," comments Harglo's Peter Rivers Fletcher. "We hope that this action by the Government will deter the cowboys, looking to make a quick buck selling products regardless of quality and safety, giving the established European brands a chance to compete on a level playing field again."
Harglo emphasise that it is not just the quality of these cheap imports that buyers should beware of. Distributors of the European brands offer genuine warranties (12 months in the case of Harglo) backed up by technical support and availability of spare parts.
Harglo, who import the Malaguti Grizzly range of junior motorcycles from Italy, believe that this Christmas, the peak sales season for children's motorcycles, will be make or break time for the European manufacturers.