Why Buy The Cow When The Milk is Free? (Or How Three Guys Wrecked the Airheads Beemer Club)
I have already commented on recent actions taken by the Airheads Beemer Club Board of Directors that are taking the ABC in directions that are unhealthy and contradict the very Canons upon which the club is founded. I apologize up front for the length of this text, but the topic is important to the long term viability of the ABC and these events deserve coverage in depth. I've also made the text available in a .pdf version that can be downloaded and shared, so please feel free to pass it along to others that may not have access to the ABC website, or print it off for those that haven't quite joined the digital revolution yet.
I have also passed along a slightly different version to the editor of the new Airmail magazine, but I doubt it will ever be published.
Why Buy the Cow When the Milk is Free?
(Or how three guys wrecked the Airheads Beemer Club)
There’s been quite a bit of controversy within the Airheads Beemer Club (ABC) lately, all of it coming from recent decisions made by the ABC Board of Directors (BoD). In the space of a few months, the BoD banned material written by Orlando “Oak” Okleshen from both the new electronic and traditional paper versions of Airmail. Then the BoD doubled down by firing ABC founder and forever Airmail editor B. Jan Hoffman. Both actions were taken with zero input from ABC members and Airmarshals, even though plans were made many months before the decisions were revealed in the BoD minutes as published in Airmail. The only foreshadowing of these events was a mention in the October 27, 2022 BoD minutes of “Disputes during Board meetings”, which apparently had become “unprofessional”, characterized by “name calling, unfounded accusations, temper outbursts and abruptly leaving the meeting before adjournment”. No wonder, as the banning and firing strike at the very heart of the Airheads Beemer Club, and will change the nature of the ABC’s purpose and spirit. Let me tell you how.
In another misguided decision, the BoD decreed that there would be no difference between the paper version of Airmail and the new electronic version. One of the reasons given by the BoD for dropping Oak’s material was the stipulation Oak made forbidding any electronic publication of his material. Oak felt that once his material became available in electronic form, the ABC would lose control of how it was accessed. By insisting that his information be available only in a paper version, and knowing that only paying ABC members have access to the paper version of Airmail, Oak ensured that control of his material would be maintained, and that it would continue to be successfully monetized for the benefit of the ABC.
Why is Oak's information so important? One of the key distinguishing aspects of Oak’s articles was that they were written by someone with demonstrated technical competence that had been involved with the BMW Type 247 engine and the motorcycles that used it for a very long time. Airheads could rely on Oak’s words for accurate guidance while working on their bikes. The consequences of following bad advise when it comes to motorcycle mechanicing include broken parts, injury, or even death. It’s one thing for members to share their latest airhead hack by submitting it to Oak for comment, but it’s quite another when these hacks get published without someone like Oak reviewing them first for accuracy and completeness.
Another of Oak’s strengths was that his writings were easily understood, as they discussed not only the nature of problems confronting airhead owners, but they clearly outlined the reasons and methods to effect fixes for those problems. Indeed, most of Oak’s material came from members writing to him, asking for help in remedying one kind of trouble or another. His solutions were validated in his own workshop, and on the motorcycles he worked on for his customers.
Out of this came another of Oak’s strengths, that of categorizing information so that it could be easily found and used. The result was Oak’s Airtech Index, which grouped Airmail articles and answers together under the same topics BMW still uses to organize the parts found in its motorcycles and cars.
Apparently the BoD unsuccessfully attempted to secure licensing rights from Oak’s family. Predictably, the family chose to respect Oak’s wishes. I'm not aware of anything in Oak’s restrictions that prevents publication of Oak’s tech articles in paper form, as long as it is maintained and distributed by the ABC. Sadly, Oak’s material is a finite body of work, but fortunately there is nothing stopping the publication of a paper book that would encompass all of his writings. Oak himself already established the format of such a book when he laid the framework for his Airtech Index; an editor of said book need only fill in the blanks by organizing Oak’s articles under the AirTech topics. Such a book would provide access to ALL of Oak’s technical knowledge, access that is currently limited to those members that have a complete library of Airmail magazines. Recall that as part of the last rogue BoD’s edicts the price for Airmail back issues doubled from $3 to $6, and there’s no way a new member could afford to acquire a complete library. A book would solve that problem, and would continue to provide financial support for ABC activities by encouraging airhead owners to join the ABC to get access to the book. All the while respecting the wishes of Oak and his family.
Instead, the BoD chose to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and discontinue publishing Oak’s writings even in the paper version of Airmail. When this was originally proposed, B. Jan told the BoD that producing two versions of Airmail, a paper one with Oak’s content, and a digital one without, was easily accomplished. Unfortunately, this fact only intensified the BoD’s clandestine efforts to replace B. Jan.
There are further complications resulting from the “no differences” edict. One is that some members hosting Tech Days and Rendezvous would rather not publicize the events on the World Wide Web. Instead, they ask their Airmarshal to forward the event notice to the Airmail editor for publication only in the paper version of our club magazine. That will no longer be possible with the new rule, and will likely force these members to either discontinue their event, or make them known only by word of mouth.
With respect to firing B. Jan, I admit to not being a fan of some of his most recent missives. He has said in the past that he sees creating controversy as part of an editor’s job, and as such there are bound to be people that disagree or dislike some of his content. While some of B. Jan’s stories seemed to have little airhead content, he was very good at weaving threads from the ABC Canons into the story lines. He is, after all, the author of those Canons. If you find yourself upset with some of B. Jan’s writing, have a quick read through the Canons and you’ll see the connection. The Canons pretty much define the Airhead lifestyle, and B. Jan did his best to embody that lifestyle in his articles and in the format and content he chose for Airmail. Anybody with a word processor can compile material into a magazine, but it takes someone that lives the Airhead lifestyle to breath that spirit into Airmail. Now that we’ve lost both B. Jan's influence and Oak's technical expertise, Airmail holds no more attraction for me than do other magazines that cover the broad based motorcycling scene. In other words, none at all.
Now it’s March of 2023, and last month we saw the publication of two different versions of Airmail. The first, edited by B. Jan, was made available by then BoD member Tim Roberts via a .pdf file that Tim emailed to most of the ABC membership including the BoD. It contained Tim’s version of actions taken by the BoD that resulted in Oak’s banning and B. Jan’s firing. Later Tim resigned from the BoD as a result of these actions. It also contained several articles by B. Jan himself telling his side of the story, citing the ugly truth behind the actions taken by the BoD. This material was originally intended for the January issue of Airmail, but by BoD decree had been censored at the printer’s facility, leaving large areas of blacked out space in the January issue. This blatant act of censorship by the BoD is unprecedented in ABC history, and shows the deceitful lengths the majority of the BoD members at that time would go to hide their actions from the membership. If you’d like to see the B. Jan version, it can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/Feb23AirMailBJan
BTW, when I posted that link to the Forum at the ABC website, I was told by BoD member Tim Hille to take it down. His stated reason was that the issue contained copyrighted images of the ABC logo, which were being used without BoD permission. B. Jan is the artist/designer of that logo, and if he doesn’t have the right to use it, who does? Mr. Hille’s demand was in fact a further attempt at censorship aimed at covering up the behind closed doors BoD activities, plain and simple.
The other version of the February 2023 issue of Airmail wasn’t edited by B. Jan at all. Instead, a company called Roadwolf Design produced a slicked up version of Airmail using more color and larger photographs, but without any of Oak’s content. A new column called “From the Board” authored by BoD Chairman Duck Koch passed off the omission of Oak’s articles as being “due to licensing issues with reprinting in a digital version”. There were also minutes from two BoD meetings, one of which mentioned an “Executive Session for personnel matters”, none of which were detailed in the minutes. The other minutes recounted the decision to fire B. Jan, and that Roadwolf Design would produce the new AirMail for $2000/month (up from B. Jan’s $1200/month fee).
The new Airmail format still contained letters from the membership, now titled Head to Head, the majority of which contained opinions unfavorable to the BoD decisions to fire B. Jan and omit Oak’s material from Airmail. It also contained a new column called Workbench, which had an unreviewed article siphoned off Brook Reams’ website that had been condensed from Brooks’ more lengthy version. This, along with an interesting travel article by David and Emy Woodburn, were seemingly efforts from the “Airmail staff” to fill the vacuum created by banning Oak’s usual content. That left me wondering how an unreviewed website reprint with technical detail insufficient to complete the job could seriously be considered a replacement for Oak’s Q&A.
Another problem comes from the format of Airmail itself. Old eyes like larger type sizes, and up until now the paper version of Airmail has remained legible. The new Airmail is difficult for many (most?) of us to read without a magnifying glass. That’s no problem for the online version because the text can be upsized with a few mouse clicks. But why was the text downsized to begin with?
I was left with the impression that the BoD had ignored the old axiom that “Content is King” in favor of a pretty but dumbed down and hard to read version of what was once my favorite magazine. One that was now subject to BoD censorship. A pig with lipstick is still just a pig.
Speaking of farm animals, I recall another axiom: “Why buy the cow when the milk is free?” Now that the digital and paper versions of Airmail will be identical, what’s to stop an ABC member from emailing copies to all their non-member friends? Or even some unscrupulous somebody from publishing every issue on the World Wide Web for anyone to download? Why would anyone join the ABC when they can get the same content on the Internet for free?
That makes me wonder about all the members out there that don't frequent the ABC website, and don't use computers at all. When I was helping out with webmaster duties, I found that about 25% of the membership didn't even have an email address registered in their membership profile. The only information these folks have seen about these troubles have been what has been posted in the paper version of Airmail, so they know almost nothing of the underhanded tactics the BoD majority used to ram the firing and banning down our throats. Perhaps after reading this article they'll be better informed, and express their opinions to their Airmarshal.
There’s one more issue I need to mention and it involves yet another use of censorship. Many members are familiar with the articles I’ve published at gunsmoke.com that recount my trials and tribulations from riding and maintaining airhead motorcycles. Many years ago I agreed to let the ABC mirror those articles on the ABC website. I asked only that I retain the ability to add to, update, or delete that body of information.
When I learned that the BoD was making the above changes, I wrote to the BoD explaining that I did not support the new direction they were trying to take the ABC, and that in 30 days if Oak’s articles were not again present in the paper version of AirMail and B. Jan was restored to the editor position, they were no longer authorized to mirror my articles on the ABC website. Further, I would be resigning my membership.
I then tried to update one of my articles on the ABC website. I learned that I could still view the articles on the “back end” administrative side, but I couldn’t make changes to the text or add/delete images. Nor could I add a new article. At first I thought it was a bug and contacted one of the ABC webmasters for help. He wasn’t aware of the problem, but eventually got back to me with news that my privileges on the website had been reduced so that it was no longer possible for me to make changes to my own articles. When I asked why, I was told the change was made due to a decree by the BoD. Yet another example of BoD censorship, one taken behind the back of a formerly strong ABC supporter. After the 30 day deadline had passed it was apparent that the agreement I’d struck with the ABC was no longer valid. As a result, I asked the webmaster to disable access to my articles through the ABC mirror. I could have asked that the articles be deleted, but I still harbor hope that the current problems can be resolved, and did not wish to create a ton of work for the webmasters putting the material back on the website. At that point, new BoD member Ernie Baragar got involved, and not long after that, my editing privileges were restored. However, B. Jan is still MIA and Oak’s articles are still banned, so my material will continue to be available only on the gunsmoke.com website.
In closing, I cherish the friendships I’ve made with many ABC members, but I find no joy in being associated with a club governed by such dictatorial and destructive “leadership”. And since the CalendAir and the e-version of AirMail will be on the web, I’ll still be able to learn about and attend Rendezvous and Tech Days locally, the real world aspects of the ABC I enjoy most. After all, why buy the cow when the milk is free?
ABC Member 8166 (for now)
Former ABC Webmaster
B. Jan's compensation at the time he was fired was $1500/month, not $1200 as noted in the article. Somewhere along the line he got a raise from when this was last openly discussed in Airmail.
Thank you for your service,I always enjoyed the offbeat vibe of the old rag,that is what kept me coming back since 1996.Simple by choice! What part of benevolent dictator didn’t the b.o.d. get.No respect! The pony express delivery is missing as is SIMPLIFI ,that is messing with tradition.That is something people riding 50 year old bikes like. Bill Goetzmann #1321
BoD has hastened the demise of this club. I've been an ABC member since 1994. Without Oak's content or B. Jan's editorial contributions in Airmail, I am no longer interested in being a member of this club.
@8166 Thank you for the info and your kind advice helping me in the purchase and a repair of my R100RT
a few years back.
My membership expires next month and will not be renewed. I will join another organization.
Between Vintage BMW and BMWMOA what would you suggest?
@rtpilot Thanks. I am mainly interested in technical rather than social interactions. Seems there is a very active Houston BMW group with monthly meetings, tech days, and camping events. Not sure if it has a national affiliation.
In your opinion of the two which one is better for technical aspects of Airhead ownership?
Thanks Scott, and for the link to B. Jan's Feb edition.
Long time ABC member, and one of my favorite reads; used to be first and cover-to-cover. MOA & RA rags rarely get read as closely. (RA ain't what it used to be either!) This will push me to join VintageBMW, and let my ABC membership lapse. Really a sad loss; all due to ego & over-inflated self importance. . .
I recently let BMWMOA membership lapse, and began membership in VBMW last year. The BMWMOA has good tech archives, but current tech info consists largely of referring to Snowbum, and quoting him as if Holy Scripture. I am OK with that, but also appreciate more recent input by folks actually still riding their Airheads. There's 2-3 self appointed gurus there, and it's a little too clicky for my taste. I much prefer the VBMW site, and all it has to offer for Airheads. I also like the ADVrider Airheads forum. Heck, they're all good, but the only ones I am willing to pay $ for nowadays is here and the VBMW.
Last day of Airhead membership. Thanks to all who have helped me over the years with your expertise and kindness. Catch me on VBMW.
Well, Bret, I will NOT be seeing you on VBMW. Please do not use any of the resources that are attributed to the Airheads Beemer Club. Never call an airmarshal to direct you to a knowledgeable peer, and never roll in to a tech day with an issue with your airhead, VBMW are your people now. All the best.
former Airmarshal, IL.
Just because we're letting our memberships in the ABC expire because of the gross mismanagement we're seeing, doesn't mean we'll not be attending Airhead events or will be forsaking all of our Airhead acquaintances and friends, James. There are no Bylaws that I'm aware of that prevent us from doing so. It's a bit of a "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" type of situation, as far as I can tell, anyway.
I thought once an Airhead always an Airhead?
Thought I'd jump in with a few thoughts. My last issue delivered was February 2023. Never canceled so I just assume the delivery department is just as f#cked as the design department. I don't see much in the new rag to save or read so why collect the paper? I won't bother asking for the copies I am due, and unless this BoD comes to jesus and brings back the old format and it's editor, I guess I'm out too. Sad, but I WILL ALWAYS BE AN AIRHEAD and will fly the Airhead colors wherever I ride and whatever I wear. I'm a member until Feb of 2024, no renewal after that. Just joined the VBMWO. So there.