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Unceasing Umphress

AMA Board Member Tom Umphress has worked tirelessly to better motorcycling for over two decades

April 4, 2024 (This story appeared in the April 2024 edition of American Motorcyclist)

By Keaton Maisano

While it may have taken Tom Umphress nearly 30 years to get into motorcycling, he wasted no time leaving his mark on what has become a decades-long passion.

Before becoming a member of the AMA Board of Directors and a prominent figure in Minnesota’s recreational riding and government relations efforts, Umphress was a newcomer to motorcycling, buying his first bike — a Honda CR250R — in 1998.

The following year Umphress helped formalize and incorporate the Twin Cities Riders, a club that addressed the lack of non-competition-based riding clubs in Minnesota, and provided fight for trail availability in the future. During the process of chartering the club with the AMA, Umphress became an AMA member, beginning his journey with the association.

“You can cause change when you have numbers,” Umphress said. “It just makes sense to be part of the AMA to help grow those numbers…Being part of the AMA helps me do my part to allow us to have a national presence and a national voice.”

In the years that followed Umphress’ arrival to the world of motorcycling, he served on the boards of several trail groups, including being Vice Chairman of the Coalition of Recreational Trail Users. He also served as a state partner, secretary and treasurer for the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). For his contributions to bettering the future of OHV recreation, Umphress is a member of the NOHVCC Hall of Fame.

Since 1999, Umphress and his wife Karen have served as government relations officers for the Amateur Riders Motorcycle Association in Minnesota. The pair also introduce motorcycling to newcomers as coaches for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation DirtBike School.

“They are among the unsung heroes of advocacy that don’t get much recognition by the motorcycling community, because what activists do isn’t terribly flashy and there’s not a lot of publicity,” AMA Board of Directors Chair Russ Ehnes said. “But without the activism and work that people like Tom and Karen have done, motorcycling would not be where it is today. They are at the top of the heap of people who’ve had the most impact over the long haul.”

Umphress’ common sense and technical knowledge helped him earn a spot on the AMA Board of Directors in 2021. “It’s the deep end of the pool when it comes to advocacy,” Ehnes said. “It’s an intense, demanding position to be an AMA Board member. You just don’t show up to four meetings a year and think that’s going to be it, because there’s a lot of work that goes on in and in-between meetings.”

Umphress has taken the added responsibility in stride, and along with the several committees he participates in, he currently sits as chair of both the Rights and Advocacy Committee, and the newly formed Recreational Riding Committee.

“I’ve tried to operate on the model of not standing on the sideline and throwing rocks,” Umphress said. “If you want something to change, it’s one thing to talk, but another to get involved and cause change. You can do a lot more if you get involved.”

Umphress stressed that all motorcyclists can help make a difference by getting involved and being positive influences out in the community. “I would ask people to get involved,” he said. “My wife often says… ‘We all are willing to wrench on our bikes, but we all need to wrench on our rights a little bit, too.’ That can be as simple as we need to define ourselves. Don’t let the other side define us.”