A tireless advocate for off-road motorcyclists, Ed Waldheim began his involvement in motorcycling as an off-road racer. He later moved into helping organize races and ultimately into governmental off-road advocacy. Waldheim is president of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association and was appointed to the California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission by two governors and served multiple terms. He won numerous awards for his advocacy on behalf of all off-road enthusiasts, including the prestigious AMA Motorcycling Advocate Award, and continues to advance their cause with the government and in the media.
Waldheim was born in San Francisco in 1938. His family moved to Argentina, and he lived there from the time he was 10 until he was in his early 20s. Waldheim grew up multi-lingual. His family, originally from Switzerland, spoke German in their house and naturally spoke Spanish everywhere else. He grew up farming in Argentina and he had friends who had scooters and motorcycles that he would ride occasionally as a youngster.
When he became an adult, Waldheim moved back to the United States and joined the Army. Waldheim settled in Southern California after he got out of the Army. A Riverside police officer had an old scrambles motorcycle for sale and Waldheim bought it and decided to race the well-used machine in the desert.
“I got a pair of cowboy boots went out there and nearly killed myself,” Waldheim laughs.
A friend who worked for Yamaha offered to teach Ed how to ride and eventually he bought a new bike and went back out to race in the desert, this time with much more experience and better equipment. Waldheim participated in desert racing for about five years with good success until government regulations began to threaten off-road riding. In 1978, he called a meeting of various clubs and promoters to figure out how to deal with these new regulations.
“That was the end of my racing career and the beginning of working on land-use issues and advocacy,” Waldheim explained.
Waldheim said that when he came into off-road riding there were really no rules. Motorcyclists could ride where they wanted and when they wanted. When the sport exploded in the 1970s with the availability of inexpensive off-road motorcycles, things started to spiral out of control.
“We may have had it coming,” Waldheim said of government regulations on riding. “It was because we didn’t know any better. No one talked of or even knew about environmental concerns back then. We had a lot of learning to do about how to properly manage things.”
Off-road advocate Bob Ham formed the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA) in the early 1970s. CORVA helped push through legislation that would allocate a percentage of money from gasoline sales to off-road vehicles to securing and maintaining off-road riding areas in California.
“By the time I came, in the government wasn’t doing anything with this money to help off-road users,” Waldheim said. “We formed our own commission so we could manage our own destiny instead of being under the direction of the Department of Parks and Recreation, whose mission didn’t include us.”
Waldheim personally paid Ham’s fee to lobby for off-road rights until he could get the various off-road organizations to fund a lobbyist to work in the capitol in Sacramento.
Over the years, Waldheim educated himself on the ins and outs of government advocacy.
“It was by osmosis,” Waldheim says. “We started going to these meetings for the California Desert Conservation Plan. Mark Anderson of the MIC and I became good friends and I learned a great deal working with him. Also, Rob Rasor, who worked in government relations at the AMA, had a big influence on directing us how to go through the different channels of the government. A lot of things we simply learned by the school of hard knocks, but we made our way through. We realized if we didn’t do something we would lose our opportunity. We had no magical plan, we just went by our guts. I went to where we had problems and would just keep working at it.”
Waldheim and his wife learned how to write grant proposals and they were responsible for bringing much-needed money to develop and maintain riding areas. The grant money helped buy equipment and pay for labor to build and maintain and properly marked trails.
Waldheim often does much of this trail maintenance work himself on a volunteer basis.
“The number one key is trail maintenance,” Waldheim declares. “If you don’t maintain a trail, everything else falls apart. It’s as simple as that. Our users don’t stay on a designated trail if they aren’t maintained – they’ll make their own trail. That is our enemy and people just don’t get it.”
Waldheim is looked at by the industry as the go-to guy in off-road advocacy.
“If something needs to be done, Ed gets it done,” said Kathy Van Kleek, vice president of government relations for the Motorcycle Industry Council. “As president of the California Trail Users Coalition, Ed has brought in over a million dollars in federal Recreational Trail Program grants to benefit southern California riding opportunities and to assist National Forest and Bureau of Land Management trail development and maintenance.”
Waldheim has earned many honors for his activism, including the Golden Helmet Award from the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Division of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Off-Roader of the Year from the California Off-Road Vehicle Association. The main building at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area is named in his honor.
Nationally, the Bureau of Land Management awarded him their Volunteer of the Year award.
Under Waldheim’s leadership, CORVA membership tripled and the association has maintained a leading position in advocacy and education of off-roading.
Waldheim attends hundreds of meetings a year. Virtually all of his activism is funded out of his pocket. He often tours off-road areas as an advisor to land managers, politicians, off-road commissioners, journalists and scientists.
Waldheim moved to California City so he could pull out of his garage and hit the open trails of the desert, but he spends so much time traveling to meetings regarding off-road vehicles that he rarely has time to ride.
In addition to statewide off-road association, Waldheim founded Friends of Jawbone, a nonprofit organization to promote better riding at the national park outside California City.
Waldheim also cites the economic boost the state and local governments receive from off-road riders.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it's $10 billion" statewide, Waldheim said in a 2005 interview with Antelope Valley Press. To Waldheim, the reasons for keeping off-road areas open go well beyond economic issues, especially as a hobby for children.
"I would rather have a kid on a motorcycle than in a gang, out at a pool hall or doing graffiti," he said. "When a kid goes riding after school, he comes home too tired and dirty to go out and get in any trouble."
For Waldheim, who has been president of the statewide off-road vehicle association for the last 13 years, an average day puts him in any California city where people ride vehicles on off-highway trails. But he makes no complaint about the work, he said, because with the explosion in housing encroaching on desert riding spaces, education is the key.
Waldheim’s passion for off-road riding has left a major legacy. In countless hours of working in government and on the trails have greatly benefited riders and provided an example for future advocacy.