Loud pipes irritate, but enhance motorcycle riders’ safety

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      As we approach peak motorcycle-riding season, it’s time to ask the eternal question: do loud pipes save lives?

      That depends on who you talk to, of course. Some folks consider any two-wheeled transport that’s not human-powered to be too loud, while others view sound restrictions as a direct assault on their personal freedoms.

      According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, normal conversation between people is in the 50-to-60-decibel range, as are various appliances, such as dishwashers and vacuum cleaners. A library-quiet room is in the 30-decibel neighbourhood; at the other end of the spectrum, a jet plane during takeoff is 140 decibels, and a jackhammer is 130. The loudest noise the human ear can tolerate is around 120 decibels.

      Unmuffled bikes, then, at 90 to 100 decibels, are somewhere in the middle, depending on how extreme they are and how the bike is being operated. I’ll be the first to admit that the weekend warrior who revs his engine incessantly at a stoplight or blasts through downtown just to hear his exhaust note bounce off the buildings is an overgrown juvenile delinquent and should be fined immediately—not to mention required to seek professional psychiatric help.

      Incidentally, these half-wits aren’t exclusively Harley-Davidson riders. There are any number of Harley imitators out there these days—from all the major manufacturers—whose exhaust note is almost indistinguishable from that of the Milwaukee manufacturer.

      This is also the heart of the matter. There’s no shortage of people who hate loud motorcycles. But that’s a separate issue. Let me say it again: a separate issue. Trying to argue that loud pipes don’t save lives because they’re so annoying is ridiculous. And nine times out of 10, when someone attempts to build a case against loud pipes, they confuse dislike with logic. Loud motorcycles can be annoying—that’s understood—but they only disrupt your reverie for a second or two; we’re talking about safety here, which is more important than you being woken up from your slumber.

      “Loud pipes annoy people,” agrees Brian Lowes, chief instructor at Roadcraft, a Vancouver-based advanced-riding academy that specializes in collision-avoidance techniques and upgrading riding skills. “And from a safety point of view, it doesn’t seem to be beneficial to have a loud motorcycle, because many times, the trouble is ahead of the rider—the guy turning left in front of you, for example—and loud pipes won’t help you then.”

      That said, Lowes concedes that loud pipes can help “sometimes”. If, for example, they help riders get the attention of automobile drivers beside or around them, who tend to be in their own little bubble of oblivion, then at least the drivers know that the motorcyclist is there. They may not like the noise, and won’t necessarily do the right thing. But in a car-motorcycle accident, the most-often-heard excuse is “I just didn’t see him.” I can testify to this from experience, although in my case loud pipes wouldn’t have made any difference.

      But anti-loud-pipe hysteria is in full swing these days. Some Canadian cities have enacted anti-loud-pipe legislation—Vancouver and Edmonton, to name two. In California, which surely has more motorcycles per capita than anywhere else in North America, any bike manufactured after 2013 won’t be allowed to use after-market pipes unless said pipes conform to EPA guidelines. Even now, any bike exceeding 80 decibels in the Golden State is breaking the law.

      However, in a study conducted by the U.S.–based Office of Legislative Research, the analysts noted: “Despite the EPA requirements, an online search shows that there continue to be complaints about excessive motorcycle noise, typically caused by motorcyclists modifying or bypassing the vehicle’s original exhaust system or replacing it with a louder after-market system.”

      Again, this is an environmental complaint, not a safety issue, and loud pipes, even if they only help the rider “sometimes”, are one of the few aids riders possess in the death race on Canada’s highways and byways. It’s not much, but it’s better than no help at all.

      It’s interesting to note that people seem to get more excited over loud pipes than they do about some groups getting around the helmet laws by claiming that helmets restrict their ability to wear religious headgear, and damn the injury risks. You could argue that loud pipes help cut down on medical costs: if my loud exhaust makes drivers aware of me, and they behave accordingly, then that’s potentially one less accident and one less burden on the medical system, right?

      I’ll tell you what. I’ll tone down my exhaust note and ride a quieter motorcycle if you get your head out of your posterior, drive your car in a responsible manner, and stop looking at motorcyclists as if they’re dispensable.




      Aug 22, 2012 at 1:17pm

      Loud pipes also help starving children in Africa and create democratic freedoms in the middle east. So all you pedestrians, baby walkers and outdoor cafe patrons should just shut up and lick the boots of those pigs - er hogs every time they make you duck and cover.

      Comic Book Guy

      Aug 22, 2012 at 1:48pm

      Worst. Commentary. EVER!

      Jay P

      Aug 22, 2012 at 2:29pm

      I would be pretty happy to live in a world without loud pipes or motorcyclists, so the safety argument doesn't really fly for me.

      Stephen Rees

      Aug 22, 2012 at 3:08pm

      Loud pipes do not just disturb the sleepy driver next to the bike. They disturb anyone who is within earshot - which on a warm day might be a couple of hundred metres or more. I cannot use my back yard on a summer day - or even leave the patio doors open - thanks to loud motorcycles - and also idiots with extra boom in their sound systems, heavy trucks that use their jake brakes in residential areas. And, of course, incessant sirens from the people who have to go and clear up the mess that these deafened vehicle users inevitably create. The argument advanced in this article is puerile and without any supporting evidence.

      joe conour

      Aug 22, 2012 at 3:56pm

      You are mistaken about the decibel level of loud motorcycles. My sound level meter registered well over 100 on every motorcycle tested, even above 130. It is possible that perhaps one motorcycle accident out of fifty might be avoided because of loud pipes, so following that reasoning, should we remove the mufflers on all automobiles as well? That would certainly add patients to the audiologists. Aside from the illegality of it, the vast majority of our citizenry is against loud motorcycles blasting through our school and hospital zones and neighborhoods disrupting the peace. There are truly no logical arguments in support of motorcycles or any other motorized vehicle driving on our streets and highways without properly muffled exhaust systems.

      Dave Conrad

      Aug 22, 2012 at 8:03pm

      I've been riding for 46 years and always thought louder pipes being safer was nonsense. After installing some Vance and Hines Short Shots, I can honestly say that people finally know I am there. I have to revise my opinion and say, yes, it is a safer way to ride.

      ex-Haney guy

      Aug 22, 2012 at 8:46pm

      So, it's clear that none of you ride a motorcycle, and dislike them.
      Well, how very North American of you, it's a normal thing in Europe
      and Australia, and ..well; The whole world has not swallowed all that
      Hells Angels/ Harley Davidson/ Hollywood biker shit like you people have.
      After 45 years of riding everything -including those Harleys; the Canadian-American non-rider attitude toward motorcycles is just so
      hick, it's a joke. Rubes compared to sophisticates, hillbillies vs.
      Parisians.As Ted said if it's got two wheels and makes a (actually any) noise-it's bad.What a bunch of..never mind you're not the choir and my preaching won't make any sense, just don't reproduce.
      Can I say fuck off in the Georgia Straight still?

      Papa Juliet

      Aug 23, 2012 at 1:39am

      That was the most lame article that I've read on this issue to date. Mr. Latumus would have us believe that reasonable peace and quiet should take a back seat to his imagined safety. And that anyone in favor of reasonable peace and civil behavior must be against his personal safety and out to get him. Mr' Latumus is nothing more than another clueless member of a small but loud, self-centered special-interest group that holds our quality of life in contempt. Pathetic.


      Aug 23, 2012 at 5:07am

      I think the difference between what is considered legal, and what is considered obnoxiously loud is about 3 db. I am a biker, and we test our stuff with sound meters too. SO a pipe running at 80 db, is whisper quiet, and a pipe running 83 is obnoxiously loud? Come on. Loosen up a little. People, we love our bikes, and for us, 3 db makes a big difference between us hearing them or not. And, we need to hear them to ride them right. Know how to stay off the throttle, and make friends.

      Don Bowman

      Aug 23, 2012 at 9:36am

      It should be unimaginable that any quality citizen would intentionally violate the peace and rights of hundreds of people with every mile they drive. Thankfully people are beginning to pick out routine daily offenders, take license numbers and times of travel, and push push PUSH local law enforcement to cite, cite, and follow up against these offensive, "look at me" thugs. SAFETY in pipe noise? BEHIND the vehicle? Garbage. Hogwash. One in a million safety. Just an excuse for anti social, brainless behavior. I've gotten many of them cited, but it takes WORK to get the times, license and so forth, and even MORE work to keep law enforcement working on this. We have a HUGE problem on every warm day in California. I've even walked over to a quiet harley who pulled into a station and slid my debit card into his pump while he was pulling his helmet, told him he deserved a free tank for enjoying his machine without ruining the environment of everybody around him. He laughed and didn't want me to put in my PIN but I did. He told me plenty of riders hate the others who ruin it. Told me that the Harley Davidson and AMA websites have notes begging riders to "not damage motorcycling" with noise, or something like that.
      CALL THEM IN, people. PUSH (respectfully) the cops.