The sounds of spring...and loud motorcycles?
Every spring, as the singing of songbirds is interrupted by the rumble reverberating out of the exhaust system of loud motorcycles. So I decided to host an open forum to ask: just how loud is too loud?
Sweet sounds signal the arrival of spring. The chirps of a tiny bird perched high in a leafy tree. The shouts and giggles of children swinging and sliding at school playgrounds. The flap of fresh sundried laundry being folded mingles with the murmur of neighbors discussing lawn edging or the kids’ latest karate competition.
But something is missing from this idyllic seasonal soundscape: the putt-putt pop-pow! of motorcycles ripping down the road, leaving a sonic tsunami in their wake.
Every spring, as the singing of songbirds is interrupted by the rumble reverberating out of those shiny chrome loudspeakers, the disgruntled citizenry rise up in chorus, demanding that “somebody do something!” about loud exhaust pipes.
Anticipating this year’s confrontation, I decided to host a open-panel discussion on the issue of loud motorcycles. Before beginning, I should mention that I ride a motorcycle: a Honda Shadow 600 (a mid sized cruiser) and hence am not unbiased. However, I am a citizen as well as a motorcycle rider, and I believe that this is an issue citizens ought to discuss. And as a motorcycle rider, I also believe that I should take an active interest in ensuring all motorcyclists aren’t seen as total dickheads.
Loud pipes and the people who hate them
Some people believe that loud motorcycles are an auditory annoyance, the dictionary definition of disrespect, an overall affront to civility and neighborliness. Loud-pipe detractors claim that lax laws allow megalomaniacs to make motorcycles into mobile megaphones of masculinity, broadcasting sound barrier-busting pops and pows as a giant middle finger to society.
At least part of the frustration loud motorcycles generate comes from the suspicion that there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason why certain motorcycles produce so much noise. A lawnmower, for example, cuts grass using a rotating blade, generating a noise that sounds like a motor spinning a rotating blade. Construction saws sound like metal blades cutting wood. Anyway, you get the idea.
The important difference here is that these sounds are epiphenomenal, an inadvertent byproduct of the operation in progress. If lawnmowers didn’t make noise, it’s a safe bet manufacturers wouldn’t add shiny exhaust pipes to them. So the question is whether motorcycles need to produce as much noise as they do. Quite coincidentally, an audience member was pondering the same thing.
Completely true question just submitted by an audience member
Mr. J. from North Vancouver asks: “what explains the loudness of some motorcycles, and not of others?”
Good question, Mr. J. You certainly have quite an ear for the distinctive sounds of different species of motorcycle. It is true that not all motorcycles make the same amount of noise. So why is this?
First and foremost, some bikes are just loud. Harley and Indian spring to mind. However, many are not born loud, but are made. Yes, it is not a secret. Some motorcyclists actually want their motorcycles to sound louder than they did when they bought them, so they buy aftermarket exhaust systems to quench their thirst for a ‘more throaty throttle.’ Inquisitive minds can Google “Loud+Pipes” to view a variety of pipes with names like Super-Loud Bastards Screw You Too w chrome inlay for only $1,256 plus s/h. Attention: this sender resides in a country that has no extradition treaty with Canada.
Furthermore, some ‘community members’ in certain motorcycle forums even advocate a technique called “drilling out the baffles,” which entails drilling out parts of the pipe so the sound produced is even louder (this practice is technically illegal). So Mr. J, it appears the answer is twofold: the aftermarket part industry is at least partially contributing to the loudness of motorcycles; and some motorcyclists are busy ‘taking it to the next level’ with illegal modifications. Fascinating. Next question please.
Next totally legitimate email question I didn’t just invent
Ms. S. writes, “Hi, love the show. Anyway, I wanted to write because I used to date a guy who had a bike with loud pipes. I thought he was cool and had great abs, but he dumped me for some floozy on a Fatboy at Sturgis last year. So I am totally against loud pipes on motorcycles. Guys like that should rot in hell. Thank you.”
Well Ms. S, thanks for putting in your two cents. Your tragic personal narrative certainly raises an interesting point. Do these loud motorcycle owners see themselves as studs? To find out, I interviewed three ‘real’ bikers. Each is a self-professed loud-piper who believes in perpetual putt-putt-puttering in public, regardless of the level of inconvenience to children, the elderly and small pets.
Note: names have been changed to protect the identity of the participants.
Up first we have Chad [not his real name]. Chad: “these pipes sound awesome. My penis feels bigger already!”
Thanks for sharing, Chad. Up next is Randy [not his real name]…no, wait…Rodney. That’s right, Rodney. Rodney: “these pipes make chicks think I’m hot. And I am.”
Thanks, Rodney. And go ahead, Frank [not his real name]. Frank: “F*@& you.”
And there you have it, folks. Testimonials from bikers who are loud and proud. Next, we invited a psychologist to evaluate these responses. Welcome, Dr. Donna Wanda Loud-Sound. Doctor, what was your clinical assessment?
Dr: “The results were surprising to me, even though I have spent decades studying this phenomenon. These men associate the loudness of their motorcycles with a hyper-inflated masculine identity, but it turns out the people surveyed – I include those people the participants classified as ‘chicks’ – associate loud motorcycles with higher-than-average levels of what I term ‘wanker-ness.’
Is that a British academic term?
So what did you conclude from that diagnosis?
Dr: “These men are actually reducing their chances to mate with the opposite sex by engaging in this maladaptive anti-social behavior.”
Well, very interesting indeed. Thank you.
Final question that was submitted just now
Mr. D writes: “Hey, I just got to say, this forum is totally biased. I ride a bike, and yeah, it’s a bit loud, sure. But I got a good reason. You people drive like crazy! I almost got killed the other day by a driver that didn’t see me, even though I was wearing a skull and crossbones poncho and my monkey was riding in the sidecar. You think you’d see that, you know? A monkey in a sidecar. You don’t see that everyday, that’s for sure. Anyway, when I yelled at this guy, he just waved without looking up from his phone. So until you dim-witted morons pay attention on the road I’m going to TURN UP THE VOLUME CAUSE YOU DON’T SEE ME!!!!!!!”
Thanks Mr. D. It is important to hear from bikers offering a genuinely impassioned plea for car drivers to pay attention when driving. Mr. D’s point gets to the crux of the issue: safety on the road. Riding a motorcycle carries with it a higher risk factor than driving a car, no doubt about it. This safety imbalance has led some motorcyclists to argue that loud exhaust systems keeps them safe, the “loud pipes save lives” mantra. And to a certain extent, this is undoubtedly true. When drivers hear motorcycles, they are more likely to see motorcycles; and hence motorcyclists are more likely to stay alive.
So Mr. D, a follow-up question. Since safety is evidently so important to you that you spent hundreds of dollars modifying your motorcycle’s exhaust to make it louder, can you talk about the additional safety measures you take while riding?
Mr. D: “umm…like what?”
You know, like wearing a reflective vest, or at least a color other than black?
What about flashing lights on your helmet like bicyclists? And what about wearing a realistic helmet that will actually protect your head in a crash, unlike those overturned salad bowl masquerading as a protective devices certain riders wear?
Mr. D: “umm…a reflective vest…man, you would look like a total douche bag. And my helmet lets the wind blow in my hair. The best protection is loud pipes, man. Besides, I wear earplugs, so I won’t damage my hearing.”
Point taken, Mr. D. But did you ever wonder what message it sends to the general public when the motorcyclists can’t even endure the sound of their own motorcycle without earplugs? Doesn’t that speak to the possible existence of a tipping point at which the sound becomes too loud?
Mr. D: “…dude, you’re breaking up…I didn’t hear that…”
We seem to be having some trouble with the line. And unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to say whether you drive or ride, take care out there. You’ll see me on the road this summer…I’ll be the Honda Shadow rider wearing the reflective safety vest. Safety first, that's my motto.
Joshua Hergesheimer is a freelance writer and photographer. He is Papa to his twin girls as well as the owner of an aging but lovely 1992 Honda Shadow VLX that produces just the right amount of throaty throttle.