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?

Loud exhaust pipes are annual topic of conversation in Vancouver...if anyone can hear themselves talking, that is.

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.” 

More in Life

UX designers shape our interaction with the environment through technology

When George Papazian began teaching at Emily Carr University of Art + Design a few years ago, the term UX designer was still relatively new. Now, he is the lead instructor for the interaction design...

Take a vacation, save the planet

Green, eco and sustainable travel are growing six times faster than traditional travel.

Bread and butter pudding: warming comfort food

A great way to use leftover bread
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.