I had originally planed on continuing with the series I was doing on
the history of the motorcycle for this month's article until a neighbor
of mine came home last weekend with a brand new bike. Practically before
he had gotten off he informed me that one of the first things he was going
to do was get a set of louder pipes, as this would help to ensure his
safety by being heard from a greater distance. Safety??! Hogwash!
Balderdash! Bull cookies! Well that set me off, and I proceeded to make
an attempt to dissuade him from this (in my opinion) erroneous view that
"Loud Pipes Save Lives". I don't think I got very far in my
first attempt, though, he seemed pretty adamant in his view.
So I decided that perhaps the best approach would be to do some digging
and see what I could find in the way of supporting facts, both pro and
con. Perhaps I was wrong and they really do save lives, seemed
doubtful, but I've always considered myself as someone who is willing
to keep an open mind until the facts are in. In doing my research on the
subject I found many opinions but very little in the way of hard facts
on the issue of "do loud pipes save lives?" In the end I could
not find a single "fact" that supports the idea, but I did find
a number of opinions to support it, opinions that were, as far as I could
see, weakly masqueraded as "facts". To be fair, neither could
I find any facts in support of the idea they don't. What I did find was
numerous reasons why (overly) loud pipes can be detrimental to motorcycling
as a whole. Here's a synopsis of what I found.
Supporters of the idea seemed to consist for the most part of folks that
either sold (loud) aftermarket pipes, or folks who road bikes with loud(er)
aftermarket pipes. Yet these same folks could not provide any hard facts
to back up their claim, the best they could come up with were rather vague
statements about how if they make lots of noise "(car drivers) are
sure as heck gonna hear me!" or claims that loud pipes give the other
motorists ample warning of the approaching biker as they cruise up from
behind. These statements seem to presuppose several assumptions that;
1) the other driver is not only going to hear the biker, but take the
time to identify their actual location, 2) drivers in general rely on
sound as much as vision to locate and avoid obstacles (in this case the
motorcyclist), 3) the other driver gives enough of a damn about motorcyclists
in the first place to do (1) and (2) above, and 4) that sounds emanating
from a motorcycle's exhaust travel equally in all directions from the
source. These seem, to me, to be a rather risky set of suppositions with
little, if any, basis in fact. It is well documented that vision plays
a much bigger role in operator safety than sound. Think about the last
time you heard a siren, were you able to identify the location of the
approaching vehicle by the sound alone or did you not in fact have to
wait to make visual contact with it before you could precisely identify
its location relative to you? Do proponents of loud pipes really believe
that other motorists are going to concentrate on locating the approaching
motorcycle and keep it in view till it is well past them and out of harms
way? Where is the evidence to support such a claim?
An article in the Concord Monitor (Sunday, October, 2002, by Sarah M.
Earle) quotes one mechanic at a local Concord bike shop as stating that
the other driver cut off 80% of his customers who had been involved in
an accident. Sounds reasonable and that is indeed what the Hurt report
found in it's study. Unfortunately he then goes on to state that this
justifies his customers modifying their exhaust (to something louder)
to ensure that they will be noticed in the future. He further states that
changing out the exhaust is done purely for safety reasons. I'm sorry,
but I just don't believe that, nor do I really believe he does either.
That sounds too much like an attempt to justify something that's done
for entirely different reasons, i.e. they just like the louder sound.
On the other hand The American Motorcyclist Association, The Hurt Report,
and many riders and bikers themselves seemed to be of the opposite opinion.
The AMA has gone so far as to make a policy statement on the issue which
reads " The [AMA] believes that few other factors contribute more
to misunderstanding and prejudice against the motorcycling community than
excessively noisy motorcycles". They then go on to say, "Shifting
blame and failing to adopt responsible policies on a voluntary basis can
only result in greater prejudice and discrimination against motorcycling.
The consequences of continuing to ignore this issue will likely result
in excessively rigorous state and federal standards, [and]
abusive enforcement of current laws and other solutions undesirable to
riders and the motorcycle industry"
What this shows is that there is a bigger issue at hand, namely, the
noise issue, and it's impact on all of us who ride. And sadly too, their
prediction has come true in many cases, I found several articles within
just the first hour of researching this issue, on jurisdictions that have
enacted noise related ordinances directed against motorcycles while other
vehicles remained less regulated. Several sources noted events from the
last Sturgis rally, an event noted for it's tolerance and even open acceptance
of the biker crowd. It seems the state and local authorities really cracked
down on violators, more so than in previous years and the biggest offence
cited and fined was for excessive exhaust noise. As one writer put it,
it must have been just like shooting fish in a barrel (for the police).
I have to wonder how many others, like myself, really enjoy hearing those
cars with the mega-bass audio systems turned up so loud that our stomachs
churn or the sound of trash trucks emptying the dumpster at 6 in the morning?
Noise pollution effects everyone. Saying "I'm just doing my thing"
just doesn't cut it, not when "doing your thing" violates others
right to peace and quiet, there is no right to make excessive noise!
And what about the image that excessively loud motorcycles project? When
the actions of others have a negative impact on my rights to enjoy motorcycling,
that gets my goat up and it should get yours up too.
According to the Hurt report is was determined that 77% of motorcycle
accident hazards come from in front of the rider, while only 3% approach
from the rear. What's interesting here is that motorcycle pipes direct
the vast majority of sound backwards where the least danger is,
so for loud pipes to be truly effective safety measures they would need
to be pointed forward where the greatest danger lies. That doesn't
do much to support the proposition that loud pipes are a safely factor.
The other serious problem I have with this supposition is that it is,
at best, a secondary safety measure, not a primary or proactive
measure. Assuming that the other driver will act with caution once you
have identified your presence by the sound of your bike roaring up from
behind is foolhardy at best. That's like assuming that if you were to
wear a bright yellow safety vest, or full riding gear, you can relax because
now you're protected! Lets face it, the best protection you have is that
3 pounds of grey matter between your ears, that and a constant awareness
of your surrounding, and acting on the supposition that the rest of the
motorists in the world are all idiots and its up to you and you alone
to ensure your safety on the road. Relying on the other guy to act reasonably
or safely just because you're making more noise than those around you
is just asking for trouble!
As Neal Stephenson puts it in 'Zodiac' (The words in brackets [ ] were
added by me.):
" First, a word on motorcycle safety:
If you've put yourself in a position where someone has to see [hear]
you in order for you to be safe -- to see [hear] you, and to give a
f**k -- you've already blown it."
Interestingly enough too, I found that most motorcyclists with louder
than stock pipes, interviewed in the various articles I read on the subject
admitted that is was mostly a macho thing. They simply liked the sound
of a deep-throated exhaust note, it added to the pleasure of the machine
for them, very few made any mention of the "safety" issue. So
it would seem the true believers in the LPSL crowd are in the vast minority,
it may make a great tee shirt slogan, but is ability to hold water is
about equal to that of the tee shirt it's printed on.
Ok, so back to my neighbor and his desire for loud pipes for "safety"
reasons. If he wants louder pipes on his machine, more power to him, it's
his bike, and I firmly believe in the principal "It's your bike,
do what you want". As long as it's not an ear splitting, glass shattering
roar, and he doesn't fire it up at 3AM and blast me out of bed, fine,
have fun with it. He's young, it's his first bike and he's caught up in
all that goes with that first chrome and steel love affair. And No, I
don't think there's anything wrong with a nice set of well-tuned pipes,
they can add that little something extra to a machine and will undoubtedly
catch the occasional eye (or ear) as you go tooling down the roadway.
But let's not kid ourselves that its anything other than an ego thing,
plain and simple. Just be honest about it and quit trying to justify it.
Just do it within reason, remember the image you portray is a reflection
on all of us, like it or not, and really loud pipes probably do more damage
than good and annoying folks accomplishes nothing. Now you may be thinking
I have something personal against loud pipes, well let me disabuse you
of that notion right here and now. I too happen to like a nice throaty
exhaust note as evidenced by my little R600. Several years ago I put a
2-into-1 megaphone style exhaust on her as part of the process of setting
her up for running the back roads and mountain passes. I love to "play"
with the resonance it produces zipping though the twisties, and I admit
that I did it 90% just for the way it enhances the machine's appearance
and the way it sounds. The reduced weight and extra cornering clearance
is just an added bonus, but I did it mostly for the sound, and looks,
and I readily admit it. Its just plain cool! What its not however is loud
to the point of annoying my neighbors or shattering glass, just a nice
mellow note that sets it apart from other old bikes.
Sure, it can also be done to increase horsepower, but for many that too
is probably just a "justification" and not the real reason.
Modern bikes have more than enough power as they come from the factory
for almost any rider or riding conditions, some even more than reasonably
needed (but that's just my opinion). Keep in mind, too, that they
are designed to run with the specific backpressure created by the stock
exhaust. Changing anything with the motor should only be done by someone
who knows what they are doing, or you could easily wind up with all sort
of problems, such as less power and possible overheating problems,
to name a few, and that's not an opinion, that's just plan fact.
But as for the safety factor, forget it Mac, I ain't buying that. If my
neighbor (or anyone else) wants to talk safety features, I can think of
many, many ways that money could be better spent on serious, proven, safely
So if you want loud(er) pipes, go ahead put them on, give 'em nice high
polish shine and give that throttle a twist and revel in the sound of
that deep, throaty rumble, just don't try to tell me you're doing it because
"Loud Pipes Save Lives" 'cause dude, now I know better!