It’s springtime in Canada. The snow and sand are gone from the roads, the sun is shining, and the birds are singing — but you can’t hear them, thanks to your neighbour’s loud pipes.
It’s getting a bit frustrating repeating this message every year, but it’s necessary. Loud pipes are a huge problem for the motorcycle community as a whole, and it’s time riders woke up and ditched their straight-throughs. Here’s why.
Loud pipes make people angry
It’s all very macho to wear anti-social patches on your leather vest and scowl menacingly at soccer moms while you blip your loud pipes, but there are consequences to making everyone else angry, and every year, more and more people are getting fed up with this kind of activity.
A quick scan through the CMG archives indicates St. Johns, Vancouver and Trois-Rivieres all introduced regulations to fight loud pipes last year. In 2016, we saw Edmonton and Strathcona County in Alberta do the same, along with Vancouver and the Central Kootenay region in BC, and the entire province of PEI announced an anti-noise campaign aimed at fighting noisy bikes. Go back through the news, and you’ll see city after city named, in every province. People are angry.
Now, the more selfish and cynical rider might say “So what? I can always beat the ticket in court!” And that might be true, in the short term, but the rage over selfish motorcyclists blasting everyone else with their noise isn’t going away. Year after year, you see many of the same cities trying new tactics when the old methods are thrown out in court.
This year, Edmonton was back in the news, with talk of adopting a “noise camera.” It works on the same principle as a speed camera, but instead of photographing the plate of a speeder, it shoots a photo of a vehicle that’s breaking noise bylaws. And Calgary (another city that’s got a problem with loud pipes) is watching Edmonton’s progress closely, considering adopting the technology. The entire province of Quebec is currently in the middle of a five-year study to come up with a plan to fight noisy motorcycles. These governments aren’t giving up. And in the end, they’re going to win.
That’s going to result in one of two outcomes. We could see a complete ban on altering your exhaust (which is what PEI is proposing). This would potentially also mean a crackdown on exhausts that meet noise requirements, but aren’t stock equipment. Everyone gets punished in this case, not just the noisy motorcyclists.
The other possible outcome is a regional ban on motorcycle traffic. We’ve already seen this in many towns in Quebec, and it would be a bad thing to see it spread to other provinces. If the current trends keep up, that might happen.
But as bad as both of those near-future outcomes are, it’s the long-term that’s worrisome.
We live in a society that’s not very impressed with motorcycles at the best of times, which is why we’re always met with opposition when we propose things like lane-splitting or filtering. There are lots of people who think motorcycles ought to be banned on safety grounds, and in a world where self-driving cars are just around the corner, it’s going to be increasingly hard to find a place for motorcycles to fit into the street transportation scene. If the general public has a bad view of bikers thanks to a constant blasting of loud pipes, it’s going to be even harder to elicit sympathy if the insurance companies threaten to shut us down in a few years.
Loud pipes don’t make you more safe
And now, I can hear the retorts from the loud pipes crowd: “Who cares? My loud pipes keep me safe, so I won’t get rid of them. After all, Loud Pipes Save Lives.”
We’ve discussed this before on CMG, and the answer is still the same: Loud pipes don’t create a safety bubble around your bike. In fact, they could even put you at more risk.
Noise fatigue is dangerous. Prolonged exposure to excessive noise can result in fatigue and hearing loss. Hearing loss will reduce your ability to notice signs of danger (sirens, mechanical problems, or vehicles in close proximity), and will also reduce your concentration (according to the US Dept. of Labor), as well as impair your “performance in spatial attention” due to background noise, according to this US government study from 2006.
Statistics/studies don’t show loud pipes help. When you look at the statistics, they seem to indicate riders with loud pipes might be more likely to crash. The 1981 Hurt Report found bikes with loud pipes were not less likely to crash, but possibly even more likely to be involved in an accident. Page 421 of the report states:
“The modified exhaust system was typical of many accident-involved motorcycles, and also typical of many motorcycles observed during exposure data collection. The modified exhaust is overrepresented in these data, but not with high significance.”
So if studies find loud pipes aren’t safe, what do they recommend for safety? Europe’s comprehensive MAIDS report doesn’t prescribe loud pipes, but on Page 98, we get this recommendation instead: “The ability of the PTW (Powered Two Wheeler) rider to see and be seen is a critical element of PTW safety. As mentioned above, the largest number of PTW accidents is due to a perception failure on the part of the OV (Other Vehicles) driver or the PTW rider. The vehicle operator failed to see a PTW or OV.
It further states“The use of the PTW headlamp has been recognised as an aid to conspicuity.” In other words, Bright Headlights Save Lives, not loud pipes, and being seen is the best way to avoid a crash, not being heard.
The loud pipes crowd is usually hypocritical. If the people who believe in loud pipes are such safety advocates, how come they’re almost always wearing improper riding gear? You rarely see someone riding around with loud pipes and also sporting a full-face helmet, an airbag suit (or even head-to-toe riding gear), proper riding boots and gloves, etc. They’re usually on bikes with inferior brakes, and wearing riding gear that does little to protect them in a crash. I can confidently state that I’ve never seen a rider with loud pipes also sporting a high-viz jacket. It seems the loud pipes advocates are only willing to adhere to safety measures that coincide with an image of a tough guy (or girl).
So where does this leave us?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have aftermarket pipes on your motorcycle; of my three bikes, one has an FMF can and one has a Leo Vince exhaust. But use some consideration for your fellow motorists, bystanders/homeowners, and even think of the possible impact your loud pipes are having on your safety as a rider. Get your exhaust down to a reasonable decibel level, and if you really need more noise to stay safe on the road, buy an aftermarket horn. They’re far more affordable than a new exhaust anyway, and you won’t be hassled by The Man over your noisy bike. And in the long run, we’re all going to be better off.