Opinion: Loud pipe debate rages on

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The most widely read and hotly contested articles on CMG continue to be those about helmet laws and loud pipes. Battles rage on in the comments section where readers attack each other’s opinions, grammar, and occasionally even their poor mothers.

A quick scan through our archives shows provinces, cities and townships across the country are regularly launching their own anti-noise campaigns targeted at fighting noisy bikes. Toronto, where I was born and reside, is no different.

Last spring, amendments were made to City of Toronto Municipal Code Bylaw 878-2019 Chapter 591 related to noise. Enacted and passed on June 19, 2019, the revisions came into effect on October 1, 2019. Targeting residential and industrial construction, animals, home gatherings and places of worship, motor vehicles and more specifically, motorcycles were also included in the changes.

Repairing, rebuilding, modifying or testing of a vehicle between the hours of 9 pm and 7am could land you in hot water, as could having a motorcycle that emits any sound whatsoever that exceeds 92 dB. Those who take issue with such activities have been asked to dial 311 to file their grievances. And they have.

The other night I was touring the city with a friend aboard the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2. Pulling into Yorkville, we were met with stop-and-go gridlock. A bohemian hot spot in the 1960s where musical acts like Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Steppenwolf, and The Band (under the tutelage of Ronnie Hawkins) cut their teeth, it has become home to the rich and privileged, making it a great location for exotic car spotting. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had this idea.

Piloting a 200 hp supercharged litre bike, I figured any interaction I had with Toronto’s finest would be related to speed, but evidently this was not the case. Crawling along in the summer heat, a police officer pointed at me and waved me down a side street. Naively assuming he was directing me to a faster route, he asked me to pull over.

Not being my first rodeo, so to speak, I immediately shut the bike’s engine off before removing my helmet and earplugs. The officer alerted me that there had been numerous complaints about loud pipes in the area and that they would be conducting a field sound level test. “Don’t people have more to worry about right now?” I asked, to which the officer laughed and responded, “Trust me, there are many other things we’d rather be doing than this right now too.” Fair point, as I’m sure he didn’t enlist in Police Foundations with a dream of enforcing the noise complaints of the city’s wealthy and elite.

Handing him the insurance and registration for the motorcycle, which was thankfully present and current, I assured him that as a stock motorcycle it should be within the designated parameters. A team of no less than three bylaw officers then approached, apologizing for the trouble.

One held a measuring tape to 50 cm from the tip of the exhaust pipe, before another held out a sound meter. At idle, the Z H2 registered 78.5 dB, well below the limit of 92. Had it broken that barrier, I would have been granted the gift of a $500 infraction. Thankfully, my experience was all very civilized and positive. I was polite to them, they responded in kind, and I left without a ticket. Others may not be so lucky.

Friendly Toronto bylaw officers do a sound reading of the 2020 Kawasaki Z H2 while Dustin awaits his fate.

I expressed my own thoughts on the Loud Pipes Save Lives debate after I was hit by an Uber driver while riding my very red and very loud Yamaha R6. Spoiler alert: I think it’s BS. Zac chimed in with his thoughts several years ago and his position
Hasn’t changed either.

In my experience, the problem is often the rider rather than the ride. I enjoy the sound of a nice engine as much as anyone and have installed aftermarket pipes on most of my cars and motorcycles, but throttle happy jerks that rev their engines ad nauseum to show off ruin it for everyone. No, I’m not talking about throttle blips when downshifting, I’m talking about those guys who sit in traffic and want everyone to notice them. Well mission accomplished, people noticed. Residents, government officials at various levels, police and bylaw officers. And they aren’t impressed. You’re the reason we can’t have nice things.

There are already enough negative opinions surrounding our hobby and this kind of behavior just creates more adversaries. Keep it up and municipalities in your area could ban motorcycles altogether. It’s already been happening in some regions. If you want to improve your chances of arriving home safety without incident, wear more visible gear, install an aftermarket horn or invest in rider training.

11 COMMENTS

  1. A few years back I had an exhaust that rotted away and the bike was noisy as hell.

    Before I could get it repaired, I was rear-ended by a driver. (The only time I’ve been hit while on a motorcycle.)

    If a driver can’t hear a motorcycle with no muffler directly in front of them, they’re never going to hear your noisy pipe.

  2. Been riding for 40+ years and have never had any issues related to my quieter stock pipes. Agree whole-heartedly with robert konarski. Loud pipes are stupid.

  3. Long ago and far away, as they say in Hollywood, when I was young we swapped pipes on everything. It’s traditional. We put an open pipe on buddy’s new fuel-injected Kawi 1000 forty years ago, and you could literally hear it for miles heheh…
    Today that guy is an electric car save-the-planet person, kinda comical actually.
    Importantly though, I think we can all agree that one needs a pipe that will quiet down at low revs and allow you to sneak through a town, and startup or shutdown in the wee hours. You just want it to sing at high revs.
    In 1982 Robbie Micklejohn put an Andrews UK pipe on my CB900F (and Raoul himself setup my carburetors). Ran great, but it was just loud all the time – it never got quiet, even when you tried.
    And I went from the front of the pack, to dead last! It was just too unpleasant.
    Important lesson learned: you’ll go faster on a fast quiet bike. I mean, there’s nothing worse than a slow noisy one…

  4. I have been riding from 16-58. I recently moved to a Condo near downtown Calgary but on a long S turn. Some guys buy motorcycles to go racing around at night, some guys buy motorcycles to ride with their other “Bad Dude” buddies during the day. So I get noise day and night, 90% of the bad noise stuff is motorbikes. If I had a choice I would ban motorcycles from the city. You store them outside the city like your RV and you ride somewhere else. The 5% that ruin it for the other 95%. We deserve to be banned, that is the truth, the 5% do it specifically to upset people and it works. Ban them from cities. Sad, but true. C

  5. 92 dB at 50 cm at idle seems pretty generous to me. 92 dB is loud! If your bike is louder than that at idle, I can only imagine how loud it will be when the throttle is cracked.

    Aren’t bikes enough fun without having to make a racket to (let’s be honest) draw attention to yourself?

    But our arguments will fall on deaf ears. No pun intended, lol. Some people just gotta do what they feel they gotta do. Maybe they’ll listen to the cops.

    I hope the cops are hassling the idiots with loud cars and trucks, too.

  6. Loud pipes are not beneficial towards your neighbours or anyone living close to a road you may be riding down. Think of a complete exhaust as the COVID-19 mask for your bike, it’s very beneficial for other’s and yourself. In this case, people won’t hate you and you won’t a get a ticket for a noise violation.

    TL;DR? Don’t be a selfish manchild, think of other people.

  7. Timely that this conversation has come up again today. After picking up a 2020 Ninja 1000SX yesterday for an upcoming CMG review, I was nearly afforded the opportunity to very closely inspect the ratty blue paint of a poorly-driven Accord.

    Riding at a reasonable speed, maintaining proper lane positioning, wearing all my protective gear and using a machine in tip-top condition, meant nothing to the young cager in the Honda who quickly changed out of the exiting lane to the one I was in, without a shoulder check, or even looking at the mirror, it seems. Lucky for me, the lane to my left was open as I was squeezed into it at highway speed in order to maintain my distance from the Accord.

    Proclaiming my distaste for the driver’s lack of road manners, I honked loudly, catching his attention (he responded with a half-assed wave of apology as he continued to bully his way into the lane I once occupied). Afterward, I had to wonder if the Kawi had been fitted with a louder pipe, would he have been aware of my presence, earlier on? Yes, I’m aware of the Doppler Effect on sound, but the horn was heard, so surely, right beside his left ear, he’d have also heard a louder bike, no?

    I detest the near constant stream of stupidly-loud, big V-Twin cruisers that thunder past my home all weekend long (and the attention-craving stop-light revvers) as much as anyone else, but I still believe that a louder bike *can* help draw the attention of otherwise oblivious drivers.

  8. The loud pipe crowd reving their bikes at every stop are pretty much the same as teenage girls taking constant duck face selfies on social media for attention……LOOK AT ME …. LOOK At ME ! ….. Best engine \ pipe combo I ever heard was Reuben McMurter’s high compression Yamaha superbike fresh from a Leguna Seca appearance on song at the local race track. That sound sent chills up my spine as he tried to keep the front wheel down well still leaning 15 degrees on corner exit !

  9. Gotta say it, I think you indeed are part of the problem. Aftermarket exhausts are annoying even at idle if you are close to them, or often even if you are three houses down. Noise travels.
    No problem, though–pretty soon motorcycles will be banned from a lot of places.

    • “Gotta say it, I think you indeed are part of the problem. Aftermarket exhausts are annoying even at idle if you are close to them, or often even if you are three houses down.”

      I’m going to offer a qualified, “Not necessarily.” Not all aftermarket exhausts are created equal. If you get a slip-on can and use the often optional dB killer inserts to soften the blow on a street-legal certified exhaust, the result is generally going to be an enjoyable, tuned sound that isn’t harsh on the surrounding environment. That is especially true when the vehicle is ridden at RPMs that are appropriate for the use case. And, case in point, gentle acceleration is always preferred when surrounded by pedestrians and when in residential areas.

      It is inappropriate to be riding at 11.5k RPM anywhere near neighbourhoods whether the can involved is street-certified or not. If a person is strongly in the look-at-me camp, they’ll not only be running around in the upper rev range, but they’ll be doing so with dB killer inserts removed, street-legal cans illegally modified or, gods help me, track-only exhausts that shouldn’t be on the roads at all.

      Those of us in the neck-beard years will fondly remember the days back when you could buy an ELR from the floor with a factory-supplied Kerker 4-into-1 that simply sounded wonderful and wasn’t at all obnoxious. Fast forward a scant few years and the likes of Bassani Superbike pipes — track-only! — were finding their way onto the street courtesy of dealers who happily took the credit cards and looked the other way.

      The whole industry brought this grief upon us. Precious few AREN’T to blame here. The problem has been around for decades upon decades.

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