Flatulent Friday

20 January, 2006 Temperature: 28 degrees F (-2C)

So here we are at the end of another long work-week. You know, I used the days of the week in the blog headlines just so this one would coincide with our Loud Pipes discussion. Clever, huh? Of course, I’m lying…

It’s funny how these things work out, though. I wasn’t really planning on discussing this, ever, since everyone seems to have a strong opinion on the subject. Have you tried to change anyone’s mind about anything lately? People just won’t budge these days!

But I did put that bit in at the end of yesterday’s blog entry, so let’s get this over with.

Now, I’m not going to bore you with statistics here, mostly because I am too tired and lazy right now to do the research. What I will do is throw my own opinion out there, the result of thirty years experience with various motorbikes, and open the comments section for discussion. Let’s keep the tone civil, shall we?

The first question I have to ask is: How loud is LOUD? Noise laws vary from place to place, but I’m pretty sure an open-piped Harley is illegal just about everywhere from a decibel-count standpoint. So are most of the performance exhaust systems sold to sportbike owners, with the caveat right there on the box: “For competition or off-highway use only.”

Even when I roadraced at Brainerd International Raceway, they tested all the amatuer classes for exhaust noise. I forget what the cutoff was, but they were serious about keeping the noise down, as the resort and cabin folks were starting to complain. I could run a set of Termignoni carbon-fiber mufflers on my Ducati 900SS and still race, but that same set of pipes would set off car alarms as I rode down the main street of Brainerd. It was kind of funny, the first time it happened, but then I thought about how that car’s owner is going to feel about motorcycles the next time he pretends not to see one on the road.

Ever notice how Newton’s third law undergoes a subtle change in traffic? “For every action, there is an opposite reaction, but it ain’t always equal.”

For the moto-commuter, another factor comes into play: the neighbors. How well-liked are you going to be in your neighborhood when you kick your vintage straight-piped Norton to life at 5 a.m. on Monday morning, for your Ride To Work? Here’s a clue… this is how noise ordinances are created, and tightened up.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I dislike the EPA standards for any kind of motorbike emissions, be they noise or exhaust gas. They have done more to hobble motorbike performance and increase costs than almost any other single factor. Why do you think the stock exhaust is the first thing to get scrapped when a rider starts to modify his ride to suit his tastes? Even mileage suffers when the exhaust system becomes restrictive and heavy enough to meet EPA standards. There has got to be a sensible compromise out there, but like everything else these days, it has become a political football. Why can’t we set an efficiency standard instead?

But let’s get back to the bumper-sticker issue here. Do loud pipes actually save lives? Personally, I don’t think so. For every motorist shocked out of her catatonic daze by the passing thunder of a pack of Hell’s Orthodontists, there is another one somewhere else who ran into the back of a garbage truck while watching a Starboyz wannabe wheelie past on his race-piped Ninja.

The basic assumption about exhaust noise; that the sound will tell a motorist where you are even if they don’t see you, is faulty. Have you ever heard of echoes? We ride in the city, we ride through the forests, and we ride in the canyons where sound waves bounce all over the place.

Here’s a scenario… I’m on a twisty mountain road, on my loud motorbike, when I run up rapidly on the back of a slow moving camper. My exhaust exits on the right side of my bike, which is where the rock wall is. As I whack the throttle to pass, the tourist swerves left, right into me! –running me off the road and over the cliff. What does he tell the investigating officer? “I heard this guy coming up on my right, so I moved over to give him room!” The very echo of our loud exhausts just may be the cause of our own demise.

So, how do we solve this? I think the solution is elegantly simple. Build an exhaust system that is efficient, yielding the best mileage and performance, and yet is pleasing to the ear. If you can hear what your motor is doing, you feel better about your ride. But you don’t have to force it on everyone else within a mile radius. That’s just anti-social. If you’re looking for attention, get yourself a Nuclear Tangerine riding suit.

23 Responses to “Flatulent Friday”

  1. irondad Says:

    Ok, now I can comment!

    Regardless of what we say about our “rights”, which by the way I do believe in, the reality is that loud pipes will probably be the primary thing that makes the majority ( read: NON-RIDERS ) pass legislation taking away the right to ride and access to places to ride to.

    Scientifically, the statement is wrong that loud pipes save lives. Having previously been an L.E.O. I can tell you there is a reason that emergency vehicle sirens are high pitched and pointing forward. It has been proven that higher pitched sound carries further and is easier to locate by human hearing. Pointing the siren source forward carries the sound in the direction that is most useful, namely, toward those who will be affected by the forward motion of the emergency vehicle.

    Motorcycle pipes make low pitched sounds which get swallowed up and absorbed by objects and not bounced back. Pipes also point backwards which further complicates the issue of another person being able to tell where the sound is coming from and getting out of the way of forward travel.

    Again, all the things done to make us visible ( or heard ) are tools. You can’t point to one thing as the cure-all which can replace skills and strategies. I question I ask myself is “Do folks who have these stickers and run loud pipes really believe what the sticker says or is it something they can point to as justification for their choice?”

    Is common courtesy to others just a myth anymore?

  2. Dick Aal Says:

    I am sure the exhaust issue will bring out strong points from everyone. I changed the exhaust, intake and jetting on my Harley as soon as I bought it. My gas mileage went from 52 mpg to 57 mpg and the power was markedly improved. It also now sounded like a Harley. Both my bikes have “improved” exhaust and I love the sound. But if the EPA or other demand no changes in the future, I will ride a stock or approved machine rather than give up riding. I would miss the sound of the exhaust but would comply to keep on two wheels. And like you, I don’t believe a loud exhaust saves lives in general but can in some cases. Especially if you have 40 bikes with loud exhaust going down the road together.

  3. Dan Jones Says:

    Here’s a point of view from one person but I suspect this is a fairly commonly held perception of many folks who are not riders.

    Noisy pipes are a warning sign that potentially dangerous bikers are in the vicinity. Is this logical? Is it true? Probably not. But many of us grew up in a time when noisy bikes were associated with “outlaws”. Some clubs seemed to go to extremes to foster the “don’t mess with us or else…” image. The media bombarded us with news articles about drug dealing biker gangs and Hollywood produced movies with bike clubs/gangs taking over or terrorizing entire towns.

    The sound track for all of these disturbing images was the loud exhaust. Can it be a wonder that many people are sensitized to this sound? From a logical point of view I know this does not make sense–we’ed be up to our eyeballs in rogue bikers if it were true. And yet, that kneejerk reaction happens every time I hear a loud exhaust. I look around to make sure that a potential problem is not developing.

    The world has changed. We now have riders from every level of society from kids on small bikes to the governor of California. I have friends who attend the Strugis rally who wouldn’t hurt a fly–some are even sweet senior ladies. Others are biker wannabes who have their big bikes trailered to Sturgis (is this the biker equivalent of the big SUV syndrome?) and probably have a few hundred miles on the odo. So it just doesn’t seem right that I should have this automatic response. Unfortunately, the reaction that was so thoroughly pumped into us doesn’t just go away and I don’t see much action from the media to help change it.

    A whole other aspect is that noisey pipes are just that–noisey. In a world of ever increasing noise (freeways, airliners, helicopters, boom cars) any additional loud noise doesn’t improve my day.

    So, in case you haven’t guessed by now, my vote goes to the quieter exhaust. There’s logic and there’s emotion and, so far, logic doesn’t seem to have won this round with me.

    Just my two cents worth…

  4. mnscooter Says:

    Well, here again I have to make my pitch for an efficient exhaust, moderately muffled to be easy on the ears. This can be done, but there is little market for it at present. The cruiser types seem to want to broadcast that Milwaukee melody all over the atmosphere, and the EPA has us riding around with whisper-quiet trashcans on our exhaust pipes.

    A sensible compromise is possible, but it just doesn’t play in this age of extremes.

    (drops a couple more pennies in the jar…)

    Ride well,

  5. Bro Shagg Says:

    D. Aal- I also ride a purple Harley, a 2000 1200 Sport- that’s the one with HD’s “high-perf” engine. (Gary- STOP LAUGHING!) I did the same thing you did on intake and exhaust and saw the same results in MPG and power, especially the latter. Unlike many Harley riders, I didn’t go for the straight pipes, I went with something that allowed for some back pressure to keep the low-end torque that I like. These are obviously louder than stock, but not obnoxious. I believe that I have found Gary’s “elegantly simple solution.”

    I used to start work at 3 am and didin’t want to p-off my neighbors (or my wife!) by starting the bike up and letting it idle to warm while putting on the gear. These pipes are a nice balance to me- you can talk over them at idle; though not overly loud, they “sound Harley” under normal acceleration and riding, but they absolutely scream at WOT. I use this last part to quiet any HD riders who say my bike isn’t loud enough. Problem is they have to catch up to me to say, “OK, they are loud.” Don’t read into that last line that I am a Ninja-boy riding iron- I bought a Harley because I like to relax and cruise on 2 wheels. If I wanted a sportbike, I would’ve bought one. They’re fun to ride and I like to through my leg over one once in a while, but it’s not my thing in the long run.

    I know that numbers won’t prove the “Loud pipes save lives” line, but they do attract attention. I know that whenever I hear a bike, whether it’s the low rumble of a v-twin or the high winding note of the “crocket”, I look around to see where it’s coming from. I’m sure most people do- it’s only natural to check out something that stands out from the ordinary hum.

    On the point of where the sound is coming from, the motorhome driver in the earlier scenario would be at fault for not seeing where the noise was coming from before making his move, or at least making sure his left side was clear before moving that way. The biker would be right, unfortunately he would likely be “dead-right”, which leads us back to the main point of good riding, and life for that matter, and that’s you have to look out for number one.

    Irondad- I have a question: I have always thought that police and ambulance sirens were too quiet. Why don’t they run fire-engine type sirens? You can hear those puppies blocks away, while many people often don’t hear police cars until they are only a few hundred feet away? Leaving out loud stereos, most cars nowadays come with air conditioning and the baby boomers are getting older and losing hearing. I spend a lot of time on the street, and I can’t tell you how many (thankfully) near-misses I hve seen between older cagers with their windows rolled up and police cars/ambulances at intersections.

  6. Steve Williams Says:

    Well…. if I had my way you could change the exhaust pipes all you want—as long as they are no louder than what they were when manufactured. I’ve heard the “safety” arguments and the “performance” arguments I I think it is all a smokescreen for the real reason people do this which I will get to in a moment. And I am talking about street riders and not racers.

    I have heard guys talk about the performance of their stock V-Rods, Ninjas, etc. Come on. The speed limit is 65 in Pennsylvania. Performance…. give me a break. If a Honda Civic can successfully negotiate the highway system here then a Ninja should do OK in its stock form within the system too….

    A friend identified the real reason people (read that men primarily) put loud exhaust pipes on bikes. And I have pushed this theory on more than a handful of men using them and I finally got them to agree that there was something here. Let’s call this the “Look at me, look at me, look at me” theory. We were sitting on a quiet Sunday morning at a local outdoor coffee shop when this Harley with straight pipes comes by and stops at the traffic light and proceeds to rev this nightmare over and over. You couldn’t talk, you couldn’t here while this heavy, balding, leather clad rider continued to rev the bike and with head up look around in all directions. My friend leaps to his feet and screams at the top of his lungs at the rider “look at me! Look at me!! Look at me!!!” over and over. Eventually the light turns green and the guy roars off.

    I ask my friend what the hell that was all about. He described in detail the function of those pipes is part of the ego enhancing and ritualistic mating function of challenged males mostly though he did allow for females but I won’t go into his analysis of them at this time.

    The theory goes way beyond being cool and dismissed the technical rationalizations as mere covers for more fundamental character fears and weaknesses. Loud bikes, big cars, big boats, large engines.

    After considering more closely I was sold.

    On to a more personal concern. There are a few neighbors here who ride to work. They leave at 5AM on their loud bikes. One in particular is a large neanderthal whose bike lugs terribly with him on board making the exhaust sound so loud and obnoxious that the windows vibrate in the house when he goes by. I can lay in bed and hear him go by, down the street to the traffic light about a half mile away, and then accelerating up the road until he goes over the hill almost a mile as the crow filies. If he was playing a stereo I could sic the cops on him.

    I guess I like silence. A reasonable level, especially at night. I don’t like guys running chain saws at 11PM and we should burn in effigy the guy who invented leaf blowers. Part of the reason I bought a scooter is they are quiet. My disgust for loud bikes has caused one of my Harley driving friends to cut off his engine at the top of the hill and cost to our house. I never hear him coming anymore. It’s like he is coming in a car.

    Is that too much to ask? To have all the loud bikes coast by my house? And to have all my neighbors cast off their leaf blowers and buy a rake?

    Whisper-quiet trashcans is my vote. The world is getting noiser and nosier. We made the airline industry tone down their jets. Time to work on the bikes….

    (more pennies in the jar)


  7. Steve Williams Says:

    Point of clarification—-

    When I said you can change exhaust pipes I meant to nothing louder than when the bike rolled out of the showroom. If you buy a Harley the factory exhaust sound level is where you stay.


  8. Mad Says:

    If I buy a freer breathing can for a bike and match it with a good airfilter and a power-commander I will be leaving the exhaust baffles in. I’d like my bike to produce the best spead of torque and power possible but I’m not prepared to be hated as an antisocial biker in my street for the privilige. I know how much it would anger me to be woken by needlessly loud pipes so I shan’t be doing it to others. As for the safety aspect? I’ve never been convinced by that argument, I just can’t see it.

  9. Ron Johnston Says:

    Just to throw the scooter exhaust into the equation, I spent a long time looking for just the right pipe for my Yamaha BWs. It is worth noting that many people had commented that the stock exhaust was too quiet - they don’t even hear me pull up when they are sitting on their front porch.

    I settled on a slick all aluminum unit from Polini called “No-Smoking” (I’ve no idea why). Since I live and work in the BC rockies, I liked the torque strong qualities of the pipe to help maintain cruising speed up the steep grades I encounter. The sound is deeper but not much louder than stock at idle, though it becomes a fair bit louder as the throttle opens.

    So I got big torque gains, a couple of Kph more top speed, and an increase from about 80 to 85 mpg average. As a bonus, the two halves of the forged aluminum case are bolted together to allow cleaning and swapping (or removal) of the interior baffles for tuning it’s “personality”. This compared to the ubiquitous Technigas style tuned pipe that everyone seems to thow on their scoot to make it sound like a sportbike.

    The downside - I called to order the same for my wife’s bike, and the rep said it was disontinued. Seems there was little interest in an efficient “strong silent type” exhaust.

    They haven’t commented, but I am sure my neighbors appreciate it when I depart at 4am.

  10. irondad Says:

    Bro Shagg,

    Reply to your question on police car / ambulance vs. fire truck sirens.

    Do not know about all jurisdictions so this is only based on the one I worked for. Police cars and ambulances would often respond together to situations that could be called “tense”. Typical scenario would be a person with a firearm, threat of injuries, or actual wounded persons. It was thought that the sound of sirens could easily escalate the situation. Sirens that were heard from a long distance would hence more easily have this effect. Dispatch would determine how the response scenario should be scripted. In extreme cases we were advised to run what was called “Code 2″ which is lights but no siren. In “Code 3″ or “running hot” scenarios the use of sirens was just to get through traffic and the use of sounding devices were discontinued at a preset distance from the scene. Fire trucks usually responded to different scenes and were just dispatched “hellbent for leather”.

    Anymore it seems that ambulances are catching up to fire trucks. Police officers still rely more on driving skill and the fact that they are piloting a more manuverable vehicle than do the drivers of big rigs like ambulances. We had it pounded into our heads that “existence of policy does not negate liability”. In other words, even if we were authorized to run hot we were still responsible if we were at fault in accidents. Unfortunately, these do happen once in a while. As far as any differences in magnitude of sound today I suspect it is more a matter of the sounding device capabilities than anything now.

    Like I say, this is not the “definitive answer” only input from my experience.

  11. MJC Says:

    Do loud pipes save lives? I never would have thought so until I punched the pipes on my 01 Heritage. I have ridden pretty much everything out there in the last 30+ years…the Magna? well, I was so fast I could mostly avoid anything…then I got older and my reflexes slowed (yep, you can feel it happening…get back in a boxing ring with someone 21…You’ll be shown that in very short order)…and all my bikes had stock exhaust until 2001…I was completely and utterly amazed at how people quit drifting into my lane, how a small twist of the throttle could back them off, move them over and basically just let them know I was there…as I said, I was amazed.

    My stable has grown (again). I have now an 04 Sportster and an 05 Heritage (The wife stole the 01 Heritage from me last year).. All have punched exhausts, we have never been stopped for noise violations…ever…Why? Because we are not out to intentionally annoy people and do not try and “make a statement” or pester others…Basically, you get noise tickets on bikes because you are being rude, immature and foolish…and my friends in Blue agree with me, No a-hole/no ticket…

    One last point…everyone has their own opinion…loud pipes, chrome, HD/Metric…all is just fine by me… the problem I see is getting in peoples faces about their choice…You like your helmet? Fine..don’t push the damn things on me…You don’t like loud(er) pipes? don’t listen…The world would be a much better place if people would take care of their own business and tolerate other’s foibles…LOL…that, of course, will never happen…cause we seem to have to make “our world” into “my world”…

    Cheers all…


  12. Mad Says:

    Airhorns. We all need huge great airhorns.

  13. Eric Says:

    Coming from a person who has an upgraded (louder) exhaust on my old GPz550 I can say that I don’t ever want anyone telling me I CAN’T have louder pipes. I try not to be a brownhole when I’m riding through neighborhoods or past hospitals. I take it easy when I believe that the wail of a tuned Kerker exhaust will annoy/offend a large amount of people for no apparent good (other than to satisfy my craving for adrenaline). But when I’m on a open stretch of road or away from the busier parts of society in general, I let the bike breath a bit. Sounds great to me, but I realize not everyone agrees. So I don’t agree with the statement… “You don’t like louder(er) pipes? don’t listen…” How exactly does someone “not listen”? I’ve never been much good at that little trick myself, except when I was being asked to do a chore by my parents when I was a punk teenager. There simply is no way you can “not listen” to a punched out harley exhaust or sportbike racing exhaust wailing or bellowing out it’s ear-splitting racket. The sound invades your mind, and tends to piss me off when someone does this in the middle of town or just to obiously say “look at me! Look AT MEEEEEE!!!!!” That’s my two cents anyway. Unless I’m deaf, I can’t not listen.

  14. Bro Shagg Says:

    Irondad- re: sirens- thanks, that actually makes sense when I think about it.

    Mad- Airhorns! Hee hee, believe it or not you CAN get “bike-sized” airhorn setups over hear! (miss-spelling intended!)

  15. Jim C. Says:

    Loud Polkas Save Lives
    (Oops… wrong post)

    Just kidding. You hit the nail on the head when it comes to loud pipes. I cheerfully disagree with what my good friend MJC posted above, and doubt that a noisemaking device pointed out the back of a vehicle does much good when frontal recognition is vital to motorcycle safety.


  16. Mad Says:

    Yeah I’ve seen one for bikes here too Irondad, I think I’ll get one when I have some spare cash…

  17. Tim Says:

    Nobody has mentioned the tinnitis problem. Riding for prolonged periods on an extremely loud bike will eventually damage your hearing. It is a slow, unnoticeable process as the tiny hairs in your inner ear are slowly destroyed over time. Same thing as kids playing their ipods very loud. It WILL eventually catch up to you.

    I remember when I took the motorcycle safety course the instructors advised everyone to wear earplugs when riding. Everyone laughed, except those of us with tinnitis already, including the 2 instructors who had tinnitis from a lifetime of riding motorcyles. One reason why I ride a stock BWs-Zuma, it is very easy on my rock concert damaged ears.

    I agree completely with the post above that it is all “Look at me, look at me, look at me”. Same reason why people buy Hummers or Porsches when a Ford Taurus will get you to the same place in the same amount of time.

  18. irondad Says:

    Interesting comment from Jim C about frontal safety. A fun tidbit from the motorcycle safety frontier: when a motorcycle collides with another vehicle guess where the other vehicle came from in relation to the rider?

    In nearly 75% of the cases the other vehicle came from between 10 and 2 o’clock to rider. It’s in front of us we need to be wary of. Best way is to use aggressive scanning and good mental skills.

    By the way, we’re seeing more riders rear-ended. One of the causes is that riders use engine braking to slow down and it catches the drivers of cars by surprise when the distance suddenly closes up. A good hint is to think about “talking” to other drivers because they aren’t thinking like a rider.

  19. Mad Says:

    Woops, I meant Bro Shagg!

  20. Mad Says:

    Tim I have a big bag of ear plugs and any ride I go on that is longer that 30 minutes I’ll probably have them in. I was taught this by the more experienced riders I hang out with. Very valuable advice. The wind noise is apparently a huge factor in causing hearing damage in bikers.

  21. Dick Aal Says:

    The comment “don’t listen” is somewhat a legitimate statement. My ear is tuned to the sound of a v-twin exhaust. This is because I enjoy the sound. I can sometimes hear it way off in the distance and my hearing is “tuned” to listening to it. Most other people at that point would “tune it out” and not even hear it because it receeds into the background noise. Other people are annoyed by loud exhaust and “tune” it in also but in a negative way. If the exhaust is not blatantly used to disturb the surrounding space, most people would mentally ignore it. I think that is what is meant by the “don’t listen” comment.

  22. Convict Says:

    I’m neither for or against loud pipes. My R1 came with non-stock, non-road use pipes but I never had a problem with them despite passing many policemen under hard acceleration; that is until I had to get an MOT. I purchased a stock exhaust and immediately noticed the power loss, not the noise difference. I’ve kept the stock exhaust because I can’t be bothered to keep changing them over as the non-stock lets in the rain and explodes when the packing gets wet … seriously it happened while going down the motorway and then it was loud.

    Anyhoo, my problem is that the police over here are very stringent when it comes to enforcing the law on bikes in general and for loud exhaust in particular. My problem with this is that a biker can be pulled over at the side of the road getting a ticket and ticking off while a youngster in a tricked out car with a straight through exhaust with a 5 inch end can and the music pumping out at 500 decibels doesn’t get so much as a glance.

    To top it off the UK government wants to bring in legislation that will require every motorcycle exhaust to emit no more than 75 decibels, which is the same as a hairdryer.

  23. charlesl417 Says:

    I’m not a fan of loud pipes. I like the peace of cruising on a bike. I have an 06 Fat boy and purchased the bike because of the way it rode. I’ve had 12 bikes and this is my first Harley. To get to my point, the Harley is 1450 cc’s and ran like it had 900! I changed the pipes and air breather and it no longer runs flat. I used the Harley torque slip ons and in my opinion it is now to loud.

    After a broken femer motocross is out and it is time to slow down so the Harley is perfect. Off the show room floor the bike would achive the speed limit, but then again so would my truck with one of the plug wires removed. Where is the happy medium?

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