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.