by Robert J. Smith
Arkansas Democrat Gazette (NWAnews.com)
October 1, 2007
FAYETTEVILLE — Oklahoma police stopped Paul Schmidt six times in a year because his Honda 750 Spirit made too much noise.
That got old real fast.
So Schmidt will head to Fayetteville this week for the eighth annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ motorcycle rally with noise-reducing baffles.
The event runs Wednesday through Saturday at several venues.
“I decided it was easier to make it quiet than to go to court and fight tickets all the time,” said Schmidt, building manager at Believers Church in Broken Arrow, Okla. “It takes some of the fun out of it. That’s part of the custom motorcycle — the sound and the noise.”
Schmidt’s toned-down pipes will fit in perfectly at Bikes, Blues & BBQ, where city leaders and event organizers want a quieter event.
The city has shifted major festival events away from Dickson Street, the hub of the rally that organizers say is attended by more than 300, 000 people. And they have asked riders to keep the noise down when they are in residential areas.
“I think it’s completely impossible to make Dickson Street neighborhoods quieter, but you can try,” said Greg Mack, the rally’s advertising and promotions director.
Fayetteville began trying to lower the volume on its motorcycle rally in 2005, when it put up temporary signs to welcome visitors. The signs, which go up again today, ask people to “please ride quietly.”
The event’s Web site — www. bikesbluesandbbq. org — posts a letter from Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor that tells visitors how police will “closely monitor the noise level of all motorcycles” and how city law limits noise to 78 decibels.
The City Council also revamped a noise ordinance to give police officers more discretion about enforcing the law. The amendment wasn’t meant to target Bikes, Blues & BBQ, said Mayor Dan Coody, and won’t take effect until Oct. 18, more than a week after the festival ends.
“In the motorcycle community, the groups are discouraging straight, loud pipes,” said Coody. “If they rode quietly, there wouldn’t be noise-ordinance changes all over the country.
“ The police here can use discretion. If someone is obnoxious, the police are going to talk to them. If they are reasonable, they are going to be left alone.”
Fayetteville police didn’t issue a single ticket last year during Bikes, Blues & BBQ for violating the current noise ordinance. There were four noise citations issued at other times of the year, Fayetteville District Court records show.
City Attorney Kit Williams said it’s a difficult law to enforce, because it requires police officers to stand a certain distance from the noise and measure decibels.
The amended law doesn’t require a decibel reading.
Last year during Bikes, Blues & BBQ, police gave verbal warnings to rowdy and noisy people and cited 13 people for disorderly conduct, said police spokesman Cpl. Craig Stout.
Jody Collins, who sells motorcycles for Route 66 Harley-Davidson in Tulsa, said police didn’t seem interested in writing citations during last year’s Fayetteville rally. He’s certain motorcycle riders who revved their engines last year were well over the law’s decibel limit.
“On Dickson Street, it was almost a loud pipe contest last year,” said Collins, who will ride a new Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic this year.
“The motorcycle enthusiasts have brought the noise concerns upon themselves,” he said. “It’s a loud pipe contest on every corner, and the street is lined on both sides with people, and that’s what they are expecting.
“ If it’s bothering people, it needs to be addressed.”
Police said they’ve been able in previous years to quell revving motorcycles by ordering the drivers to stop.
“The chief’s stance on this is we’re not going to change our enforcement strategy from the past,” Stout said. “We’re gotten several good comments from people who said we were firm but fair. We’re not going to go in there and start cracking the whip.”
A few hundred motorcycle riders gathered Thursday nights through the summer on Dickson to listen to music, eat dinner and talk with friends. When the sun disappeared behind the nearby University of Arkansas campus last Thursday, more than 300 motorcycles were parked on or near the street. A few riders revved their engines to announce they had arrived. The sounds of motorcycles reverberated off brick buildings. Mike Watkins of Rogers said he won’t miss the rally next week. “You’ve got to use common sense about the noise and not get excessive, but the noise is part of ‘Bikes and Blues, ’” Watkins said. “If I lived down here, for two or three days a year, it wouldn’t bother me.” The loudest motorcycles are modified after they are manufactured. Federal noise laws requires motorcycles to meet certain noise levels when they leave factories: Fewer than 80 decibels from 50 feet away. “There’s no doubt at Harley that we love the sound, but we know you can enjoy it without making an excessive amount of noise,” said Harley-Davidson spokesman Rebecca Bortner. “We’ve taken steps to communicate that to our riders.” Cities across the U. S. are cracking down on loud motorcycles.
New York City passed a law that sets a $ 440 fine for a muffler or exhaust system that’s too loud. Last month, police in Lancaster, Pa., began ticketing any motor vehicle driver who draws attention to himself by revving an engine or stepping down hard on the gas pedal to peel out. A new law in Denver establishes a $ 500 fine for anyone with a motorcycle that’s less than 25 years old and doesn’t have a muffler from the factory.
Ted Rueter, the director of Noise Free America, a national organization that opposes loud noise from such things as motorcycles, leaf blowers and car alarms, said the Denver law is one of the best examples of how to pipe down pipes.
“There’s no reason for motorcycles to be noisy,” Rueter said. “They aren’t naturally noisy. They are made quiet and then modified.”
Tulsa faces its own set of issues, juggling the requests for quiet from people living in the Brookside area with the desires of motorcycle riders. A crackdown on loud motorcycles began in 2005.
Vince Corley, the owner of Crow Creek Tavern in Brookside, said he used to have 150 motorcycle riders crowd into his restaurant and bar on a Saturday night. Now, he’s lucky to have 50.
“They shouldn’t let the officers have discretion about who gets a ticket,” Corley said. “They should have to have a decibel meter or something.”
Tulsa Police spokesman Jason Willingham said officers are pleased they don’t have to measure decibels. Another city ordinance bans modified motorcycle exhaust systems.
“If they were just loud, we didn’t do anything,” Willingham said. “But if they were at the stoplight and revved the engine, we ticketed them. It’s the 1 percent of riders who cause all the problems for us.”
SATISFYING BOTH SIDES
Researchers at UA Fayetteville estimated the economic impact of the Bikes, Blues & BBQ event in 2005 at $ 34. 7 million to $ 52. 1 million. The assumed attendance was between 200, 000 people and 300, 000 people. “If they want that money, they may have to put up with the noise,” said Al Shamplin, a Decatur resident who visits Dickson Street on Thursday nights. Daytona, Fla., has struggled to satisfy neighbors and motorcycle riders for decades, said Janet Kersey, a vice president and chief operating officer for the Daytona Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The event she founded — Biketoberfest — started 15 years ago. Bike Week, held in March, has been around for 70 years. Each is among the biggest motorcycle events in the country. “Most people like having the bikers in their communities and the economic benefit of it all, but you start getting more and more in your community than there are hotels available for them,” Kersey said. “You have to recognize that people have to go to work, kids have to go to school, and kids still take tests in those schools and they need to do well. People want to sleep. When it gets too big, it starts to intrude into the daily lives.”
That’s why Donald and Jane Steinkraus are leaving their home on Vandeventer Avenue, a mile from Dickson, during Bikes, Blues and BBQ. They’ll stay in West Fork, 10 miles to the south.
The Steinkrauses’ neighbors plan to visit Mountain View in north-central Arkansas.
“I don’t want to come across as a grinch,” Jane Steinkraus said. “I know people are having fun, but it’s just really hard on people who live near there.”
She doubts the efforts of police to quiet the motorcycles or the late-night music associated with the rally will do much good.
“It’s like trying to plug a flood with a finger,” Steinkraus said. “It can’t be done.” Information from this article was contributed by The Associated Press.