by Mark Gibbs

October 31, 2012

I have what should be a simple question and an easy issue to address: Why do we allow motorbikes to be so ridiculously loud?

I ask because the other day I was walking down Main Street in Ventura, CA, and some idiots on what looked like Harleys tooled past. During their passing it was impossible to speak, a mother pushing a stroller stopped and covered her child’s ears, and after they passed by my ears were ringing.

In England, where I come from, motorcycle noise laws have always been fairly strict. My father told me that when he was about 20, he owned a 1948 Vincent Black Shadow. He told me that in those days the British police were hot on motorbike noise so if a cop suspected that your exhaust was modified, he would stick his nightstick (police in the UK didn’t, and most still don’t, carry guns) up the exhaust pipe to see if you’d removed the baffles. If you had, he’d write you a ticket.

Anyway, we know that motorcycles don’t have to be that loud and it’s not a huge technical challenge. A lot of Japanese bikes’ exhaust noise levels are acceptable but it appears that if you ride a “hog” you seem to think you have some kind of right to deafen everyone around you.

It makes no sense. Here we are as a culture trying to save the planet. We have legislation in place to increase car mileage and reduce pollution but enforcement of noise ordinances? It seems we just don’t do much about it. This is why activist organizations such as NoiseOff and Noise Free America are campaigning for more laws and more enforcement .

There was a federal regulation set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1980 which mandated a maximum 83 decibel limit for bikes manufactured from 1983 onwards but, of course, each state has it’s own take. According to the AAA a number of states (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia) have no limits while most of the rest have vague limits defined by original equipment specifications. Only a handful of the remainder, which includes California, have specific noise level limits defined.

But even with these laws in place, unless local police departments enforce them, they are useless and those of us on the sidewalks will just carry on covering our children’s ears and listening to the ringing in our heads as the next parade of Neanderthals on their “hogs” pass by.

If you are one of these obnoxious “hog” riders, please explain why your bike has to be so damn loud … we, those of us with hearing loss, would really like to know.