by Lynn Olanoff

The Express-Times

July 31, 2014

A national anti-noise organization is criticizing a motorcycle rally taking place in the Lehigh Valley this week.

Noise Free America says members of the Pennsylvania Harley Owners Group are “acoustically lawless” because many modify or remove their mufflers to make their bikes louder. The motorcycle group is holding a three-day rally starting today based out of the Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel & Conference Center in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

“We want to bring attention to the fact that loud motorcycles are illegal,” said Ted Rueter, director of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based Noise Free America. “Every motorcycle that rolls off the factory floor is compliant. Every time you hear a loud motorcycle it’s because of deliberate action by the owner.”

Noise Free America, which has a Pennsylvania chapter in Erie plus a North Jersey chapter among three in New Jersey, gave the motorcycle rally its monthly “Noisy Dozen” award for promoting loud noise. The rally’s slogan is “See the Steel, Hear the Thunder.”

Noise Free America also initially criticized Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez for appearing to endorse the rally. The event’s website included a quote from Donchez touting Bethlehem’s many attractions.

Donchez quickly distanced himself from the event. The quote the organization uses from him was taken from the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Bethlehem tourism website, Donchez said.

“It’s a public quote on a public Web page,” he said. “And it’s not in the city, it’s in Hanover.”

Rueter said he doesn’t take back his criticism of Donchez because it doesn’t appear the city does much to combat illegal motorcycles.

Councilman: Just follow the law

Noise violations from motorcycles recently became a cause for Bethlehem Councilman Bryan Callahan. He’s requested that the city police department look into combating the many loud motorcycles on Main Street, which he said he gets frequent complaints about.

Callahan said he didn’t have a problem with the Pennsylvania Harley Owners Group holding a local rally as long as their motorcycles don’t violate noise ordinances.

“I welcome all visitors to Bethlehem, but I think if there’s a motorcycle without proper noise reduction or if they’re revving their engines at a stop sign, it isn’t necessary,” Callahan said. “It’s that type of noise that’s a nuisance.”

Pennsylvania Harley Owners Group rally coordinator Bill Snyder said about 400 motorcyclists are expected to attend this week’s event. He said possibly half of them have modified mufflers but the group is far from rowdy.

The group’s average age is probably 60, he said.

“We’re not talking kids, we’re not talking outlaws — we’re talking about average people who like to ride,” Snyder said. “They’re not out-of-control rallies.”

Being heard to be seen

There also are some legitimate reasons for modifying motorcycles’ mufflers, Snyder said. Louder motorcycles are more likely to be noticed by other vehicles, he said.

“I can give you many examples on my bike where people pull out in front of me because they don’t see me,” Snyder said. “I’m for loud bikes — it’s just my thing.”

The Pennsylvania Harley Owners Group holds its annual rally in different Pennsylvania locations every year, said Snyder, who lives in Coplay. He also disputes Noise Free America’s claim that noise from the motorcycle rallies hurt economic development by turning off other visitors.

“I don’t know how they cannot bring economic development,” Snyder said. “You’re bringing 400 people into the area who have to eat.”

The Pennsylvania Harley Owners Group isn’t expected to make many or any trips into Bethlehem, as setting up a run down to Musikfest was turned down by organizer ArtsQuest, Snyder said. Scheduled rides include trips to Martin Guitar, America on Wheels, Delaware Water Gap and Jim Thorpe.