by Charles Michael Ray

South Dakota Public Broadcasting

August 7, 2013

Each year, about this time the Black Hills can triple in population, and a large number of the extra half-million people who show up have loud thundering motorcycles.

Bikers are everywhere in South Dakota thanks to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Some locals don’t like the noise–but many riders say loud pipes increase their safety. SDPB’s Charles Michael Ray has more on the debate on today’s Dakota Digest.

You might not know it, but South Dakota has a law that deals with excessive motorcycle noise. I decided to try and read an excerpt from the state law while standing next to Mount Rushmore Road in Rapid City at about 10:00am on a Tuesday morning during the Rally.

(From SD Law 32-15-17.) No person may drive a motor vehicle on a highway unless the motor vehicle is equipped with an exhaust system and a muffler both in good working condition and in constant operation to prevent excessive or unusual noise.

If you didn’t catch all of that–it basically says that state law requires a muffler.

“Three out of five motorcycles have no muffler whatsoever,” says Jeffrey LaRive is a fifth generation Hot Springs resident. He adds, “I would say enforcement is the weak link.”

LaRive also owns a motorcycle and enjoys riding. But he’s not in the Black Hills this week – LaRive likes to leave town during the rally because, he says the bikes are too loud.

“When a bar lets out in downtown Hot Springs, at two in the morning and the 20 choppers that are parked out during the rally week all fire up and go away. They all sit there for 10 minutes, twisting their throttles, revving it up and everybody in Hot Springs hears those people leave the bar. If it were just my opinion that would be one thing, but every city in the Black Hills has a rule that it’s illegal to disturb the peace,” says LaRive.

LaRive says the police need to be enforcing the law. But for some in law enforcement it’s not that simple.

“No long term change can be effected by an enforcement standpoint, says Allender”

Steve Allender is the Chief of Police in Rapid City. He says during the Rally cops are stretched very thin and they must focus on some serious issues that include DUI, Theft, Violence, Hardcore Drugs, and fatal accidents.

“And so an officer on his way to a disturbance or a crash or one of these other crimes with a group of motorcycles in front of his is not likely to delay his response to try to throw a lawn chair off the titanic,”

Allender recently wrote a blog post that details his stance on loud pipes at the Rally. He sees both sides of the issue. While critics call for more law enforcement — many bikers have a mantra about the noise their machines make – you’ll hear it repeated over and over again during the Sturgis Rally.

“Loud Pipes Save Lives,” says Antony Parr from New Zealand.

“Loud Pipes Save Lives” says Peter Baumann from San Francisco.

“Loud Pipes Save Lives” says Henry Velasquez form San Francisco.

Velasquez says he’ll keep his loud pipes because automobile drivers don’t pay enough attention to motorcycles.

“Especially now, it’s not even drunk drivers, it’s people who are texting and driving. If they hear me I have a chance. I can make it home. I got a wife and two kids to come home too. And that’s it, says Velasquez.

Many bikers, like Velasquez see loud pipes as common sense. But not all motorcyclists feel this way. Hot Springs resident Jeffrey LaRive is member of an origination called Noise Free America. He points to accident statistics that he says refute the idea that loud pipes reduce crashes.

“If you drove around with your horn on all the time, if you just laid on your horn the minute you got in your car, and said well that’s keeping me safer. Hell no, when you need a horn you honk your horn. Hey look at me I’m here,” says LaRive.

LaRive contends noise isn’t just a problem during the Sturgis Rally – but all season long. Those like Police Chief Steve Allender believe that any change has to come on a broad level. He notes that other states have launched campaigns to reduce motorcycle noise.

“But I don’t believe Rapid City for example can execute a campaign when the rest of the state hasn’t we may as well put up a sign at the city limits that say turn around we don’t want you to come here,” says Allender.

Some point to the huge economic impact of the Sturgis Rally on the area as a reason to put up with some extra noise. The baby boomer generation is the most common rally goer, and they are buying loud motorcycles in large numbers. Those fighting for more quiet spaces say they will continue to push for change. But the tidal wave of bikers that floods the Black Hills each year is not likely going down anytime soon. While some Black Hills residents may complain, many recognize that motorcycles are sound they just have to get used too.