by Paula Tracy

The Union Leader (Manchester, New Hampshire)

June 13, 2006

They were lined up on their motorcycles at Meredith Harley-Davidson yesterday, waiting their turn to have officers from the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicle Highway Patrol give them a no-ticket decibel check.

None of the bikes registered lower than 100 decibels. A handful came within range of the state’s 106 decibel limit. And the majority found their noise range from 109 to as high as 121 dBA. “It’s unenforceable,” shrugged Larry Zahner of Cape Cod, where the legal noise limit is 99dBA for motorcycles manufactured after 1986 and 102 for any thing older than that.

“They can talk all they want, but they are not going to enforce it,” he said. Law enforcement officials concede it is tough, but it is the No. 1 complaint they hear about motorcycles, according to Highway Patrol Lt. Stephen A. Kace. New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Patrol Lt. Stephen Kace measures the exhaust noise from a motorycle ridden by Louise Flanders of Buzzards Bay, Mass., as Officer Mark Nash looks on at a free no-ticket check at Bike Week yesterday in Meredith.

The 250,000-member American Motorcyclist Association, on one hand, is urging its members and event organizers to pipe it down or risk bans on motorcycles in cities across the country. And the organization Noise Free America, on the other hand, has targeted leaf blowers, boom boxes, “boom cars” and especially Harley-Davidsons for noise the group claims leads to sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue and hearing loss.

As the crowd formed around the officers outside the Harley-Davidson dealership, riders were curious about how their bikes would fair. Kace held the decibel meter in his hand, measuring 20 inches from the tail pipe of David Goodhue’s 2001 Road King Dual Glide. The St.. Catherines Ontario, rider had a modified, after-market exhaust system and a very shiny green bike with a “Live Free or Die” sticker on the back. The bike, made to honor the fact he was conceived during Bike Week 1961, looked like the 1961 verision and had an elaborate exhaust system costing several thousand dollars.

Officer Mark Nash instructed Goodhue to place the motorcycle in neutral and rev the engine gradually up to 2,800 revolutions per minute. Registering 102 dBA, it was quietest among a dozen motorcycles. But when he quickly hit the throttle, the noise was defeaning.

“It all depends on how you measure it,” Goodhue said. “This thing can make a lot of noise.” Kace said that a Harley-Davidson from the factory has a decibel noise level in the 90 dBA range. “It is what they do in the aftermarket that changes things,” he said. Louise Flanders of Buzzards Bay, Mass., looked shocked when Kace peered up from meter and shouted over the noise, “one-ten!” — for 110 dBA. “I am surprised, it just passed inspection,” she said of the 2005 Harley-Davidson Low Rider.

Jerry Robinson of Maine said he was just curious how his motorcycle registered because he said he knew his wife’s bike was much louder. His came in at 107 dBA. “I know she ain’t legal,” Robinson said, noting hers is his old bike with straight pipes. Straight pipes — those without a baffle system to muffle sound — are now illegal in New Hampshire, Kace noted.