by David Montgomery

Rapid City Journal

August 9, 2011

For many bikers, the noise of their roaring motorcycles isn’t just a matter of aesthetics – they say it is a matter of life and death.

“Loud pipes save lives,” some bikers say, and they mean it. Driving small, hard-to-see vehicles, motorcyclists say they depend on roaring exhausts to alert motorists to their presence and avert accidents.

“The louder the better for this reason especially: safety,” said Lance Jagger, a motorcyclist from Bryce Canyon, Utah, who visited Sturgis in July.

Jagger and a friend were riding their motorcycles in California last year, he said, and “this gal pulled right on top of him, almost.”

Jagger’s friend “just hit the throttle a few times – whop! whop! – and it was so loud she turned and looked,” he said. “She would have never heard the horn.”

But this isn’t a universally held position. A divergent group of experts say there is simply no proof that louder motorcycles are any safer than a quiet bike.

Critics of motorcycle noise, unsurprisingly, are dismissive of the claims.

Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America, referred to the “canard” that loud pipes save lives.

“There is not a shred of evidence for this,” Rueter said.

Backing up this criticism is a major pro-motorcycle organization, the American Motorcyclist Association.

“It’s based on the belief that other motorists will hear you coming and yield to the right-of-way if they hear your loud motorcycle,” said Peter terHorst, spokesperson for the association. “There’s simply no research to back that position, and frankly there are far better ways to make yourself visible in traffic.”

Al Rieman, the president of Black Hills Harley-Davidson, said he is not necessarily an advocate of “loud pipes save lives” but thinks there is something to it.

“I would not want to ride through heavy traffic on an electric motorcycle that didn’t make a peep,” Rieman said. “There are those … that make a good case that having a certain recognizable noise level is a safety issue for them.”

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or [email protected]