by George A. Atwood

Daily Jefferson County Union

February 8, 2010

Several weeks ago, state Senator Spencer Coggs and state Representative Leon Young, both Milwaukee Democrats, introduced a bill to honor Harley-Davidson as Wisconsin’s official state motorcycle. This is an atrocious idea. The thunderous noisemaking of Harley motorcycles promotes lawlessness and disorder, and should not be celebrated.

I am very sensitive to the loud noise and vibrations of the Harleys. I find it tormenting and distressing. Loud Harleys fire 5-50 explosions per second, creating thunderous noise.

Harley motorcyclists are changing their mufflers to intentionally make them loud. This is a violation of the federal Noise Control Act of 1972, which prohibits modifying a motorcycle exhaust. Since 1983, the US Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that any new motorcycle sold in the United States must contain a stamp or label certifying that the noise from the bike’s exhaust system does not violate federal noise standards. This law is currently being strictly enforced in Denver and Boston. It needs to be strictly enforced in Wisconsin. Loud Harley motorcycles are breaking the law.

Harleys hurt people. The noise stresses people. The noise ruins the quality of life in our residences, neighborhoods, and the country. It frightens and intimidates people.

Many people have squandered a great deal of money to buy Harleys. What does society have to show for all the money diverted into Harleys and illegal after-market mufflers? This is wasted, unproductive economic activity. It also leads to further economic decline, by stressing the public out with noise hell.

Loud motorcycle noise causes hearing loss. Noise-related stress leads to higher medical care costs, as well as loss of productivity and peace of mind.

Noise is used as a means of torture, to coerce confessions. Why would our state want to be associated with a symbol that has such destructive potential?

Harley stands for noise! Harley stands for frightening and intimidating people. It stands for arrogance, callousness, lawlessness, drunkenness, and revelry. Harley symbolizes defiance and shamelessness.

Our legislators should not submit to populism and pandering; they should not ride on the wave of Harley’s cult popularity. Harleys bring out the worst in people and devalue what is good. Harleys are dishonorable.

Harleys enable and encourage people to hurt others and disobey laws. These are not virtues to hold up as a symbol of Wisconsin.

Harley symbolizes violence. People need peace and order. Harleys stand for noise and disorder. If the state promotes Harleys, it would be giving free advertising to the noise industry.

If we are going to honor the Harley as one of Wisconsin’s treasures and creations, then what else can our state honor that hurts society?

Land mines used to be manufactured in Wisconsin. Would a state legislature ever consider designating the land mine as the official state weapon—all in the name of saving jobs and helping the state economy? Of course not.

The Harley is a weapon. Recognition of Harleys as the “official state motorcycle” would be state-sponsored terrorism. Harleys are neighbor-to-neighbor terrorism. Harleys sully the image of our state. Conducting ourselves according to Harley values will accelerate our nation’s decline.

We can’t let the Harley triumphalists hijack public sentiment by linking everything to Harley. Harleyism is the latest and greatest form of jingoism.

The Harley crowd tries to erect a facade of charity, altruism, philanthropy, and community spirit, but they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Their “charity rides” are stunts. I saw a T-shirt promoting a charity ride for “abused children.” Operating a loud Harley around children is child abuse!

Harley is more than just a motorcycle; it is a state of mind, an idea, an emotion, a mystique, a brand, a cult. Harleys make insecure people feel strong, invincible, and united in a mystical fellowship. Harley riders aspire to a brotherhood freed from social restraint.

Harleyism is being equated with nationalism, freedom, and liberty. America is not Harley. Wisconsin is not Harley. We are not Harley. Harley is not us.

America is debating whether it is acceptable to torture for confessions. America should also be debating whether it is acceptable to torture each other with Harley noise.

The Wisconsin tourism industry promotes the idea of “escaping to the peaceful north woods.” How do we reconcile that image of our state with the reality of thunderous Harleys blasting through our streets, highways, and parks?

Every year, a swarm of bikers in black leather descend on Madison to lobby against legislation that would protect the public from their thunderous noise. Noise victims are not represented.

I appeal to our Wisconsin state legislators’ sense of decency, honor, and justice. I appeal to their concern for the long-term health and well-being of our citizens. Instead of honoring Harleys, our representatives should protect us from their awful noise.