by Joseph G. Cote
December 5, 2010
MERRIMACK – Plows will soon be the vehicles making a lot of noise on New Hampshire roads, but New Castle resident Bill Mitchell is focused on noise-makers popular during sunnier weather: motorcycles.
Mitchell and about a half-dozen other Seacoast residents have formed a new nonprofit, New Hampshire Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles, or NH CALM, which seeks to change state laws to require quieter bikes in the state.
“I live in the Seacoast, and when the temperature goes above 50 degrees, all you hear is the rumble of motorcycles,” Mitchell said. “It’s constant. It’s just so annoying.
“We would like to see legislation that statewide requires … every motorcycle has to have an EPA-certified muffler.”
Mitchell said the state’s 106 decibel limit should be lowered to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s 80 decibel limit.
Steve Irons, general manager of Nashua Harley-Davidson, said he doesn’t worry about the move affecting sales, and said the loudest motorcycles are because of “throttle jockeys” constantly revving their engines, not a certain type of tailpipe.
“One, it’s not the pipes,” Irons said. “It’s the person that’s riding the bikes that makes the bikes loud. If we had a lot less throttle jockeys, I’m sure people who like to complain would complain about their next-door neighbor and their Weedwacker.”
Mitchell said the group formed after Seacoast Harley-Davidson filed a suit at Rockingham Superior Court over a North Hampton Town Meeting-endorsed referendum. The suit asked the town to stop police from following the referendum, which enforces a federal regulation that motorcycle mufflers be certified to emit no more than 80 decibels.
NH CALM was able to intervene in the suit, and argues the federal level should supersede New Hampshire’s 106 decibel limit. Now, the group has filed a motion to move the case to a federal court.
North Hampton officials have declined to participate in the motion, Mitchell said.
NH CALM was formed out of that local dispute, and is now eyeing a multipronged strategy to quiet motorcycles across the state.
In addition to the lawsuit, the group is talking with a New York-based noise pollution advocacy group, Noise Free America, about filing a class-action lawsuit against after-market motorcycle muffler manufacturers who sell modifiers that increase the noise of the bikes, Mitchell said.
That’s part of the equation dealerships such as Nashua Harley-Davidson can’t control, Irons said.
Most people buy after-market performance mufflers, which are louder than stock mufflers, but not as loud as straight pipes, he said.
The performance mufflers are legitimate, he said, because they significantly increase the performance of the bikes, including gas mileage.
If people put those parts on themselves after a dealership inspects the bike, and they don’t conform to noise or emission standards, there’s nothing the dealership can do.
“He’s already got a sticker,” Irons said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Irons also said he doubts a lower limit would make much practical impact because of the difficulty police officers would have enforcing it.
And if tickets were handed out, Irons said he doubts it would change people’s behavior much.
“They ticket people for speeding, and how many people speed?” he said. “They’re asking to put in a law that they can’t enforce because they don’t have the money and people to enforce it.”
One local police chief has been known to give enforcement a shot.
Two years ago, Milford Police erected electronic signs at each end of town along Route 101A and ticketed riders with illegal mufflers following complaints from downtown business owners.
“The law requires motorcycles to have baffles or chambers in their exhaust system,” Douglas said, “and a straight pipe with no baffles is clearly a violation. We are trying to get them to comply with law. People seem to respect it when we remind them.”
NH CALM is also pursuing legislative solutions. One of the group members, former state Rep. Judith Day, sponsored legislation last year to tighten noise limits on motorcycles, but it was turned down by the House Transportation Committee.
Day didn’t run for re-election this year, Mitchell said.
Another Seacoast representative, David Borden, lost his re-election bid last month, Mitchell said.
Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or [email protected]