by Fred Grimm

The Miami Herald

October 21, 2007

Evening breeze. Outdoor table. Bottle of wine. She smiles and begins to say something tailored to a perfect South Florida night. And . . .

And her words are devoured by a thunderous clamor. The wine ripples. Your cheeks flap in time with a four-stroke engine. A biker in barely moving traffic has gone into a frenzy of ear-blasting narcissism, revving and revving his engine, battering the streetscape with staccato roaring.

Words are reduced to pebbles in a landslide. All conversation has become hostage to the motorized megalomania of a big man biker, straddling his Harley hog, luxuriating in the din of aftermarket tailpipes.

The sound grabs you by the ears and shakes you until your brain bounces off the sides of your skull. All you can do is wait until the traffic flow takes him to the next block where he can reprise his performance.

You wonder, is he intent upon punishing the world for a long ago mistake in parenting? Weaned too soon from his mother’s nipple? A terrible error during toilet training? A long-delayed scream for attention, amplified by a 1000-cc engine?


Cacophonous self-indulgences are performed nightly along the quaintest stretches of cafes, shops, bars and boutique hotels in South Florida. You’ve suffered decibel-whopping onslaughts along Ocean Drive, Commodore Plaza, Las Olas Boulevard. It happens so often, so blatantly, in such disregard of the law, that it has become one of the great mysteries of urban living. How can this be?

How is it that the police, happy to roust some 19-year-old kid in a souped up subcompact with boom-boom speakers, turn a deaf ear to fat cusses fending off a midlife crisis with two-wheel noisemakers?

City officials, mindful of mounting complaints from patrons and business owners, occasionally devise plans to chase away biker boys. Not very successfully.

The Delray Beach City Commission, after a barrage of complaints, was about to enact an ordinance banning motorcycles from a trendy strip along Atlantic Avenue. But last weekend angry bikers roared up and down Atlantic demonstrating their displeasure. And Tuesday night, according to The Palm Beach Post, hairy bikers, sporting tattoos and intimidating looks, packed the commission meeting. The commissioners backed off and settled for increasing the fines that never get levied.


Biker groups claim that insanely loud motorcycle noise makes them safe. If auto drivers can hear the roar, they’ll not run over bikers. Not a very scientific theory, but neither was the bizarre argument that bikers are safer without helmets, and the Florida Legislature — despite pleas from doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, coroners, insurers and traffic experts — tossed the state’s helmet law.

But Ted Rueter, director of Noise Free America, archenemy of uneasy riders, named a number of cities across the country, from New York City to Carefree, Ariz., that have had quite enough of the unquiet. Decibels are measured. Fines are stiffened. But Rueter suggested that Denver, which began a crackdown this summer, has discovered the most effective strategy. ”They’re simply requiring bikers to obey federal law,” he said.

Denver based its new ordinance on a 1972 federal noise pollution statute that requires bikes to be matched up with easily identified federally approved mufflers.

Maybe a strategy like that could bring peace to South Florida’s cafe districts. Or maybe that’s just a (tail) pipe dream.