May 29, 2010

Loud Pipes Are Powerful Fun

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

People who worry about the future of motorcycling are particularly concerned that the statement being made by a blasting motorcycle exhaust is going to be the death of the industry and the activity on public roads. Proponents of this noise pollution like to claim that "loud pipes save lives," but the evidence for that claim is weak to non-existent. Obviously, if it's true for motorcycles it should be true for small cars, medium sized-cars, buses, and every other highway user and, if one motor vehicle gets to claim that "safe ground," everybody will want a piece of the action. The trend is going the other way. Most industrialized societies have had more than enough of noise pollution and the public is not going to take much more of it. Noisy motorcyclists may claim discrimination, but it's easy to argue that, outside of emergency vehicles, motorcycles are consistently the loudest vehicles on the highway and the least useful.

Anyone familiar with manufacturing and quality systems knows that you don't go after all of your problems at once. Even the federal government doesn't have unlimited resources. One tactic is to use the Pareto Effect, which states "80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes." When it comes to peak traffic noise, improperly and illegally muffled motorcycles top the 20% list. We can whine about being picked on, but logic would dictate we get hammered first. Since evidence points out the fallacy in the connection between loud pipes and safety, the only reason left for making that kind of noise is recreational.

If safety isn't a useful reason to be noisy, why are so many motorcyclists so damn loud? I think the most likely reason is, "Loud pipes are power." Jimmy Page once argued that electric guitar was the coolest musical instrument because "with a flick of a pick, you can drive 100,000 fans deaf." That's power. Similarly, with the twist of a wrist an untalented, uninteresting working class man or woman can nearly deafen everyone within a few dozen yards. At the least, you can irritate people for a mile in every direction of your exhaust. For people who are powerless in their everyday lives, this kind of clout isn't something to sneeze at.

Loud pipes are a statement of freedom. Again, flaunting the law, good manners, and the opinions of people who otherwise might be able to control your life, a noisy motorcycle is a way to "stick it to the man," even if "the man" is your neighbors, your community, and the rest of society. Loud pipes are a giant middle finger held high above the din of a boring life. It's hard to argue someone out of their "right" to make that kind of statement. Hard, but not impossible. When the statement is made so broadly, hitting the people you want to offend and everyone else, it's not hard to imagine a rapid succession of legal events that could shut down a lot more than just loud motorcycles.

A while back, a trio of Canadian goofballs were fined $16,000 for filming themselves shooting ducks from their car. The Canuck boneheads posted a video of themselves on YouTube "laughing and firing at least 42 rounds from a high-powered rifle into a large pond filled with ducks and grebes." One of the three compounded the stupidity by saying. "We thought we were just having fun — really immature, stupid fun, you know?"

Same story, different device. Blasting the highway with omnidirectional, illegal, unnecessary noise is "really immature, stupid fun." I know. Tolerance for immature, stupid fun is vanishing in our overcrowded world. When that noise produces absolutely no value for anyone, even the dumbest biker ought to know how this is going to work out. One of the goofy duck-blasting Canucks apologized by saying, "“We should have known better but we didn’t, and for that I am sorry.” All motorcyclists are going to be apologizing for the actions of a few who didn't know better and aren't bright enough to quit their destructive behavior. Like ignorance, stupidity is a poor legal defense.


  1. Tom:

    This is one of the tightest and best written articles from you on this subject that I have read to date.


  2. Admit it. You just liked the Jimmy Page reference.

  3. When I hear a loud pipe bike. I am reminded of a little kid running around the yard yelling, “Look at me, look at me”. It’s the same thing. The fags are going to screw up motorcycling for us all.

  4. As Mr. Cartman said, "You guys know that everyone thinks you are total fags, right? . . . Everyone realizes that the only people who are so needy for attention that they need to dress up and be as loud as possible are you guys and 16-year-old-girls." End of discussion.

  5. Loud pipes is one reason I have no desire to ride with a group. Unless you're leading the pack who wants to be stuck behind a bunch of loud, stinkin' motorcycles? Yesterday I was behind a group of Harley baggers with a couple of other makes thrown in and the whole thing seemed ridiculous. They had to go slow to stay together, were obviously concerned about bumping into each other as they wobbled all over the road on each corner, plus they traveled in a bubble of loud noise and exhaust. How much fun is that?


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