Jul 22, 2019

Running from the Noise Makers

There are tourist towns and there are tourist towns. Red Wing, MN, (my hometown) seems to really want to spend a lot of taxpayer cash attracting out-of-town money, but only a particular type of money. Like Lost Wages in the 90's, Red Wing is pretty much a town full of geezers (mostly retired) who are terrified of change, young people, and bikers. Our cops, especially, follow the national mode of knowing these assholes are gangbangers and domestic terrorists and they keep a long distance. If there is such a thing as a biker who could pass a DWI test on a typical summer weekend, our cops have no idea what that would look like.

We had some friends visit for a weekend recently and when we went looking for an restaurant on one evening we ratcheted from Smokin’ Oak to Kelly’s to Bayside to downtown, finally settling on one of the downtown restaurants that wasn’t surrounded by bikers and loud drunks (not that the two are a different crowd) and their poorly maintained and highly-illegal cruisers. The fact is, you can’t have it both ways; you are either a family-friendly tourist town or a biker-friendly bar stop. The difference between most cruiser exhaust noise and year-round fireworks is usually that the fireworks are quieter and more entertaining. Concentrating on the biker money means that family entertainment money will go elsewhere.

Back in 2007 and, again, in 2013, Stillwater, MN made some political noise about cracking down on illegal motorcycle and 4-wheel exhaust noise and the biker gangbangers made some seriously threatening noise back. About the same time, Hudson, WI’s City Council, reacting to residents’ complaints, had a similar discussion, attracting a collection of Outlaw bikers to a city council meeting, which scared the local cops into hiding for the evening. That effectively caused Hudson to back down from their resident-friendly position. There is a group, Citizens for a Quieter Stillwater, that has tried to keep this issue upfront in Stillwater, but Stillwater police seem to have been terrorized into pretending this isn’t a policing problem. I get that, biker gangs are high on the FBI’s list of domestic terror groups. There are many good reasons to be afraid of them, but that is supposed to be why police get to carry guns and can (and should) arrest dangerous law-breaking people. (I know, if I am dumb enough believe that the characters who mostly want to wear badges and carry guns are willing to risk their 20-years-and-out retirement plan putting themselves at risk to protect and serve the public, you have a bridge and Thomas Jefferson's airplane you want to sell me.)

A few months back, in answering a question about vehicle noise and disturbing the peace, Red Wing’s Chief of Police made it clear that he is familiar with the state noise laws (https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/p-gen6-01.pdf) and how they should be enforced. The reasons those laws are not enforced are both economic and pragmatic. Local bars catering to bikers carry a disproportionate amount of political weight and they don’t care much who brings in money as long as there is lots of it. In Minnesota, motorcycle advocacy groups like ABATE (Always Beer at the Event) advocate against helmet laws, motorcycle safety and pollution inspections, mandatory rider training and licensing, and to whine about increasing penalties for right-of-way violators (unless they are bikers). The state legislator was coerced (or terrified) into passing the “Motorcycle Road Guard” law where a mildly-"trained" doofus is allowed to “stop and control traffic for motorcycle group riders”: one of the dumber ideas from our not-too-bright state legislature. Obviously, a smarter approach would have been to enforce rational pirate parades with police examining all of the vehicles in the parade for legal exhausts and fuel systems and breaking up the parade into normaler, traffic-manageable groups. ABATE does an “Annual Bikerday at the Capitol,” where all the group’s pirates dress up in gangsta outfits intended to scare the crap out of the pseudo-conservative lightweights in the capitol and to keep motorcycle legislation off-discussion. It, so far, has worked. 

The average age of US motorcyclists has been going up 2-3 years every year (>50 as of 2018) and the median income is considerably above the US average: $62,500 in 2018. Safety training programs across the country are reducing the number of classes they offer, for example by more than half in Minnesota from the peak 2003-07 period. Motorcycle dealerships are closing or diversifying into ATVs and boats. The number of licensed motorcyclists drastically exceeds the number of motorcycles with valid license tags, indicating that actual ridership is down substantially (and that a regular demonstration of competence should be part of motorcycle license renewal). That last fact is even more dramatic than it seems when you take into account the fact that many/most active motorcyclists own and ride more than one motorcycle. So, this noise and safety issue could be self-solving as bikers age out of the country’s demographic and motorcycle manufacturers price themselves out of existence.

As for the “loud pipes save lives” hype, as a life-long motorcyclist who taught Minnesota motorcycle safety classes for 17 years, I recommend learning how to ride your motorcycle over passive noise makers. 30-to-40-something-percent of Minnesota fatal motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle incidents and common sense would indicate that at least that number of motorcycle crashes are at least in large part the fault of the motorcyclists. The state doesn’t keep any sort of statistics on loud pipes involved in crashes, but there are a LOT of Harley’s and other cruiser models involved in fatal crashes and the most “custom” Harley is one with no pointless modifications done to the exhaust system. So, the evidence appears to be pretty conclusive that the only reason for loud exhaust systems to flaunt disrespect for laws and authority and common decency and peace and quiet.


Lee Blackburn said...

Thanks for the blog Thomas. Thought provoking and I agree that as a group 'Bikers' don't themselves any favours with regards to their perception within the wider public. There's definitely a balance to be struck with regards to personal responsibility.

Steve Williams said...

Over the past five years noise from motorcycles has diminished greatly here in central Pennsylvania. I have no statistics or research data to support that observation other than I seem to be complaining a lot less about it. The fellow who used to rattle our windows shortly after the bars closed at 2am no longer does. He's either moved, in jail, dead or is getting laid so often that the need for a motorcycle seems unimportant.

What I do hear from time to time is sport bikes winding up through the gears to some ungodly speed. I always wait for the crash sound but so far nothing.

Our local police departments are big enough and serious enough to not put up with much -- from bikers, drunks or the 40K college students in town.

Your post was spot on though for highlighting what can and does happen. Especially regarding personal responsibility.

Another geezer said...

Can’t have the windows open in the summer because some jackass sport bike rider cruises up Pilot Knob without shifting out of second. His exhaust is louder/more obnoxious than any HD sitting at a light playing with their loud handle. I calculated one morning that I can pick him up 3 miles before our house and almost that far after. If I didn’t love my pillow so much, I’d get up early and have a conversation with, what I assume is, that young guy!

Alan Muller said...

Our quality of life in Red Wing would be improved by enforcement of vehicle noise standards. There are a lot of loud cars as well as bikes.

PC said...

If you're so worried about safety that you need open pipes, don't ride at all. I ride. I accept the risks, and I wouldn't ask my neighbors to subsidize my joy by accepting a loud bike.

T.W. Day said...

That only makes sense.

T.W. Day said...

Aren't you a clever little fella?

Cas said...

Love the comments Thomas. ;-) Keep turning that big key and winding these fools up!! As you have truthfully said, many, many times, bike safety is about being paranoid, not loud.


T.W. Day said...

Yeah there sure are and really loud pickups; especially diesels. Every noisy non-stock exhaust machine in Minnesota is violating at least 3 laws, not including emissions violations. There is money to be made ticketing those characters. They are, however, dangerous people and asking police to take that risk seems to be a hard sell. What ever happened to fix-it tickets?

T.W. Day said...

You have clearly never seen my lawn. Have you tried that argument on the FBI? Like most law enforcement organizations, they also "categorize all bikers as drunk outlaws and gangbangers" and domestic terrorists. I do love the fact that you are classically "anonymous." Nothing like have the courage to stand behind your "convictions."

Yes, I do classify bikers as drunks and gangbangers. Motorcyclists are a completely different group. If your riding sucks so bad that you have to resort to noisemakers to warn everyone else that you are incompetent, you're a biker. If your "gear" consists of a protective headband, bandana, ponytail, and or shining bald head along with the usual "I'm in my underwear aren't you impressed?" biker silliness, you know who you are. If you are constantly whining about how everyone else is responsible for your safety, you are a biker.

If your riding skills are what you use to defend yourself from hazards, if you are an AGAT rider and know your gear, and if you try to imagine yourself as invisible (and noiseless) to the rest of the traffic and act accordingly, you are a motorcyclist. I love motorcyclists and always will, but bikers are just road rash and gore waiting to happen.