In his “The Basic Laws of Stupidity," Carlo M. Cipolla defined a stupid person as “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” Keep that definition in mind as we take another look at loud and illegal exhaust systems.(In the illustration at right, you can see Cipolla’s 4 classifications of human intelligence: Helpless, Intelligent, Bandit, and Stupid. If you follow the link to Cipolla’s article, you can learn a lot more about the characteristics of Stupid.)
Several years ago (2008, to be exact), I foolishly and optimistically wrote a Geezer column for MMM titled “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.” I had some wild hope that there was a rational way to get motorcyclists to think about how much damage they were doing to themselves while they were irritating everyone else on the planet. I thought this statistic would be an eye-opener, “My generation, the Boomers, is experiencing a higher rate of hearing damage than our parents suffer at their more advanced age and the generation following us is even worse hit by hearing loss. The reason is noise exposure.” Not a chance. When I wrote that article, I owned about $10,000 worth of professional audio test equipment and had access to multiples of that number through my employer (a music school), friends in the audio testing industry, and professional relationships. Nothing I experimented with gave me any significant different data than my own gear. Riding a motorcycle is tough on your hearing, even if you are careful: good quality full-face helmet, high quality ear plugs, and a quiet motorcycle preferably with a decent fairing. Change any of those 3 decisions and you are gambling with your hearing. Once you’ve damaged your hearing, you are unlikely to live long enough for medicine or technology to bring it back.
My wife, for example, is definitely not stupid although she often falls into Cipolla’s “helpless” quadrant. She worked as a professional sculptor for 40-some years, which means she spent a lot of time with a Sawzall and shop grinders. She stubbornly resisted hearing protection for at least 30 years. Today, if she’s watching a movie or television, captions are always on. She misunderstands practically everything said to her, often comically. In any kind of crowd, the conversations around her are worse than meaningless. In the last decade or so she became almost meticulous about wearing hearing protection, the big earmuff things, but it’s too late. It doesn’t hurt to start protecting your hearing anytime, but once there is damage it will only get worse.
I was goofing off in downtown Red Wing yesterday when a pack of biker goobers and a couple of unnecessarily noisy diesel pickups went by. As usual, the noisemakers got the disgusted stare from bystanders that they so desperately crave, but it struck me that as awful as those vehicles sounded at 100’, they were at least 10-20 decibels louder on the bikes or in the truck. The inverse distance law of sound pressure decay masks that one obvious even to the math-disabled. For the motorcyclists, it might even be worse because so much of the exhaust noise that they are so proud of is field-restricted by the road under the noise generator, which means substantially more sound pressure is directed upward toward the rider rather than omnidirectionally toward the intended bystanding victims.
Since I started riding street bikes in 1979 I’ve owned three motorcycles with illegal aftermarket exhaust systems. I bought them used and they came with that crap installed by the original owners: a 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM with a Kerker exhaust and a 1999 Suzuki SV650 with an even noisier Two Brother’s Two-into-One M2-Oval Exhaust System and my beautiful Yamaha WR250X that came with a hacked up stock pipe. The TDM also came with the stock pipe, so I yanked the Kerker, sold it, and bought something useful with the money. The WR and SV’s original owners had tossed the stock pipe, but I found a super-cheap stock pipe on Craig’s List and sold the Two Brothers POS a couple of years later. I just tossed the hacked-up WR pipe. What I learned from those experiences is that all that noise did make me feel like I was going faster than I was (as The Marching Morons author predicted 70 years ago) and that riding either of those otherwise terrific motorcycles more than a couple hundred miles in a day was torture. The fatigue that kind of noise produces is uncomfortable and dangerous.
Which brings me to my point about the connection between illegal, noisy exhaust systems and stupid people. Yes, they are making a statement that they are untouchable by the law; which are often biker gangbangers themselves. Yes, they are irritating everyone they ride anywhere near. However, they are also driving themselves deaf in the process and deserve absolutely no sympathy when that bill comes due. So, in Cipolla’s terms, Stupid bikers are definitely doing lots of damage to the peace and quiet of every place they ride, and even causing some actual physical harm to those close enough for hazardous noise exposure. But bikers are “deriving no gain” from their noisemaking as every statistic on the planet demonstrates that loud bikes receive no safety benefit from their noise and, in fact, those same people are over-represented in crash, morbidity, and mortality statistics and for all of that the bikers are also making themselves deaf in the process.
That, my friends, is stupid.