Loud Pipes Are My Right! (Or Are They...)

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>> Aaron Cortez

July 4, 2014

Loud Pipes Are My Right! (Or Are They...)

Aftermarket exhausts are some of the most popular upgrades we sell, and most of us at BikeBandit have them on our bikes. But not everyone is a fan - noisy motorcycles are a controversial topic across the country. Is it really your right to make so much noise with your bike?

A few months ago, I wrote an article about the most popular mods for brand new motorcycles. Not surprisingly, aftermarket exhaust systems topped the list; whether it's a nice set of chrome pipes on a V-twin, or some sleek carbon fiber cans on a sport bike, riders simply love to free up the sound of their new engines.

What was surprising, however, was the response this got from some of our readers. Many were irritated, and even offended, at the suggestion that bikes should be any louder than they are. As I found out, loud bikes are a scourge in some parts of the country, waking people up, pissing them off, and giving riders everywhere a bad name. Some called for bans, heavy fines, and even confiscation of bikes with modified exhausts.

I could see that the issue struck a nerve, but I wasn't completely sure why. As a life-long gearhead, I've put some kind of aftermarket exhaust on just about every vehicle I've owned. The sweet mechanical music made by a properly tuned engine through a well-engineered exhaust is something I'd pay money to hear at Symphony Hall.

But I did some reading and asking around to understand the reasons that many people don't feel the same way – and there are actually quite a lot of them. And they are very valid reasons.

Why People Hate Loud Motorcycle Exhausts

First, there is the ear-splitting sheer loudness of many motorcycle exhausts, pounding your eardrums into submission if you're within a hundred-foot radius, and echoing for miles. It's deafening as is, but it only gets worse when riders rev their engines or downshift every chance they get, all trying to be louder than the next guy in the pack - which can number in the dozens or more.

They disturb the peace, and break every noise pollution law on the books. They set off car alarms, cut your phone conversations short, piss off drivers, and wake up the baby. And somehow, it seems like they are always making the most noise right when you're about to fall asleep, or have just settled down on a relaxing weekend afternoon.

If you're a rider yourself, it's even worse. You have to tolerate the racket, but then you get a bad rap too; when you go riding, you know you’re getting grouped in with all those "noisy bikers" just because you happen to ride a motorcycle too. Once a non-rider has decided motorcycles are annoying, they paint with a pretty broad brush, and you can easily find yourself being branded as a stereotype no matter what you ride.

If you like modifying your vehicles like I do, it hits you even harder; when laws banning aftermarket exhaust are passed, they affect all riders, no matter what you ride or how courteous of a neighbor you try to be. In the motorcycle community, a few bad apples ruin the whole bunch quite often.

Are There Any Good Reasons To Allow Loud Exhausts?

So why do some bikers insist on being so loud anyway? There is the classic "loud pipes save lives" argument of course, which does have some merit; I've definitely noticed a bike in my vicinity on the road when driving my cage plenty of times. But most of the evidence to support this claim tends to be anecdotal; I've yet to see a scientific study proving that loud exhausts are correlated with a significant decrease in collisions.

In addition, this argument often assumes that a driver will react in a predictable manner when they hear the sound of a motorcycle rev. But this assumption risky at best; a driver shocked by the sound of a revving near them could react in any number of ways, which may or may not be safe for the rider. Loud pipes might get you noticed, but I seriously doubt they are more effective at preventing accidents than wearing hi-vis riding gear, using your horn, or simply learning how to ride more safely (though needless to say, most of the "loud pipes" crowd wouldn't be caught dead in a fluorescent yellow full-face helmet and reflective vest anyway.)

And even if one were to grant that "loud pipes save lives" were partially true, is that argument strong enough to offset the hundreds of thousands of drivers and neighbors offended, irritated, or even scared by those obnoxious exhausts? Probably not. The truth is – and most of us realize this – the reason most riders use aftermarket exhausts has to do with getting attention, looking good, and mostly, just digging the sound. I'll be honest; that's why I do it.

Pretty selfish reasons, when you think about it. So when weighing the little bit of satisfaction a small group of riders gets hearing their engines roar, against the vast number of people who would benefit from never having to put up with that annoyance again, it really seems tough to argue that the world wouldn't be a better place without those outrageously noisy things in it.

However, that kind of "greatest good principle" isn't really what our country operates on, now is it?

Freedom...It Can Be Pretty Annoying Sometimes

In our country, we tend to value the freedom of the individual over the ability of the majority to infringe upon it. Generally speaking - unless it's a safety issue, or infringing on someone else's rights - no matter how annoying or pointless or rotten you believe some activity is, it's difficult to take away an individual's right to do it.

That's the down side of freedom. Anywhere it exists, there will always be that percentage of the population that abuses it. Permit free speech, and there will be those that throw hateful language around just to see people squirm. Require guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and you'll see plenty of criminals walk away free men. Make it legal to modify exhausts, and you'll have obnoxious a-holes running straight pipes, flying down your street redlining their engines at midnight. All of these things make my blood boil - just like it would most reasonable people.

However, I would still never support a ban on modified exhausts, for one simple reason – any time I support a ban on someone else's freedom to do something they enjoy, it could be just as easy for them to call for a ban on something I enjoy.

Whether its fishing, hunting, wearing leather, or owning a gun, some group out there is deeply offended by something you or I do, and is trying to ban it, right now. If everyone succeeded at this, our society would replace the preservation of freedom with enforcement of order, under a government that existed to ensure obedience and conformity. This simply won't do for us Americans – as much as we bitch and moan about the side effects, most of us will still take our freedom over a nanny state any day.

There some other good arguments against outlawing aftermarket exhausts too. Doing so would shut down a big part of the economy, as all the manufacturers that produce them, and all the shops that install them, would be put out of business. It would create a double-standard with other vehicles that would be tough to deal with, probably resulting in a ban of aftermarket exhausts on cars and trucks as well. If you damaged your exhaust and needed a new one, you'd no longer have the option of buying a good looking, well-engineered aftermarket part – you'd have to pay double for the factory original.

But even if none of these additional arguments existed, I'd still come down on the side of preserving freedom of the individual, no matter how annoying that freedom might be at times.

Enjoy Your Freedom (Just Don't Be A Jerk About It)

Ultimately, the best solution is not to call for this law, or that law, or a ban on everything that annoys you. The best solution is to just be a respectful citizen and a good neighbor. Enjoy what you like without forcing it upon others, and hopefully they will do the same.

Will everyone do this? Never. But I'd rather have the freedom to be a considerate person and a good member of my community, than be forced to behave under the threat of punishment. Free societies are flawed, but they are a lot better than the alternatives.

So this Fourth of July, I'm sure my relaxing weekend BBQ with the family will, at some point, be disturbed by obnoxiously loud motorcycle engines, probably being revved unnecessarily. And I'm sure it will annoy me.

But then I'll remember – that's the sound of freedom. Whether I like it or not.

So have a great Independence Day weekend, and enjoy doing the things you love - whatever they happen to be!

("Ronald Reagan The Liberator" courtesy of SharpWriter, available for purchase at etsy.com)

Got an opinion? Let 'er rip in the comments section below.

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