Loud Pipes = Noise Pollution, Not Life-Saver

Since it’s Summer in Milwaukee (the land of fatasses riding hogs), I thought I’d post an essay I wrote a few years ago about the most bothersome form of noise pollution I can imagine (aside from the guy that sings that “you’re beautiful” song).

 Suppose for a moment that Jim drives on the freeway to work. He drives the same route every day and traffic moves along just fine. Nobody appears to be to Jim’s left, so he begins to switch lanes. Suddenly, a loud rumbling sound startles Jim.  Instantly, he realizes the sound of a Harley Davidson Soft Tail with an aftermarket set of straight pipes. Jim immediately reacts to the muffler-free bike to his side and swerves to avoid hitting the rider. Both of Jim and the cyclist continue on their way; with the loud exhaust having helped prevent a potentially awful situation from unfolding.

Many motorcyclists believe this to be an accurate depiction of reality. Almost everyone knows the motto “Loud pipes save lives.”  However, the truth does not seem to support this motto at all. In fact, loud pipes seem to do little more than annoy people and help damage hearing. Beyond that, living by the “loud pipes” philosophy promotes irresponsible riding by way of expecting others to notice a motorcyclist, rather than the cyclist simply paying more attention to the road.

Upon initial research on the topic of modified motorcycle exhausts, one finds many opinions and extremely few facts.  Supporters of loud pipes will always mention increased safety, but unfortunately, such people are being misleading. According to the Hurt Report (a motorcycle accident cause study conducted by the University of Southern California), no data shows a link between exhaust noises to accident avoidance. The study shows alcohol, training and helmet use as factors in accidents, but nothing conclusive regarding exhaust noise.

The direction exhaust pipes face becomes a large fault with the theory that loud pipes save lives. Almost every motorcycle on the planet; modified or not, has an exhaust that points directly to the rear of the bike. Unfortunately, for noisy motorcyclists, audible sound waves have direction. Directional sound means, if an exhaust points to the rear, the sound goes that direction. According to the Hurt Report, over three-quarters of accidents involve the front of a motorcycle. This statistic implies a car braked suddenly in front of a bike or a head-on collision occurs.  In either situation, little chance exists where a car driver could possibly hear a loud exhaust.  For the record, about 3% of motorcycle accidents involve a vehicle approaching the bike from the rear. Therefore, out of some 75,000 motorcycle accidents every year, a loud exhaust would have no physical chance of preventing over 72,500 of them.

One must note actual factors causing and preventing motorcycle accidents. Training or lack thereof constitutes the largest factor of motorcycle accidents. According to the Hurt Report, 92% of motorcycle accidents involve a rider who received no formal training (self-taught or shown by friends). Riders with less than three years experience make up over half of all riders in accidents.  Young drivers cannot get their license and operate a car without proper training, yet the vast majority of motorcyclists see obtaining a license as no concern at all. In most motorcycle accidents, riders display lack of training by improper braking technique. The majority of motorcyclists will over-brake the rear wheel, which causes skidding and will quickly force a loss of control. Had these riders attended classes, they would know proper threshold braking techniques that help avoid most accidents.

Beyond the myth of increasing safety, loud pipes also hurt image. Other riders and drivers show an overwhelming amount of disdain shown toward loud exhausts. This level of annoyance has started to affect all motorcycle riders. Due to noise problems, law forbids riding a motorcycle through Yellowstone Park. This practice continues to become more and more common in state parks. Furthermore, large riding events have attracted an abundance of police attention due to illegal noise levels. On large group rides, cops regularly pull bikers over by the dozen and hand out citations for excessive noise. People fear that before long states will outlaw such events for all motorcyclists, not just the noisy ones.

In the end, loud pipes clearly do not save lives. A loud exhaust displays more of a concern for ego than for safety. Motorcycle riders need to take more responsibility for their own lives and not gamble on other motorists hearing them coming. Loud pipes are illegal and bothersome.  Putting too much trust in a loud exhaust may result in death.


Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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Author: Jay

Jay Ratkowski runs this joint, which is why his name is on the front door. You can find him elsewhere at Google+, Facebook, or Twitter

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