Our Riding Future Could Be in Your Hands

Story by David Booth//
May 12 2021

Every Thursday night in the summer, bikers gather in a parking lot in Toronto’s tony Lakeshore district to show off their rides. For the longest time, the event was a typical show ’n shine, fat old buggers like myself rolling up on classic – and some not so classic – bikes so everyone could see how they’d frittered their retirement savings away. It was, like most such events, pretty boring. Even the Harley crowd was remarkably civilized, if self-isolating.

As often happens, a couple of years ago, the young hooligan crowd began expanding. You know, with 10-year-old CBRs the owners are convinced are fully “superbiked” along with a few old tatty slab-sided Gixxers and the occasional Aprilia RSV with dead-flat rear tires. Pretty standard stuff.

The problems began when these riders become the majority. Then the baffles came out, the rev limiters challenged and the decibel level went up. Eventually, the event turned into something of a free-for-all, the whole affair resembling Loudon or Le Mans on a drunken Saturday night, open-piped R1s bouncing off their rev limiter for minutes on end in a seemingly endless battle between con rod bearings and eardrums.

The problem, of course, is that this place is neither Loudon nor Le Mans. (Both of whose infield parties, I can personally attest, are truly epic.) This is a grocery-store parking lot, store customers not only finding parking sparse, but being subjected to the unholiest of dins. The shenanigans, like so many acts of recklessness, got worse during the pandemic. The last time I was there, the only thing helping to maintain appropriate “social distancing” was the potential of permanent hearing loss.

And after some 45 years of exhaustive research – and, by that, I mean actually interacting with the idiots – I’ve concluded that the miscreants involved in such misbehaviour typically fall into two categories. The first are those whose internal combustion-fuelled cry for attention are simply the result of having small pee-pees or because they were unloved by their parents. The second cohort is a little more complicated: they attempt to disguise said diminutive male members and/or their lack of parental affection by claiming that – and we’ve all heard this, right? – “Loud pipes save lives.” This last has been a myth since I began biking and has – somehow, against all logic – survived to this day.

As if finally put paid to this nonsense is even possible, a recent study – from, of all places, Romania – actually asked the question: “Do loud pipes save lives or do they just give us headaches?” A little warning: nothing here will surprise you. Nonetheless, the researchers at the Politehnica University of Bucharest concluded that a motorcycle’s exhaust is three times louder in a rearward direction than from the front, a problem for the “loud pipes save lives” crowd since most car/motorcycle collisions are head-on interactions. More specifically, the report states: “A motorcycle cannot be heard in the car (in motion) if it is at a distance of more than 15 meters, no matter how modified the exhaust.”

In other words, no matter how baffle-less your Bub straight pipes, they aren’t going to save your life. Oh, the minivan full of retirees right next to you at a stoplight might be able to “appreciate” your open-piped 45-degree syncopation, but the oldster in the Buick pulling a left in front of you across an intersection? No so much. As with children (admittedly, of a different era), motorcyclists are better seen than heard. In other words, if you really want to save your life, get a lime-green conspicuity vest instead of those Vance and Hines Straightshots.

A bigger issue is that more and more communities are taking action against such loud misbehaviour. Motorcyclists in Quebec are keenly aware that bikes are being banned from some city cores. In some provinces, loud exhausts prompt an automatic fine (rather than the “fix it” admonishment normally written up). Toronto mayor John Tory has decried excess noise as being “all in the apparent cause of feeding the egos of inconsiderate people.” Numerous newspapers, including the National Post – which I work for! – have called for stricter noise rules or outright bans of bikes.

And this issue is international. Normally bike-mad Austria recently introduced draconian sound testing so strict that even some stock exhaust systems may fail to pass muster. Germany and the Netherlands, meanwhile, bar motorcycles from certain areas at certain times. In the U.K., MCN recently ran “The Baffle of Britain, ” an article decrying how many popular destinations are looking to restrict motorcyclists’ access.

Unfortunately, this is a problem only we can solve. There’s no use calling for a police crackdown on the “bad bikers” among us. Sound testing is a time-consuming, expensive procedure that requires much training for a relatively poor return (in fines and adherence to law). Much easier, from a civic planning point of view, is to simply ban motorcycles altogether. As unfair as that may seem, it does solve the noise issue.

I think it’s up to we motorcyclists to fix the problem. I’ll plainly admit I don’t know how. My initial reaction – to get in the face of the bastards – is hardly productive. Nor are – at least, in my experience – reasoned appeals to the “common good.” Indeed, I’d love to hear from readers on how we motorcyclists can reduce some of this counterproductive lawlessness.

A good slogan may be a good start. Something like “quiet pipes save roads.” If you’ve got something better, let me know.


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