The Future of Noise

Story by David Booth//
May 31 2022

Maybe it’s because I’m getting old and forgetful. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting old, forgetful and downright curmudgeonly. Or it could be that, as I am wont to think, there really are more asshats these days that need, shall we call it, counsel. Whatever the case, I am about to repeat myself. If you don’t want to read another “noisy motorcycles hurt us all” rant, maybe you should read the advertisement on the facing page.

Germany’s Feldberg region has decided to ban bikes. Actually, it’s not a complete ban… yet. Instead, according to the Federation of European Motorcyclists, they’re testing out their two-wheeled interdictions by banning bikes on certain roads in the region “every second weekend of the month, from April up to and including October.”

The reason for the ban is simple: the residents of Schmitten and Oberursel are tired of the noise and have pleaded with their local councils for what bikesrepublic.com calls a “noise break.” Bikes travelling on certain roads in Feldberg — I’m assuming it’s curvier ones, where everyone’s having a bit of fun — will be met with police roadblocks enforcing “experimental transit bans for motorcycle traffic.”

This tiny little canton in central Germany is not the only place looking to crack down on the cacophony of internal combustion. France announced earlier this year a nation-wide rollout of so-called “noise cameras.” By attaching a microphone to an otherwise nondescript speed camera, the Méduse cameras can identify excess noise generators on the road and then take a picture — like a speed camera — of the offending vehicle’s license plate. A couple of weeks later, a fine for 135 Euros — about CAD$185 — drops in your mailbox. And while the cameras are ostensibly directed at all road users, as Visordown notes, “many feel motorcycles are being unfairly targeted compared with car drivers with many routes popular with bikers.”

Indeed, if you peruse European motorcycle news sites you’ll notice the call for banning bikes for excessive noise is getting, well, louder. On April 30, the United Kingdom’s Department for Transport announced it would be spending £300,000 to test similar noise cameras. Their goal, according to rideapart, is to stop bikers from unnecessarily revving their engines at stoplights as well as to tamp down on noisy exhaust. Meanwhile in the Austrian Tyrols — a fabulous place to ride a two-wheeler — local police forces are testing all bikes for motorcycles producing more than 95 db, fining some motorcyclists even with stock exhausts.
So what, you say? Why all the hubbub about a bunch of continental whiners?

Well, the first thing you should note is that all of the countries noted above — Austria and France and especially Germany and the U.K. — are normally very biker-friendly. Motorcycling is a well-accepted part of the cultural fabric and, in recent years, part of a vibrant economic engine. BMW set sales records in 2021 and the German market recently enjoyed its best quarter in 15 years. Triumph and England are doing equally well. All, other than the noise issue, have long been welcoming to two-wheelers.

And yet the groundswell for tamping down on noisy motorcycles continues to escalate. What was, just a year ago, editorial in newspapers — England’s Motorcycle News describing the outcry as “The Baffle of Britain” — has now turned into action, even the influential London Times rallying to the cause with a particularly nasty piece: “The Times view on noisy motorbikes: Born To Be Mild.”

And many jurisdictions — like Feldberg — are frustrated by the tedious, costly and seeming ineffectiveness of measuring noise levels to punish the individual miscreants. Instead, they have simply turned to an overall ban.

Bikers in Quebec are already aware of such restrictions, Old Quebec, Longuiel and even Mont Royal has restricted access to two-wheelers over the years. Closer to home, in the National Post’s “The case for an all-out crackdown on unmuffled motorcycles,” the author, Tristin Hopper, labelled motorcyclists as “peacocking, narcissist, insecure and emotionally stunted.” Another journalist, Sabrina Maddeaux, went even further, saying that “At some point, motorcyclists who refuse to follow the rules [i.e. illegally modify their bikes] should have their hobby horses impounded.” Across the country — and even the United States — there appears to be an ever-growing call to either tamp down on loud exhausts or just ban bikes in general. Hell, there’s even a Facebook page — Concerned Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles (CCALM) — solely dedicated to portraying motorcyclists as nothing more than egocentric rabble-rousers.

Unfortunately, I’m uncertain of what a solution, short of restrictions on our right to ride, might look like. A minority, however miniscule, of motorcyclists vows to remain vocal in their tributes to internal combustion. If forum discussions are any indication, many — especially those south of the border — seem to feel it is their God-given right to pollute the air with their high-decibel straight pipes. Appeals to the common good, of course, fall on deaf ears. The worry that communities will simply resort to banning all motorcyclists in an effort to weed out the few bad seeds doesn’t get much more traction. And if Europe’s experience is an indicator, the relative quiet of the pandemic has accelerated the call to reduce noise pollution. In other words, we can expect the pressure for a solution from the non-motorcycling public to ramp up even further.

This much I do know: If we, as an industry, don’t solve this problem, it will be solved for us. I’ll leave it to you to determine which alternative is better.

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