Why Are Motorcycles So Loud – Loud pipes are a great way to get your bike noticed, but you can also wear bright, covered safety gear.
“A noisy pipe saves life.” This is one thing riders love to say, a lot, in the maintenance of the engine and exhaust noise their big or modified bikes make. Some find themselves stating this defense more often: the noise of motorcycles, especially Harley-Davidsons, is usually louder and more disruptive than the noise of cars. But that’s a feature, not a bug, many riders say, because the bigger the bike, the more likely it is to be noticed by other riders on the road. And, the riders add, engine and exhaust noise are more effective than the horn. This is a constant sound, while a sudden beep can disturb the driver of the car and make him swerve or drift into the path burning the engine.
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Whether filter tubes actually save lives is still a matter of debate. There is no hard data to back up either side, so it becomes a battle of anecdotes. It seems that every experienced motorcyclist has a story about the time he was nearly run over before another driver noticed it in time. The owner of the house is ready to fight with stories of being woken up at night by the loud motorcycle.
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The law, when he’s involved, tends to run into a noisy pipe. New bikes leave the factory with noise-compliant exhaust systems, and some states have laws that prohibit motorcycle exhaust systems from being modified to make them louder. However, some police officers have admitted that they rarely pull bikes over solely to enforce a noise ordinance; more often they use the loud noise of our motorcycles as an excuse to control crowds or check sobriety. And in California, the Oakland Police Department made the pipes of their patrol motorcycles even louder, after an officer was hit by a car whose driver said he never heard the motorcycle coming [source: Barrett].
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can catch up with motorcyclists. As EVs become more popular, the agency is considering adding noise to increase attention. NHTSA is concerned that quiet electric motorcycles and other vehicles go unnoticed in traffic. Sure, the agency is clearly more concerned about the risk to pedestrians than to motorcyclists, but the point remains: The agency agreed that unnoticeable vehicles are dangerous [source: Edge]. (As of 2015, the agency’s new noise standards are still in the works.)
For security reasons, it’s worth noting that there is more than one way to be observed. Wearing brightly colored safety gear and using lights are two other ways to increase rider visibility.
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It can happen anywhere, even on the bucolic streets of genteel Williamsburg or the cobbled thoroughfares of the expensive Meatpacking District. Suddenly, they flew down the road like a pair of greased horses: motorcycles. Thundering out of the blue and disrupting everyone’s peace in their evil way, they fly over as if to say, “We’ve arrived, everyone pay attention and note!”
Whether in pack or cruising solo, the motorcycle makes a sound that echoes down the street with anger and arrogance, just like the jackhammer of a skyscraper in front of you that you can’t afford.
Even better, they always seem to strike at the wrong time. Are you trying to get your baby to sleep? Vroom, there’s one out there! Take a leisurely stroll down the block? Vroom, there’s one behind you! Just want to tell your girlfriend you’re taking a break? Vroom, one sneaks up behind you and you put the jailbreak for another year.
Recently, a friend mentioned that the powerful engine noise doubles as a safety precaution. This may be true, but I’m skeptical since I know how most riders like to ride: go in and out of traffic at high speeds and act as if the stop sign is invisible. If safety really mattered, bikers all over the world would trade their loud engines for the wonderful invention known as the covered machine.
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Of course, the motorcycle sound is just the icing on the macho ice cream cake. There’s also a throat-cracking exhaust. Oh, and the fact that they sometimes almost scare pedestrians to death. Which is why, whenever a motorcycle interrupts my day, I proudly give a raised middle finger salute—then cover my ears, of course.
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Sign up for our newsletter to get a taste of the best stuff out there – at no cost. Sometimes, it seems like there are as many myths about motorcycle safety as there are real advice. And one constant is the idea that “loud pipes save lives.” That is, the louder your motorcycle’s exhaust is, the safer you will be. But new research has silenced him.
A police officer checks how to filter a motorcycle exhaust pipe | Frank Rumpenhorst/Alliance Image via Getty Images
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Indeed, an insignificant part of the “life-saving noise tube” of supporters who try to justify the deafening exhaust of their bikes,
Report. In particular, admitting that by turning up the volume, they are letting other road users, i.e. motorists, know their bikes around. However, a new study from Romania has driven the nail into that particular coffin.
Report, in collaboration with the Department of Motor Vehicles of the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. The goal is to see how to filter motorcycle hose for passenger cars. A group of specialists based in the Netherlands, Enviro Consult, provides further assistance.
In the study, six different (unspecified) bicycles traveled towards the redline at various distances around the stationary car,
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Report. Specifically, 50 feet behind the car, 33 feet behind the car, right next to the car, and right in front of it. In addition to the distance of our motorcycle from the car, the riders in the study varied the interior noise level. Basically, with the windows down,
The upshot, as you’ve probably figured out, is that loud pipes don’t actually save lives. If the bike is 50 feet away, you can’t even hear it inside the car. And that’s even with the loudest motorcycle exhaust peaking at 110dB. It’s chainsaw-level loud, the
Report. In addition, even at a distance of up to 10 meters, only one bicycle can be clearly heard inside the car.
After the motorcycle was overtaken by a car, he heard a loud noise. But even then, only one bike, the 110dB one, was heard above the indoor ambient noise,
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Report. The rest is barely detectable. And once the bike is in front of the car, loud pipes are no different.
To be fair, there are ways that loud pipes make themselves known beyond 50 feet as well. But it would require a noise level above 135dB,
Report. It’s louder than a jet plane taking off, and too loud to pass any sort of road noise regulations. This raises an excellent point about motorcycle exhaust modifications, such as removing the exhaust or fitting an aftermarket system.
Report. Instead, it can damage engine components. On the other hand, an aftermarket exhaust system, when installed correctly, can safely increase horsepower,
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Report. And often, doing so doesn’t make your engine louder. However, it causes another problem when fitting noisy pipes: they can harm you.
Remember how a motorcycle in the Romanian study had a 110dB exhaust? It is strong enough to cause hearing damage in just 15 minutes of daily exposure,
Report. But it’s not just our car’s fault. Above 25km/h, wind noise outweighs the noise of your bike,
That’s why a solid helmet and quality motorcycle armor aren’t the only safety gear you need. Also invest in a good pair of ear plugs,
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Report. You can even customize your ears; I have and always use it.
In short, noisy pipes don’t save lives. It really does the opposite. However, as mentioned above, there are really helpful motorcycle safety tips out there. And they’ll serve you better than drain pipes.
Council no. #1 for motorcycle safety is “ride like you’re invisible”. Even modern ADAS features such as blind spot monitoring do not prevent all accidents. And with dependent drivers and more than their skills, it could make things worse. So, assume no one is watching you and look, think and plan ahead,
Report, which is tip #1. 2 on motorcycle safety. Use bright colors, move (safely) in your lane and stay away from the driver’s blind spot. And if you’re allowed to share a lane, do it slowly and deliberately. This way, the motorist has the ability to see and mentally acknowledge your presence.
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