2017 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited with 114 Milwaukee Eight V-Twin
CVO Limited

Noisy motorbike exhausts doomed?

As noisy motorbike exhausts seem doomed by complaints and heightened law enforcement around the world, Harley-Davidson has been able to increase the noise of its new models.

Their new Milwaukee Eight V-twin engine is mechanically quieter which means they have been able to make the exhaust note louder and richer while still remaining legal in world-standard drive-by noise tests.

In fact, it’s a glorious and inoffensive noise. Just listen to these bikes at the recent world launch.

However, a lot of riders are not satisfied with the standard exhaust for performance, aesthetics, noise and, let’s face it, bragging reasons. So they swap for an often louder and illegal aftermarket exhaust.

It seems the non-riding community is getting sick of it. Every week we read of some country cracking down more on noisy motorcycle exhausts, introducing new laws or increasing fines. Even in Detorit Motor City they have introduced a law that bans exhausts that can be heard 50m away!

Recently the US Environmental Protection Agency fined Harley $12m ($A15.7m) for fitting aftermarket tuners found to emit illegal amounts of air pollution. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as they intimated there will be more fines for other companies over aftermarket devices that affect air and noise pollution.

And it’s only going to get worse as the coming wave of quiet electric motorcycles makes more people ask why bikes need to be so noisy.

Victory Empulse TT electric motorcycle noisy
The quiet Victory Empulse TT electric motorcycle has no exhaust

While many motorcycle riders will loudly shout that “Loud pipes save lives”, the claim could fall on deaf ears as there are no studies that definitively support that theory.

In fact, some studies suggest loud pipes make riders more aggressive, cause other motorists to react irrationally and do not make riders any more conspicuous.

The ageing, but still authoritative Hurt Report actually found that bikes with modified exhausts were overrepresented in crashes and that large, quiet touring bikes such as Goldwings were underrepresented. About the only supportive arguments for loud pipes are anecdotal.


Just as loud pipes saving lives may be a myth, so is loud pipes cause hearing loss. It is more likely to be wind noise, according to the American Industrial Paramedic Services.

Noise limits vary in each country, but all factory supplied motorcycle exhausts for road use are legal.

If the dealer changes the muffler, you should ensure that the new muffler is compliant and get written confirmation.

While there are often penalties for anyone who sells a motorcycle with a defective exhaust system, it is usually only the rider who cops the fine! Find out how you can beat an exhaust fine.

 If you change your bike’s muffler, consult with your local noise regulations to ensure that the pipe is legal.Loud pipes noisy

However, that is not the end of it, as the packing inside a muffler can deteriorate over time causing the pipe to get louder. Just having a sticker or stamp on the exhaust to say it complies will not save you from a fine if a police officer or transport department inspector has a noise meter. Sometimes police have been known to issue a fine based on their judgement rather than a calibrated scientific noise meter!

What usually happens is they will issue a show-cause notice as the roadside test may not be sufficient to issue a ticket. Instead, you will be summoned to take your bike to a transport department facility for a proper noise test. If you fail, you will not only pay a fine, but have to present the bike again with a compliant muffler fitted before the bike is deemed legal.

Is it worth it for all our sakes?Akropovic Open-Line motorcycle exhaust system on a Harley-Davidson Road King noisy

I’ve only changed the muffler on a couple of bikes I’ve owned. While I love the sound of a deep note from an exhaust like the new Harley-Davidson Milwaukee Eight Touring and CVO range, I hate raspy exhausts and I find loud, droning pipes give me a headache on a long trip.

However, on many occasions I’ve been supplied with a demo bike to ride by motorcycle companies who have fitted noisy aftermarket exhausts in a misguided attempt to please motorcycle journalists.

Some of them are illegal and even have warnings imprinted on them such as “Off-road use only”. I once rejected a test bike because of this as it was so noisy it was attention-grabbing and my licence was short on points.

If I have a bike to test which has an illegal pipe and I choose to take my chances with the law, I modify my riding behaviour. For a start, I don’t let it warm up for several minutes in my garage, annoying the neighbours, or switch it on and arrogantly let it idle just metres from cafe tables while I put on my helmet and gloves. Most modern bikes don’t need any warm-up before riding, anyway.

I also don’t blip the throttle or encourage the bike to make loud noises when passing through urban areas (except maybe tunnels!). Out in the country, I’m also careful not to fire it up when passing livestock as it can frighten them, causing them to stampede or run into barbed-wire fences.

If we all modify our behaviour just a little, we might still get away with it a little longer before the noise/fun police and the electric motorcycle industry destroy all our fun. 

  1. Graeme says:
    10th September, 2016 at 9:04 am
    The only people who need loud pipes are those who are so insecure they need some way of getting people to look at them. I find loud exhaust noise, from motorcars, motorcycles and all other vehicles offensive.

    * I’m with Graeme.

    1. I ride an old Honda 1990 NX650 and had no trouble finding an Eu compliant exhaust for the old girl, my neighbor here in Sydney has a Hardley Ridable and he wakes half the block up at 0430 AM with his stupid aftermarket no silencer exhausts , I just wrote to the EPA but they only send a letter to take it to a EPA test that could take months my nerves are fried
      I have ridden for years in 5 different countries on the left and right side of the road, never did i feel the need to make noise, positioning and riding habits have kept me alive for the last 35 years

  2. I’ve been contemplating a change for my C50 as I reckon it’s way too quiet. But I hope the days of straight throughs and drag ways will soon be gone.

  3. I’m with Graeme – I’ve been riding for 50 years and still love riding fast and furious but loud pipes – I just don’t get it. They give the rider a headache ( unless he is wearing ear plugs ) – they offend your neighbors and in my case since I chose to live in a very quiet remote location – they intrude on my chosen lifestyle.

    My F650 Dakar has after market pipe but it passes the noise level tests and sounds good when you give it a squirt. If you drove a car down the street with the noise level of some of these loud bikes you wouldn’t make kilometre before being pulled over.

  4. My somewhat small backyard backs onto a main road, and yes, a loud motorcycle – usually a Harley – passes by occasionally. But you know what, even though I don’t own a Harley and never have, it doesn’t really bother me. Nor do the V8s or Lancer Evos. You know what really pisses me off, what noise really goes right through the house? Two things: doof doof “music” and especially speeding trucks using their compression brakes, that’s what – despite the sign asking them not too. So when is there going to be a special law passed against that? Or are motorcycles just an easier target?

  5. Firstly we need to differentiate, between the outrageous and ridiculous, and the mildly louder pipes.
    My pipes as an example are stock, well used and burnt out, sounds nice, and when I get on the gas it sounds even nicer.
    But why are my stock stainless steel mufflers burning out in the first place. Because I ride hard, and long, hmm maybe, however the EPA is to take more than its fair share of the blame.
    Forcing manufactures to obtain, so called clean/complete lean burn, not only supplies the heat for the catalytic converter bed to work, but secondly burns away, internal metal and fibre muffler materials.
    And of course now the muffler materials are burning away even quicker, because now it runs even leaner, because this self perpetuating cycle is caused by the EPA buffoons.
    But alas, some of us are blessed with enough smarts, to tune our way around the problem, God bless TuneECU.

  6. When I was young I was into loud music loud cars load bikes and loose women
    Now I’m past middle age I’m into comfortable bikes comfortable cars comfortable women and comfortable hearing aids.
    Load pipes don’t bother me anymore I just switch off the hearing aid.

  7. The only people who need loud pipes are those who are so insecure they need some way of getting people to look at them. I find loud exhaust noise, from motorcars, motorcycles and all other vehicles offensive.

    1. Hoo-Ray for the sound of freedom, I say.

      Oh and Graeme — please put up your address so I can rev my exhaust out front of yours. It’s great. I promise. Sounds AWESOME. And no, my neighbours don’t complain.

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