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