Loud Pipes Are An Expression, Not Safety Equipment

Loud Exhaust; Safety or Expression?

By Scott Cochran, Editor

This will, in all probability, be the most unpopular editorial I have written in the ten years of puking out ink in this space.

I don’t know any other way to say it, but I’m throwing a BS flag on the popular slogan, “Loud Pipes Save Lives.”

Normally I don’t make it my business to debunk pithy helmet stickers.  There are plenty out there that are as suspect as the Loud Pipes sticker, but most of them are assumed to be tongue in cheek and not taken seriously.

Some of my favorite stickers are “For a small town this sure has a lot of assholes” and “If I don’t remember…it didn’t happen!” The one I’ve used in conversation recently is,  “Who Lit The Fuse On Your Tampon?” And one that is applicable here, “I have the right to remain silent but not the ability.”

But, back on loud pipes.

My first real “road” bike was previously owned.   The original owner had removed the stock exhaust and replaced it with “straight” pipes.

I remember how much I loved the sound of that bike.  I especially enjoyed riding through the concrete canyons of metro areas late at night and blipping the throttle to hear the thunder echo through the alleyways and empty parking garages.

My current bike has aftermarket pipes which are louder than stock, but not obnoxiously so.  The note is deeper and more throaty but still louder.

But, I’ve never believed those loud pipes have saved my life, or caused anything other than admiration at the sound, or irritation at the noise, depending on the person’s viewpoint.

Exhaust noise travels backwards.  Unless you’re riding 3 mph and blipping the throttle constantly, there’s little chance anyone in front of you will hear your “loud pipes.”

True enough some drivers will turn their head when you ride by and you may have convinced yourself that you “got their attention” with your loud pipes but as any baseball outfielder will attest, you see the ball heading your way before you hear the crack of the bat.

You would do much better to invest in the loudest train horn you can find to alert inattentive drivers who may turn or pull out in front of you.

“OK Cochran, but what about on the interstate when I’m riding alongside some soccer mom talking on the cell phone and yelling at her kids in the back?  She hears my pipes and it keeps her from pulling into my lane!”

Personally I never ride along beside anyone on the interstate. I’m usually riding slightly faster than the flow, but I still say a extremely loud horn is more effective, but arguably not as cool.

Now I know many of you will disagree with me, and that’s OK.  I’ve been on the politically incorrect side  of the fence before and I’m sure I’ll be there again.

Don’t misunderstand me, I like my exhaust to be louder than stock.  California’s recent legislation which will make it illegal to have anything on your new bike other than stock exhaust,  really chaps my ass.  I think it’s a slippery slope and one that begins to erode the guarantees of the First Amendment.

But my point is that loud pipes are not a “safety” issue and we, as a community and as voters, shouldn’t try to frame our arguments against noise legislation around that.  Loud pipes are an expression, just as pithy helmet stickers and “The Bitch Fell Off” t-shirts.

Plus the EPA sticker on most new bikes is placed in obscure locations, not easily read by law enforcement and in some cases only viewable by removing plastic or chrome parts.  This  will undoubtedly result in subjective enforcement until more legislation is passed to standardize placement of the EPA stamps.

Recently Dublin Georgia (30 miles from my office) enacted an ordinance which bans “saggy pants” and if you get caught with your pants 3 inches below your hips you’ll get slapped with a $200 fine.   Not many motorcyclists worry about getting pinched on this one but, I’m sure that the majority of you reading this editorial probably agree with that ordinance because you dislike seeing urban gang-bangers walking around the mall with their pants half to their knees and their boxers hiked up over their shirts.

But, the truth is, what is offensive to some of us is a form of expression, rebellion or a statement of individuality to others.

I think it’s juvenile to wear your pants half down to your knees but there are just as many people who believe its juvenile to ride a motorcycle that’s louder than a fire truck and those same people are convinced that social nirvana is reached by outlawing anything that offends either their eyes or their ears.

I’m not proposing we all replace our aftermarket pipes with factory silencers, but if we’re going to win this one we’d better get the non-riding public on our side.

Since I don’t see that happening any time soon, I’ll enjoy my aftermarket exhaust as long as possible.

Oh, and my new favorite sticker? “Yes it’s loud, but you’re ugly and you don’t hear me suggesting you get plastic surgery do you?

Ride Safe, and always take the road less traveled.