They are bikers, hear them roar

Peter Jackson
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When it comes to the loud motorcycle debate, I have seen so many red herrings floating around this week that I’m thinking of opening a specialty fish shop.

The issue, in short: St. John’s Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, among others, wants to see a ban on “after market” exhaust systems for motorcycles. Not the decorative kind — just the large pipes that noticeably increase the volume of the engine.

Judging by myriad comments on a recent online Telegram story, a majority of citizens appears to be on O’Leary’s side.

But an ad hoc motorcyclist defence league has also sprung up, writing comments and letters to complain about the unfair targeting of bikers.

Among them is Telegram features editor and motoring columnist Ken Simmons, who addressed the issue in his Aug. 20 column.

Ken says that targeting bikers is discriminatory, since undesirable decibel levels come from many other sources. To that extent, I concur. Any deliberate, objectionable increase in noise levels should be treated the same.

But Ken and I don’t entirely see eye to eye on the issue, and I’m confident he respects my right to disagree. If I come in tomorrow and find a pool of axle grease on my chair, I’ll know I was mistaken.

The problem here is that many motorcyclists seem to be either misinterpreting the complaint, or side-stepping it.

First, loud-pipe complaints do not stem from prejudice against motorcycles. I can’t think of anyone who hates motorcycles per se. I know many who fear for their or their family member’s safety, and that occasionally wins out over the attraction.

The problem is the amplified noise, plain and simple.

Then why, the apologists ask, don’t people complain about other noises?

The answer is, we do. But more often, those other noises are the unfortunate accoutrements of a necessary activity. Lawn mowers and snowblowers serve a purpose. So do dump trucks and other vehicles that rattle loudly when they hit a bump. In many cases, it is not practical to mitigate these noises.

Car stereos straddle the line. A car sound system is used for very personal and practical things, such as listening to radio reports and music. When it is deliberately cranked up too loud, however, it deserves the same condemnation as the power pipes.

The point: after-market pipes deliberately raise the volume. And it is a very distinct, grating sound. Some argue it’s not an especially frequent occurrence; I live near a major intersection, and can say without doubt that it is the single-most common traffic noise to rise above normal decibel levels — in the summer, at least.

Look at the Highway Traffic Act. Section 195(1) says the minister shall make laws about vehicle equipment to, among other things, “eliminate or reduce noise or other nuisances incidental to the operation of the vehicle.” One of the essential items listed? Mufflers.

Power pipes are not mufflers. They are the exact opposite.

A final note about safety.

Many bikers argue that the extra volume helps guarantee other drivers will notice them.

First, without even addressing the self-centred premise of this argument, let’s examine it on its face. If a driver or pedestrian hears the sudden clatter of a pipe-enhanced bike, he is just as likely to be startled or distracted as he is to be cooly conscious of the source of that noise. This can be a traffic hazard in itself.

I’m unaware of any studies correlating loud bikes with fewer accidents. And the idea that one class of driver should be allowed to continually bust everyone else’s ears is a non-starter. All vehicles have short-term attention getters. They’re called horns. Pedestrians are vulnerable, too, but we don’t suggest they walk around blowing vuvuzelas every few seconds (unless we have a penchant for South African soccer tournaments).

One commenter on The Telegram website (sadly, anonymous) encapsulated the issue quite bluntly.

“Why the hell would you put a muffler on a bike to make it louder? Hey! Look at me! I'm an idiot on a loud bike!”

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Organizations: The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • Turry from town
    August 25, 2011 - 05:32

    How many bikes in the run of a day do you see? And how many of them are noisey? I think this is nothing but a photo-op for councillor O'Leary. She should work on something more concerning like how council is going to lower our taxes.I would like to know what O'Leary plans to do, when the bikes are put away for the winter, and all those loud smokey busses and trucks are still on the road?

  • rudef
    August 24, 2011 - 22:56

    I don't own a bike,but can certainly hear them while driving. anyone who don't is likely driving with a phone to their ear. loud is safe, no matter how you cut it.

  • nearmiss
    August 24, 2011 - 22:49

    well I don't know about loud mufflers ,but I did hear a bike one day last week ,I certainly would have hit him with my car if I didn't hear him. so I guess it saved a least one guy from getting hurt or maybe even killed. i think there's more out there to complain about than loud mufflers.

  • Chief
    August 24, 2011 - 22:40

    Maybe If all you bike hating "Winers" would just shut up , it would be much quieter. Maybe you just can't afford a bike and just don't want anyone else to enjoy them. there are much more important things to complain about ,like the roads that us bikers have to drive on. like "Loveit" said, look at me, i'm the loud mouth Idiot that does all the useless complaining. grow up bye......

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    August 24, 2011 - 12:15

    South Park - You are absolutely correct. Using the excuse that a loud exhaust enhances rider safety has to be the biggest load of BS I have ever heard. What many of these riders also neglect to mention is that they also wear ear plugs to block the sound of their own bikes. How is that for your safety factor .... Simply Priceless!

  • LoveIt
    August 24, 2011 - 08:37

    Best Comment ever...or close to it. “Why the hell would you put a muffler on a bike to make it louder? Hey! Look at me! I'm an idiot on a loud bike!”

  • South Park
    August 24, 2011 - 08:25

    There's an episode of South Park that deals with loud bikes, really nails these biker boys. The safety claim of loud exhausts is moronic. Imagine a bike so loud that everyone can hear it but that also means the rider, being closest to the noise, can't hear anything else such as emergency vehicles, screeching car tires, dump trucks, etc. Yep, sounds like a real safety factor to me.

  • Chantal
    August 24, 2011 - 06:54

    So he thinks bikers are being discriminated against (?!) It's interesting to the *some* in the motorcycle community resort to the same logic as the gun nuts... Maybe their desire for big noise is compensating for...err... other inadequacies.