It’s Getting Loud in Here – Let’s Go Electric

JUN 12 2018 BY PAUL SCOTT 44

Summer is here, and along with the warm, balmy trade winds, we are treated, or I should say, subjected, to the roar of exceptionally loud motorcycles.

You know the ones I’m talking about. You can hear them from blocks away; the low, throaty rumble of the Harley and the high-speed whine of the sport bikes. If you are unfortunate enough to be in a car, or be a pedestrian next to them, they can scare the bejeezus out of you.

The riders of these bikes have replaced their legal and effective factory-installed exhaust system with aftermarket pipes designed to greatly increase their vehicle’s noise. They do this in spite of local ordinances against excessive and unnecessary noise and in stark violation of federal regulations and state laws mandating that factory-installed equivalent, and EPA approved, exhaust systems be used on highway motorcycles at all times while in use. In recognition that enforcement by local police may prove to be difficult and subjective, the EPA enacted a stamp match which requires an EPA stamp on factory installed or EPA compliant exhaust systems and chassis.  Enforcement is as simple as checking and verifying the stamp exists.

Many studies have concluded that excessive noise contributes to serious health problems. The danger to the public when a loud bike roars through a community includes spooked car drivers who may react recklessly to a sudden loud noise. The illegal pipes also emit much more pollution, more than the average car, for instance. One of the easiest and most common modifications is to remove the catalytic converter.  The California Air Resources Board estimates that a motorcycle with this modification emits up to 10 times more smog-producing pollutants.

Not all motorcycle riders are guilty of this abusive practice. Most riders, myself included, love the freedom motorcycles offer. Whether commuting in heavy traffic and being able to utilize the space between lanes, carving the beautiful canyon roads on sunny weekend afternoons, or something as mundane as grocery shopping, riding a motorcycle in southern California is economical, efficient, and thrilling. 

I’ve been riding electric motorcycles for over ten years without any problem. My bikes are almost silent. I never make any sound that would disturb people who don’t need, nor want, intrusive noise in their lives. Harlan Flagg, a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast and owner of Hollywood Electrics, had this to say recently regarding the oft-quoted meme that “Loud Pipes Save Lives”:

It is my belief that loud pipes give the rider of that loud motorcycle a false sense of security. While the exhaust points backwards, alerting the drivers behind the rider of their presence, the horn is a much more effective tool for alerting drivers ahead of the rider. I also believe that riders of loud motorcycles are doing a huge disservice to motorcycling and turning others off to this method of transportation by becoming an irritating and intrusive presence on the streets.”
Harlan Flagg, Owner Hollywood Electrics.

I can’t understand the mindset that would subject thousands of people to an obnoxious and harmful noise that serves no purpose other than to draw the attention of everyone for blocks around. When you consider that the typical motorcycle rider will ride for miles through heavily populated communities, those with loud pipes are disturbing thousands of people with their invasive noise every time they ride.

The city in which I reside, Santa Monica, is famous for its aggressive parking enforcement.  In 2017 Los Angeles County collected over $148 million dollars in parking tickets. Indeed, in most cities across the country parking enforcement is a steady income stream for municipal governments. When it comes to these loud motorcycles, however, something most city residents hate, most municipalities do nothing. Ironically, Santa Monica receives money from the state of California to conduct periodic motorcycle safety checks.  It would not be all that difficult to perform a quick visual check of the exhaust systems of motorcycles suspected of emitting excessive exhaust noise to determine if they have been modified with improper exhaust systems that do not comply with the California state law 27150. (a), 27151.(a) and 27202.1.(a).  However, legislation is seriously lacking across the United States when it comes to exhaust noise enforcement. (List of city and state actions on Motorcycle noise enforcement for sidebar)

The California code should be a model for other states to adopt. Motorcycles manufactured on or after January 1, 2013 and that are suspected of emitting “excessive or unusual noise” and that appear to be equipped with an improper exhaust system, should be cited under 27150.(a), 27151.(a) and 27202.1. (a), as no aftermarket “straight pipe” regardless of the presence of baffles or aftermarket exhaust system or muffler intended “for use on closed course motorcycles only” are in compliance with federal law or state law 27202.1. (a).

The EPA standard for noise production on motorcycle exhaust is 80 dB(a).  Dealerships estimate as many as 60% to 70% of their customers will modify the exhaust to emit a higher decibel level to as high as 110 dB(a).  At this decibel level children and adults are at risk of permanent hearing loss from prolonged or acute exposure (Insert hearing loss chart for sidebar).  This isn’t just a nuisance issue, it is an issue which could endanger the hearing of our children and loved ones!

Everyone deserves the quiet enjoyment of our property. We rely on our police departments to protect us from the miscreants, scofflaws, and bullies who replace the mufflers on their motorcycles with exceptionally loud pipes so they can announce their arrival from blocks away.

The city of Laguna Beach sets an example for model enforcement.  Laguna Beach employed a single officer to enforce their noise laws and the problem of loud motorcycles roaring through Laguna Beach was reduced dramatically while enforcement was in effect. We should demand that our cities treat this issue as the serious problem it is by prioritizing enforcement of all laws pertaining to illegal exhaust systems and that address excessive noise. It is beyond belief that an effective campaign to rid our cities of these bullies cannot be waged. After all, it’s easy to find the illegal bikes since they are so loud and their “excessive or unusual noise emissions” are plainly audible to any reasonable person.

If a lone police officer in Laguna Beach can make a dent in that city’s motorcycle noise problem, imagine what can be done if every municipality took this issue seriously and every officer was involved in enforcement of the noise statutes.

Images by Charles-Ryan Barber

Link to Paul’s website

Decibel Chart – modified motorcycle exhaust systems can be as high as 110 dB(a)

 

Additional links for reference on noise pollution

New York Times

WHO International

Journal for the Royal Society of Medicine

Motorcycle.com

NoiseOff

Johns Hopkins

Fosters

Reference/Foot Notes

Legislative Action

In 2002, after intense lobbying from the AMA and other MROs, the City of Albuquerque abandoned EPA stamp enforcement.

In 2007, in spite of vocal opposition, the City of Denver passed EPA stamp enforcement.

In 2008 and 2009, the New York City Council proposed legislation that would allow police officers to visually inspect parked motorcycles for the required EPA stamp.

In 2008, the City of Myrtle Beach passed EPA stamp enforcement and banned most motorcycle rallies. Affected residents claimed the noise, traffic congestion and unruly behavior was a serious problem. According to the Mayor of Myrtle Beach, John Rhodes, motorcycle rallies also drove away visitors. In early 2009, after intense lobbying by local businesses that cater to motorcycle tourism, the Myrtle Beach City Council repealed the legislation.

In 2009, the Boston City Council passed EPA stamp enforcement that imposes a $300 fine on riders caught with illegal exhaust pipes.

In 2009, Arvada, Colorado passed EPA stamp enforcement.

In 2009, Portland, Maine proposed EPA stamp enforcement. In 2010, the Maine State Legislature is considering EPA stamp enforcement.

In 2009, Green Bay, Wisconsin passed EPA stamp enforcement. Additionally, citizens can submit complaints of loud vehicles online that police officers can enforce if the vehicle is found to be in violation.

In 2010, California passed SB 435 that aims to increase enforcement of current anti-tampering and noise-level statutes for motorcycles. It would require that motorcycles maintain their federally required emissions equipment (on both original, and aftermarket exhaust systems), including a readily visible EPA stamp certifying compliance. These regulations gives law enforcement the ability to cite violations under the CA Vehicle Code, using a readily visible and unalterable stamp, already required by Federal regulation. The law applies to 2013 and newer model-year vehicles and is not retroactive to older motorcycles.

Categories: Bikes

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44 Comments on "It’s Getting Loud in Here – Let’s Go Electric"

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fotomoto
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fotomoto

I’m one of those riders who doesn’t like a loud bike. I have a legal aftermarket pipe that raises dB’s a few points and sounds really nice but not nearly as loud as my neighbor to the right with his RAM pickup or my other neighbor to the left with his Mustang. So…..

FWIW, I hate open pipe hardley-posers as much as the next person.

Nick
Guest
Nick

Any vehicle even approaching the noise levels of a motorcycle should be fined. Noise pollution is so obnoxious.

mx9000
Guest
mx9000

The funny thing about driving an EV, you get that instant torque and feeling of power without the noise, and suddenly the V8 Mustang GT sounds obsolete. Where before, since there was no choice but having a vehicle create noise, the engine roar was an actual positive.

But, this years’ Mustang GT gives of a BRRRuuuuuup sound, that is very unappealing. And with EV’s we’ve learned, totally unnecessary. It’s a mindset change.

Not to mention Audi’s un-turbo-charged engines sound like an electric blender.

Larry
Guest
Larry
I appreciate you, as a rider, expressing your distaste for excessively loud motorcycles. As Mr. Scott’s excellent article points out, the root cause of excessively loud motorcycles and other noisy vehicles is the unlawful altering of their mufflers. The most common way that is done is the owner having the factory installed mufflers, or entire exhaust system in some cases, replaced with various non-factory equivalent after market exhaust systems or mufflers that increase exhaust noise emissions. In fact, the manufactures of those products often tout the exhaust noise enhancing nature of their products as a marketing feature and a reason to buy their products. But those after market exhaust systems are not non-factory equivalent and don’t prevent “excessivie or unusual noise” as many state muffler laws require. On the contrary, they cause the vehicles they are installed to excessivie or unusual noise. It is unlawful to alter a vehicle’s exhaust system or muffler even if it raises their exhaust noise emissions by a few decibels, especially if that increase in noise is noticeable. And it is unlawful in many states to install non-factory equivalent exhaust systems or mufflers on highway vehicles. And for all highway motorcycles manufactured since 1983, it… Read more »
fotomoto
Guest
fotomoto

I appreciate your position Larry. Mine meets the Euro standards for 1997.

Unfortunately, you seemed to miss or ignore my other point about my neighbors vehicles doing the same and they outnumber bikes by magnitudes. Bikers, OTOH, tend to be more obnoxious per sample size. Those folks just want to be noticed, good or bad, it’s simply attention seeking behavior.

mx9000
Guest
mx9000

It’s a good point: “Loud Pipes KILL Sales”.

Of course in this subculture, the smaller the size the better. They may not want more sales and people in the bike club. So, Manufacturers have a problem.

Charbar
Guest
Charbar

Here in Oregon I was walking out from my drugstore and some a-hole Harley rider, who parked on the sidewalk mind you, started his bike and I thought a gun went off and about had a heart attack. He just turned around and gave me a poop-eating grin. Glad my two year old wasn’t with me. Some middle aged woman was following me out of the store and I expressed my displeasure about his noise. She obviously had no problem with it and said “Oh he’s just making a political statement.” Later I happened to see her license plate… TEXAS. Go figure.

Mark.ca
Guest
Mark.ca

The political statement was “i’m an idiot”.
I simply don’t understand why that’s legal and tolerated. Noise pollution is not something to be proud of.

Paul Scott
Guest
Paul Scott

It’s tolerated because most police departments will not enforce the law. People need to express their anger at both the police and the city councils that give them marching orders.

DL
Guest
DL

I believe that many cops don’t enforce these kind of laws because they are violators of them themselves. I’ve seen plenty of cops with loud pipe hogs, and with vehicles with dark tinted windows, no front plate, etc. They don’t care and they’ll only ticket someone else if they feel like it.

mx9000
Guest
mx9000

The electric motorcycle has 3 great advantages.
1) Instant Torque
2) No gear shifts.
3) Near silent operation, so that you’ve got greater situational awareness. You can hear cars around you approach.

These 3 together should really start to make inroads on traditional sales. We might need Tesla to make a bike, giving the bike great range, as Tesla seems to have the bets batteries. Or, they should sell a battery solution for bikes into the after market. Just to get these noise machines off the road.

wavelet
Guest
wavelet

Sigh. Not this trope again. A motorcycle isn’t just the drivetrain. Tesla has zilch to contribute to e-motorcycle design.
Motorcycle drivetrains have very different design envelopes than car drivetrains. Most significantly, volume & weight are much more constrained. E-motorcycles drivetrains have different design focuses.
Both Zero Motorcycles and Alta already have denser battery packs than Tesla.

There currently two very big problems with e-motorcycles (as opposed to e-mopeds & e-bicycles):
— Range, range and range. Motorcycle aerodynamics absolutely suck at highway speeds compared to cars, so no current or near-future e-motorcycle is usable for sport-touring or touring (needs 250mi range @80mph, and a way to recharge quickly. Sport-touring is done on the backroads, where there aren’t fast DC chargers)
— Price for even semi-decent range is prohibitive.

Result: Current e-motorcycles are useful only for commuting, and if that’s the only think you’re doing on the bike, might as well use a e-moped or bicycle.

Steven
Guest
Steven

Like I said before, build me an E-Motorcycle that would make me want to give up my Harley Davidson, for a reasonable price, and I’ll buy it.

u_serious?
Guest
u_serious?

Every city in every state needs to enforce the noise ordinance.
They should require all of them to do noise tests every year also, like cars do smog tests.
Anyone caught in violation get’s a $750 ticket. Second offenders get their bike impounded with a $2000 fine and mandatory weld comipliant exhaust.
Should do the same for cars also.

Loud jackoffs are irritating.

(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous
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(⌐■_■) Trollnonymous
Larry
Guest
Larry
Excellent article. I should point out that although, as required by federal law, legal EPA compliant replacement motorcycle mufflers are labeled to indicate that fact, almost all after market motorcycle mufflers or exhaust systems are not EPA compliant and don’t bear the label to indicate that fact as required by federal law. The manufactures of those products are totally ignoring the federal law and state laws just as their customer are. It is not necessary for enforcement personal to locate and read those labels in order to enforce the federal motorcycle muffler standard. As I said, those non-EPA compliant after market mufflers aren’t labeled at all and the labels on many legal EPA compliant factory installed mufflers are hidden out of sight which is also a violation of the federal labeling requirements. But that doesn’t mean the federal motorcycle muffler standard can’t be enforced. It is very easy to identify those non-EPA compliant after market exhaust systems and mufflers even without having to look for those labels. Noise Free America has published a “Guide to Modified Exhausts” ( https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Modified-Exhaust-Systems-Enforcement/dp/1610353129 ) that explains exactly how to visually identify those illegal non-EPA complaint after market motorcycles exhaust systems without the necessity of… Read more »
abc123
Guest
abc123

It’s easy to control the noise of the these types of bikes. Just like car emissions testing, it should be mandated that all motorcycles undergo similar testing. The testing would simply be the following:
“The rider/owner of the motorcycle must place their ear (that is unobstructed by any noise cancelling gear) no more than 1 feet from the exhaust of the motorcycle. The engine must then be revved to a maximum of 4000rpm for no less than 15 seconds. This must be repeated for the number of the exhaust tubes present on the motorcycle. If the rider/owner suffers hearing loss, then it is deemed that the motorcycle is producing excessive noise and the appropriate fine must be levied to the rider/owner as they exit the testing facility.”

Simple and effective.

scott franco
Guest
scott franco

What does this have to do with EVs?

Mark.ca
Guest
Mark.ca

Don’t think too hard now…

Linda Nicholes
Guest
Linda Nicholes

I couldn’t agree more! Loud, intrusive motorcycle noise is a pervasive nuisance that also contributes to a growing deafness epidemic.

Sébastien
Guest
Sébastien

Ever heard a bike honks? Those stock horn are jokes…
So yes I do understand alternative exhausts (but not the loudests or reving for no reason)

The table is interesting, you’d suggest going after jackhammer and personal music player too? Those are health hazard too. (Dont forget cars with stereos and windows opened)

James
Guest
James

The noises are most harmful to children. Exposure nearby to that level of noise, say at a red light for even a minute can permanently damage. That info was in the WHO link.

Steven
Guest
Steven

And that’s why I have air horns on my bike.

mx9000
Guest
mx9000

Good point, there really should have been, long ago a better way to muffle jackhammers. Of course the strike noise you’re going to have, but the air compression noise can be handled better. These companies don’t hire a “designer” to do their equipment.

I wonder if the Japanese have a better solution. They’re leading edge in noise pollution.

Maybe conversion to electric jackhammers would help.

Spoonman.
Guest
Spoonman.

When these idiots with modified bikes ride in the night, it makes me even angrier. I had just gotten one of my 18-month-olds to sleep a few weeks ago when somebody rolled down the street on an astonishingly loud bike. She hadn’t totally settled yet and woke up terrified.

Steven
Guest
Steven

Well here’s another case of “California versus the rest of the country”.
Here in Pennsylvania, other than an O2 sensor in each exhaust pipe, and dB levels, there aren’t many rules concerning our exhaust system. Go to towns like New Hope in the summer and you’ll see the police with SPL meters to make sure your exhaust isn’t too loud, or you’ll get a ticket.

As Harley Davidson riders will know, stock pipes are restrictive, and in addition to cutting noise, they also cut power. The Motor Company sells “Screaming Eagle” exhaust systems that allow the bike to produce (slightly) more power, but also more noise. Here, they’re perfectly legal. But in those areas where only stock is legal, I’d imagine Screaming Eagle pipes are forbidden.

mx9000
Guest
mx9000

Seems they need to do that every weekend, because they’re not catching everyone.

Nonbiker
Guest
Nonbiker

I hate motorbikes.

Djoni
Guest
Djoni

This is a stupid comment!
The motorbike don’t start without someone doing it.
Now, if this person is unaware or worse, proud to disturb everyone around, I would understand your dislike to be just like mine.
Hating this behavior far more than he or she enjoy stupidly doing it!

Nonbiker
Guest
Nonbiker

Couldn’t care less.

James
Guest
James

Typically when one ‘couldn’t care less’ they stop commenting. Bye Felicia.

wavelet
Guest
wavelet

I hate cagers like you. Due to environmental reasons among others.

James
Guest
James

Regardless of what side of the coin you’re on; ‘hate; isn’t what this article is about. The article is exceptional, and informative. Let’s all be grateful, not hateful that someone cares about the well-being of society as a whole.

Steven
Guest
Steven

Believe it or not, no one will force you to buy or ride one. All we riders ask, is that you realize that we’re as entitled to use the road just as much as you are.

James
Guest
James

…and no one said you weren’t.

Djoni
Guest
Djoni

Great article Scott, and fact base like a pro.

Charles York
Guest
Charles York

The invention of the internal combustion engine and of electrical devices capable of amplifying noise is relatively recent. It is taking a long time for our laws and law enforcement to catch up with those who derive a sense of power from projecting noise, or who are simply indifferent to the annoyance of others. And a number of people choose to tolerate the noisemakers, or apologize for them. This is not surprising when you can see from studying history how many good people tolerated slavery, for example, or even defended it. Thank you for the article and for contributing to progress. The quiet that people enjoyed throughout most of history can be restored. When we have the historical quiet restored while having the benefits of modern devices (including motorcycles, which when quiet, are not “bad” as some comments have said), society will be in a better place.

Notta Realname
Guest
Notta Realname

while I agree that kicking up a big noise on residential streets is obnoxious nonsense – the law ought to be enforced here – I’m a little apprehensive about “almost silent” motorcycles becoming the norm either.

I drive in California. lane splitting here may be legal, but rare enough that one does not expect it. as fraught of a meme as it may be, the “loud pipes” really do act as a warning system for imperfect drivers such as myself – and I have to assume they’re the only warning I *can* get, since I have never heard a biker sound their horn in this situation. instead, quiet bikes just tend to suddenly appear in my peripheral vision, giving me the nasty shock that “if you had drifted left ½ second ago, you would have killed that guy”.

in the coming EV-first world, where should that early warning come from?

Djoni
Guest
Djoni

It’s the responsability of the fraudulent to take care that his or her act is dangerous and illegal.

I understand your worry thought about the consequence, but you’re not responsable of other’s wrong doing.

We all have to care but not to the extend of every one fault.

The biker that split the lane has to be aware that it is prohibited exactly because it’s dangerous.

Paul Scott
Guest
Paul Scott

Lane splitting in CA is legal, as it is in the whole world except for the rest of the U.S.

Paul Scott
Guest
Paul Scott

Honestly, if you cannot pay enough attention to stay in your lane and not drift into another, then you should sell your car and take the bus, metro, Uber, or a bicycle. You are a dangerous driver and have no business operating a vehicle where your inattention can kill someone.

James
Guest
James

Exactly!

Robin
Guest
Robin

Wow, I tought I was the only one to hate those loud street vehicules 🙂

Kan
Guest
Kan

Porky starts by giving “joyrides” to his 5yo grandson on a riding mower without ear muffs, this after he is already rolling his Rs from a childhood of itractable otitis media and perforated tympanic membranes around his smoker parents. Then when a teen the dirt track, followed by obesity and mudding, then severe obesity by the time that he is tone deaf enough to only sense the thud thud of the V twin while the breeze hits his face. Stents, ministrokes, and he is still on 1PPD and case of beer on weekend, BUT HE IS FREE TO RIDE WITHOUT A HELMET. Huh, what did you say? Face me when you speak so I can read your lips!