It is tempting for bikers to laugh off the holy crusade against “motorcycle noise” and aftermarket exhaust pipes. In the first place, the reasons for replacing the stock exhaust on a Harley are obvious to the people who do it.
Back in the day, 82 inch Shovelheads made about 70 horsepower right out of the box. Brand new 82 inch Twin Cams make about 58 horsepower. The reason for the decrease is that modern bikes are intentionally set up at the factory to run inefficiently. They must run poorly in order to meet the mileage, noise and pollution abatement goals that are mandated by a self-righteous and distant bureaucracy.
It all seems like so much red tape to most riders. Harley-Davidson does not build motorcycles that run well. Harley builds motorcycles that meet arbitrary and fatuous government standards. The standard set of improvements made to brand new motorcycles even has a name. Most people call it “the Harley tax.”
The Harley tax is the amount new owners must pay to “let the engine breathe.” The results of changing the pipes and air filter and fattening the gas to air mixture are immediate and potentially life saving. Motorcycles are small and vulnerable, so riders commonly try to stay safe by out-accelerating danger. And, factory pipes frustrate that ambition to stay alive.
Loud Pipes Save Lives
Secondly, as anybody who has ever actually ridden a motorcycle knows, Harleys are not vehicles so much as they are cloaks of invisibility. It is not simply a matter of motorists not seeing motorcycles. Drivers tend not to recognize the motorcycles they see as other motor vehicles sharing the road with them. So it is common for drivers to simply run over bikes. In the United States these collisions make the papers about 15 times a day. And, it is much harder to survive a freeway collision on a bike than in a car.
Motorcycles that are loud enough to be heard inside a sound-proofed passenger compartment are not only better able to run away from bike-blind motorists. They are also much harder to ignore. Even motorcycle cops know this.
In 2007, the city of Oakland put stock pipes on all 30 of its Harley-Davidsons. The new pipes stayed on until an Oakland cop riding a Harley with a stock exhaust was struck by a driver who said he never knew the motorcycle was there.
According to then Oakland Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki, “the decibel drop sparked a chorus of complaints from other officers, who said they felt less safe.” The department concluded, Kozicki went on to say, that “it was in the best interest of the officers to put more-audible pipes back on.”
The Noise Nuts
The campaign against “motorcycle noise” is also easy to dismiss because it is led by a bare handful of fatuous and unpleasant busybodies.
The concept of “noise pollution” was invented in 2004 by a UCLA professor of “political activism” named Ted Rueter. Rueter started a campaign called “Noise Free America” and as recently as 2005 he had to justify the concept to the left leaning digest Utne Reader. “A lot of people get off on noise and think that there’s something wrong with peace and quiet,” Rueter told the digest. “We’re still fighting a public perception that this is a trivial issue and anyone who’s concerned or interested in curbing noise is a crank.”
Other cranks became aroused when they heard Rueter’s seductive call and most of them took pains to make themselves appear more important than they actually are. The well known and often quoted group Noise Off is a guy named Richard Tur. (The spelling is not a typographical error. He actually spells his last name without the final “D.”)
A “citizen’s group” in Maine, called MECALM (Maine Citizens Against Loud Motorcycles) is a guy named Andy Ford who has a neighbor who is a state senator. A similar “grass roots organization” in New Hampshire called NHCALM is another guy named Bill Mitchell.
It is common to underestimate how important fanatics like Rueter, Tur, Ford and Mitchell are becoming. But, they are important because they are warping public perception and inspiring new laws.
New California Law
One of those is a California law scheduled to go into effect next year. It is called the “Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act” and it was sponsored by a California State Senator named Fran Pavley. Pavley said her new law was aimed at “a few bad apples on our roads (who) are infringing on the rights of others with their illegal, attention-seeking loud pipes.” Pavley’s statement was a loathsome lie but it became true because nobody was able to contradict her.
Pavley is a former middle school teacher who represents the most affluent neighborhoods in Los Angeles and she demonstrates a tendency to treat other adults as if they are her middle school students. She is so ridiculous a person that it is also tempting to either ignore her or laugh her away. Unfortunately, she has the power to enact ridiculous laws.
Pavley’s law effectively forbids Harley owners from replacing their exhausts with better ones. The act requires motorcycle exhausts sold after 2012 to have a visible EPA stamp. The law also requires that motorcycles not exceed a sound level of 80 decibels which is 1.3 decibels quieter than New York’s tony Indochine restaurant on a quiet night as measured by the Zagat restaurant guide. It is 10 decibels quieter than a normal conversation, 30 decibels less than a lawn mower and about 15 decibels quieter than the police bikes in Oakland when they idle. Eighty decibels is also five decibels quieter than the traffic noise inside an auto with the windows rolled up.
Searches And Fines
Police departments throughout the country have eagerly jumped on the motorcycle noise abatement bandwagon. Not only is “loud” quickly becoming probable cause to detain passing motorcyclists. Ensuring that all passing motorcycles are not “loud” has become a reason to implement motorcycle road blocks. These road blocks are, in effect, dragnets that allow police to stop bikers in order to try to get something on them.
The 80 decibel limit is so arbitrary and unreasonable that it gives police a reason to stop and fine everybody. And, as everybody already knows, these fines are a growing revenue source for cities and towns desperate for cash. They are in effect, in the most literal way, highway robbery.
Money, rather than neurotics, is the main reason why motorcycle noise abatement campaigns are picking up steam. There is money in “motorcycle noise” for police and politicians.
There is also money in “motorcycle noise” for a guy named Chris Real.
In order to write the new California law and similar laws in cement, police must have a scientifically justifiable standard for measuring motorcycle noise. And, they must also have the equipment to make those scientific measurements. The author of the scientific procedure is an entrepreneur named Chris Real. He also makes the equipment.
The new standard for measuring motorcycle noise is titled SAE J2825. SAE used to be an abbreviation for “Society of Automotive Engineers.” It is now the trademark of a for-profit company called SAE International. SAE sets numerous standards ranging from socket sizes to the standard dimension of cargo containers. It leans heavily on independent contractors to invent its standards. Chris Real, who owns a company named DPS Technical Incrporated in Upland, California is the author of SAE J2825.
For the last year, since the California “Motorcycle Anti-Tampering Act” was signed into law, Real has been teaching the procedure he invented to cops around the country. The training in California has been subsidized by the state Office of Traffic Safety. The same state agency has also subsidized a campaign in Elk Grove, California to see how much revenue police there can generate by writing motorcycle noise tickets. The Elk Grove police have been writing the tickets for the last year. They don’t write noise tickets for jackhammers or trucks. They only write noise tickets for motorcycles.
Real’s procedure uses what Real sells. DPS Technical’s main product is a “law enforcement sound measurement kit.” The kit includes a “Sound Level Meter, ANSI Type 1 Field Calibrator, 2 vibration tachometers, measuring tape, OHV RPM testing data, spark arrester probe and case.” It also includes “certificates of calibration, personal protection equipment and field carrying case and (an) informational DVD.”
A “typical kit for field enforcement purposes,” the “PN: SLM ENV KT 1” costs $3,100.
No highway robber should be without one.