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.

Web Staff


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  7. Totally agree with you Scott. The only thing that really saves lives, in my opinion, is 360 degree awareness at all times.

  8. I disagree, Scott! When my 08 Super Glide hit 10,000 miles I "modified" my pipes, got the Stage 1 download & hi flow/air flow installed. 34,000 miles later, I can't tell you how many times I've used those loud pipes! First day, traveling down a country road, I spied a dog running across his yard appearing to want to chase the 3 bikes coming down the road. I was in the middle. The first rider performed a precautionary swerve, but I revved my engine & the dog stopped dead in his tracks & stared at us go by. I've heard, but don't know for sure, that other animals, like deer, can hear the bike & will bolt. Problem is, they could bolt in front of you… deer are stupid that way. Besides the fact they sound great, low & throaty, not obnoxious at all, one day I pulled up to a stop light in my cage, with windows up, radio on. Happened to glance to my left & there was a whisper quiet Gold Wing… never heard him. I have been in my cage at times & literally heard & felt a bike coming up behind me. By the way, I am a lady rider, too. Sorry, but I do believe those loud pipes have prevented someone from pulling out in front of me… not necessarily by just cruising alone but by revving the engine to get their attention. I've seen them stop when they appeared to be going to pull out. You still have to ride defensively, of course. And, I don't rev my pipes unnecessarily. I use them to warn drivers & to communicate with other riders with me. You'll never convince me they don't save lives. However, I do agree we should be respectful & not rev them in neighborhoods… that is unless someone is going to pull out in front of you.

  9. A couple anecdotes:

    First, I was driving in my full size SUV and was switching lanes and saw a biker at the lat minute and got back into my lane. As the biker passed me, I could hear her loud pipes, but not until she was about at my rear door. We were going 70-80 and the pipes were ineffective at that speed.

    Second, I have V&H BSS on my Fatty. They're pretty loud (louder than I wanted). I was riding down a city street that had 3 lanes both ways. A guy was tearing from the rightmost late to the leftmost and stopped in the center about 5 feet in front of me. He heard my pipes and didn't continue into my lane even though the way he was driving, it looked like he was making a quick 3 lane change (BAD!!). In this case, the loud pipes saved me from best case, a minor heart attack and at worst case, a squishing.

    Point being, loud pipes are effective on 3 sides at highway speeds: left, right and front of a car. At city speeds, they are much more effective from the back of a cage (4 sides). Ya know what, I can die just as easily getting smacked at 30-45 as I could at 70-80, so saying that loud pipes are flatly ineffective is false, flatly. :)

    As soon as I got my pipes, I realized they were loud and I have quiet baffles on order, but you know what? It's hard to justify someone's 10 seconds of minor inconvenience to me getting squished. I haven't quite decided yet.

  10. Scott,just between you and I and all that will be argued over this matter. I read an articial some years back that made a lot of common sense to me, so much I try still to put it into practice each time I ride or drive. First get the big picture, try to see whats on each side and behind and in front of you.Second Aim high in your forward vision, not just the vehicle in front of you, try to see whats down the road way before it can effect what you will need to do to stay safe. Third.always leave yourself an out. Try to know to what you can do, in case you need to avoid the unexpected thing that will happen, if you ride or drive long enough!!! Fourth.Keep your eyes moving. Try to take in as much as you safely can.Do not just look at whats in the direction you plan to travel.And last but not least, make sure they see you. Flash your lights or blow the horn , I would rather get the finger for doing that what makes sure they at least see me, then wind up in the hospital or a hell of a lot worse. But thats just my 2 cents worth and if it helps just one person that reads its, I'm O K with that!

  11. Scott – You are absolutely correct on this issue and if the knotheads out there don’t get the message from you, they are going to receive it ‘Loud and Clear’ from the legislators. The Noise Nazis are on the march and the California stock pipes law is just the start of a legislative snowball rolling downhill directly at us.

  12. Loud pipes lose motorcyclists rights. As is well known and actually decently reserached, loud pipes do not save lives.

    The negatives: they risk permanent hearing loss to the rider and his passenger. They irritate the neighbors and entire neighborhood when you ride with your loud pipes. They LOSE RIGHTS! — check it out, there are tourist areas, condos and resorts that specifically ban motorcycles…. and you can jut bet the ban is related to loud bikes!

    I agree totally with the author… if you need more notice from a car , get a loud horn. Stebel horns are loud as a truck and will get you more better notice than trying to pull your clutch and blip your throttle.

  13. Country Boy- $50? the loudest bike out there? Ok, Go to your local drag strip and sit at the far end of the stands when the bikes are lining up. Then send that $50 to the Boys and Girls club.

    GA Thunder-My statement was that sound is not unidirectional, not undirectable. Nowhere in my post did I state that it would be as loud in front of the bike or from any perspective. Speaking of science, there is an interesting law that states the ratio of capital letters and punctuation marks to lower case letters and proper punctuation is directionally proportional to “troll-ness.”

    By the way, I have stock pipes on my bike and I like them.

  14. Scott, very well written article. I throughly enjoyed a couple of your comments, and points of view.

    But you missed something…
    here is my face book post…

    No mention of Quiet steel by ford, no mention that all auto manufactures have gone to great lengths to eliminate road noise, wind noise, engine noise. all in the pursuit of a nice quiet ride. the difference between cars and trucks made just… 10 years ago and those produced today is night and day. Today’s cager cabins are literally sound proof, thus allowing very little noise through the body of the vehicle. thus making the average vehicle driver deaf, or unable to hear what is going on around them.

    I have loud pipes but not so obnoxiously loud that i can’t hear what is going on around me. I have never been hit by a fire truck or ambulance or police cruiser. How ever 3 years ago i was broad sided by a work truck that made an illegal left hand turn from a parking lot.
    I was lucky and walked away after some recovery time. that driver said I could hear you coming, but he did not see me until it was way too late for both of us.

    We as bikers should use good judgment when we ride and take into consideration that most cagers are at best inattentive to what they are doing at that particular moment when they cut you off or worse.

    any good rider can keep their pipes in check, and keep them selves out of a bad situation just by using common sense.

    My neighbors may not like my pipes, at seven in the morning, As a matter of fact at least one has had the balls to say so and suggested i start my bike further down the drive way. I try to be respectful of all of them a majority of the time. they know when i am leaving and they wave when i come home.
    So yeah it is personal preference to have louder than stock pipes.

    If you want to hear a loud vehicle sit next to a garbage truck in traffic
    I guarantee that a garbage truck is louder at idle than any harley with drag pipes .

    That is my 2 cents, now pull up your big girl panties and deal with it….

  15. I think, again this is my opinion after several years of riding (on and off since 1960) When I was younger loud pipes were a MUST! It just sounded cool. Today it is easy to be lulled into false security with “loud pipes”. Vigilance is your best security, look in all directions at once. Watch the idiot on the cell phone, look for the teen driver, soccer mom, the old man, did I miss anyone? Stay attentive to changing road situations, look ahead several cages, and Most of all, keep eyes on the traffic not your bike!` I have had two wrecks in my life and both were not paying attention to the road conditions.

  16. Sometimes, I leave the house at 5:30 in the morning and I am very concerned about waking my neighbors… and I ride a 1200RT which is pretty quiet.
    I don’t think any amount of noise would have kept some dumb girl from slamming into me at a red light.

  17. If you cannot recognize that a louder than quiet stock exhaust is a safety thing when stuck next to a cager in traffic , especially when leaving a red light or stop sign , then you mus truely be a rural rider!

  18. Loud Pipes Testosterone induced insanity

    And Flat Black I’ve got $50.00 here that says you can get within 50 ft of the loudest bike out there and you still can’t/won’t hear it

  19. Scott,
    I agree with you! I acknowledge that sound DOES get people’s attention, and it may have SOME inpact in a few situations, BUT I do NOT think it is a reasonable “trade-off” for the public-relations HARM that it does! ^^Flat Black^^– if sound is not directional, then why are theatres designed to ‘direct the sounds’ to the audience? Do you honestly think that a trumpet is just as loud if you are standing BEHIND the trumpeter as it is if you are standing directly in front?!! I am afraid YOUR science is out of date…Sound waves CAN be so sharply focused that it can move thru a path as little as 1 foot wide, and if you step to the side of that path you will hear NOTHING! An EBS Alert horn blasts at a continuous volume, BUT as it rotates in a circle it SEEMS to get louder and softer…
    If you live in a suburban community, as I do, I KNOW your neighbors HATE YOUR LOUD PIPES! I am a AVID rider, but I HATE to be awakened on a Sat. morning by my neighbor’s bike cranking up at 7am to go for a ride with his buddies! Is it “saving your life” to shake every window in my house when I am trying to “sleep in”?
    Maybe you can get a HORN that SOUNDS LIKE an EXHAUST PIPE—then you can just press the button WHEN YOU NEED IT, rather than every morning when you ride down the back alley in my subdivision…
    After all, a “mellow” sound is pleasing to a LOT MORE people than just LOUD.
    {Besides, you just MIGHT find that you ENJOY your own riding better without the ‘drone’ of your loud exhaust pipes!}

  20. I totally disagree. Are you telling me that you do not hear a bike with loud pipes when it is behind you in your cage? I feel much safer with my aftermarkets because I am heard. You know I want to use every thing I can to be more visible/audible to ppl in their cages. I wear bright colors on my body while riding on my bright red loud bike. Loud pipes do save lives. I think you just wanted to get a bunch of people fired up. Needed a hot article maybe? Whatever, it is your opinion. Here’s mine…. your wrong!

  21. Loud pipes risk rights, the AMA has be educating people about this issue since the 1930`s

  22. Loud pipes are expression and safety. In a fluid atmosphere (not liquid, fluid) sound travels as waves in a circular or eliptical pattern, not unidirectional. The arguement that the sound travels backwards is incorrect. The outfielder sees the ball first because light travels faster than sound, but he still hears the impact of bat on ball before the ball gets to the outfield just as people hear the exhaust sounds before the bike arrives. Using a horn might be grab more attention than exhaust if is was being sounded continously like exhaust. Saying that a reactionary alert system is more attention getting than a continous one is also a fallacy in this case. Well written article, yet unfounded in science.

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