What Loud Pipes Say
by Thomas Day
A teenage girl gets on my morning bus and treks to the back of the bus, loudly jabbering at the girl who got on the bus before her. Every other word is “Iwaslike.” She is apparently convinced that the entire bus is interested in her problems with a high school teacher. Bus passengers are barraged with her high volume nonsense, until the bus driver tells her to “shut the hell up.” On a train to Chicago, the train makes a stop and picks up a trio of wannabe-executives who find their way to seats, flip open their cell phones and begin loud, moronic “business conversations” with content equivalent to “where are you now” and “dude, I’m on my way, but I’m gonna be late.” These incredibly complex messages are delivered, loudly, and over and over, for the next forty minutes until the train disgorges these geek-suited posers a little before we get to Chicago.
I wonder why it is that folks who have nothing interesting to say feel compelled to say that nothing so loudly?
A few summers ago I taught an MSF Basic Rider Course (the BRC); eight women and three men. Incidentally, about half of the bikes that came out of our MSF trailer had mildly-to-severely-damaged exhaust pipes, so several of our new riders had that “loud pipes save lives” thing going for them, right there on the practice range. I wore hearing protection whenever the students were in motion. When all eleven bikes were roaring around the course, the six loud bikes made about as much noise as a single Sportster with an aftermarket bozo-pipe.
In the BRC, we spend a lot of time trying to convince our students to lay off of the brakes in corners. For new riders, this isn’t a natural or comfortable thing to do and it takes a lot of nagging to convince newbies to try it. In this particular class, we had six bikes that loudly announces their riders’ throttle activities, so we had special “opportunities” to note when our riders were rolling off of the throttle. At the end of the class, one of those students mentioned that she felt picked upon because her bike was so noisy that every throttle-control mistake she made was loudly broadcast to her coaches. She suspected that if she’d have been riding one of the quieter bikes, she might not have received as much attention/criticism/nagging/assistance as she had with her blubbering noisemaker.
She was right. Nothing broadcasts poor technique like advertising it with noise.
A while back, a news show highlighted the noise motorcycles add to our general noise pollution din. They interviewed a gaggle of bikers and learned that a couple of seriously dorky guys thought that loud bikes “make me look tough.” When Mr. Accountant rides through the neighborhood, he imagines that “everybody’s lookin’ to see who’s on that bike.” They’re lookin’ all right. They’re lookin’ and thinkin’ that motorcycles ought to be banned from the planet and that motorcyclists are morons.
There’s a different message loud pipes often convey to other motorcyclists. For example, I live on a sharp curve in St. Paul. At least a few dozen times a summer weekend, I get to experience the loud backfiring of poorly maintained big twins as they decelerate all the way through our turn, followed by the even louder potato-splatting of moderate horsepower crawling away from the scene of incompetence. I’m sure these dudes think all that noise implies “NASCAR driver” to local residents, but I happen to live on a block with a half-dozen fairly proficient motorcyclists. To all of us, what we hear is “Bozo hasn’t crashed yet. Damn!”
For those of you out there who ride with the passive “protection” of loud pipes, here’s something for you to think about. To the average Jill or Joe, you’re announcing that you don’t care about their hearing, peace of mind, or privacy. To some bikers, you’re displaying your uncanny ability to max out your credit card and bury yourself in debt on frivolous purchases. Some folks love any symbol of excessive consumption and pipes and chrome are just another sign of a well-oiled economy doing the supply and demand thing and more proof that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
I have a guard rail all along the front of my property to protect my home from the talents of people who drive without knowledge or skill. Every spring the crash rail gets used by bikers and cagers, when they discover the city’s lackadaisical attitude toward sweeping up the post-winter barrels of sand and salt. Every summer, I get to pick up bits of chrome and plastic from vehicles that have discovered the flaws in their cornering technique. The first year we were here, I had to call 911 to come and remove a guy who had planted his leg in between the guard rail and one of the posts, which resulted in a knee that made crunching noises when he moved it.
When we were discussing a particularly awful rider’s travels through our neighborhood, my wife described the loud pipe’s message as “Look out for me! I’m not very good and I might fall down!” And I promptly fell down laughing. Maybe the noise message works. At least it might work when inanimate objects aren’t involved; like curves and barriers, trees, obstacles in the road, and fat old guys lying in the yard.
When you are roaring down the road, scaring small children and making enemies for motorcyclists in general, you’re also announcing something to a lot of motorcyclists. It’s not “look at me, I’m a badass lawyer/accountant/dentist/burger-flipper.” The message is “look out for me! I’m not very good and I might fall down!”
I suppose the rest of us should thank you for the warning. We’ll do our bit to avoid you.