The Loud Exhaust Question

Posted on March 23, 2010 with 2 Comments

“Loud Pipes Save Lives!!” Well, at least that is the battle cry. Is it true? Well, apparently that is the question. Some argue that in fact loud pipes do saves lives, while others say they have no effect. One side argues from the experience of having ridden both types of bikes, quiet and loud. Others erroneously draw conclusions from the Hurt Report.

Conducted by Harry Hurt, The Hurt Report is the most comprehensive study of motorcycle accidents ever conducted in the US. The data is sound, despite the fact that it is seriously dated and often misinterpreted.

On this issue, I myself find myself once again between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Nothing gets my blood  pumping faster than the sound of Rolling Thunder going down the highway. (Well perhaps with the exception of a certain blond that comes to mind). It is a primal and visceral call of the beating drums in the jungle. That said, I find the needless roaring of exhaust and the abuse of residential neighborhoods, as repulsive as my neighbor’s dog that barks at all hours.

Back to the Hurt Report. As far as I can tell, the Hurt Report  makes one claim with regards to loud motorcycle exhausts: “Motorcycles with loud exhausts are over represented in the study”. That is to say, that many of the accidents studied, involved bikes with loud pipes. From this very limited and dated empirical data, the conclusion is often drawn that that loud exhaust have no positive effect in the avoidance of an accident. I have seen very well educated magazine writers, actually purport this hypothesis as fact. Anyone with a high school class in statistical analysis knows better than to draw such linear conclusions from statistical data.

It could simply mean that more bikes on the roadways at the time of the study had loud exhausts. Or perhaps people who tend to ride will loud exhausts drive more aggressively ….or passively. Both of which can cause an accident. There is simply no way in my opinion, to really know from this type of data. But yet the quiet pipe crowd continue to use this flawed example to boost their argument. These are the same people who want your headlight on and you to wear a florescent vest to increase your visibility or sensory display.

I had to break it to the Hatfield’s but sound does involve a sense. In my opinion anything that increases your sensory display, is an asset in combating the complacent, distracted and hurried modern commuter. Never mind animals which in my opinion are the most dangerous and unpredictable.

The McCoy’s on the other hand some how translate “loud pipes save lives” to “we need to make your ears bleed and wake you from a sound sleep at every opportunity”. The ultimate napoleon complex. I find this equally if not more disturbing. Despite the augments from the Hatfield’s what they are really saying is ” hey give us a break here”. So often we debate an issue on some ridiculous premise when the real credible argument is quite simple. The public deserves some peace and quiet. We want to raise a bit of ruckus and not be killed on the roadway.

So what’s the answer you ask. As with many of society’s woes, the answer is found in compromise. Soon enough the long arm of the law will start enforcing existing sound laws so the McCoy’s better start policing themselves. As for the Hatfield’s, I have seen more than one non-riding citizen get a thrill out of a bike with a good rumble to it as it passes by.. There also seems to be an American genetic code wrapped up in the iconic biker image, that says that there are still a few cowboys roaming around out there. They want some peace and quiet but somehow I get the feeling that they also are comforted by our existence. Though they may only choose to experience this freedom vicariously, they too feel the call of the drums and take pleasure in know that they are a key turn away from that experience.

In the end the best remedy is not laws but common sense and compromise. Lets take it upon ourselves to have more respect for others when choosing an exhaust. Rather than ear destroying straight pipes lets settle for something with sound but that you can keep quiet when needed.



  1. kampcool says:

    Ahhh The Hurt Report……. I was bummed recently (this winter reading bike mags) when I saw that Mr. Hurt passed away recently. He was a good guy doing good work. Our Hiways are a complex equation, and this guy dedicated his life’s work to solve problems that could prevent his fellow rider’s an accident. Just Cause.

    I also remember he found that the “loudest” pipes did not have less of an accident rate than the stock “quiet” pipes. Thats a HEAVY finding, and I dont think he published it to be controversial against the aftermarket exhaust market .

    We all know that one guy at work (with the poor road king that does not idle) because the operator sees it nessesary out of muscle memory to hammer those jugs in a Napolean/Peacock throttle movement to drown out all bikes around. Just so happens that same guy (in my example) is a VERY experienced rider, that rides EXTREMELY aggressive all the time, and that has worked for him thus far.

    However, I do see this rider (im my opinion) drive unsafe. This is were the equation gets deep for me, because we are talking about the union of “man and machine”VS. the union of “public traffic and they’re machines”. To say the numbers here are astronomical, would be an understatement. Throw in a little nature and enviroment.

    In my opinion, I think Mr. Hurt was driving home the necessity of practicing “good” riding techniques, and loudness of the pipes (although a noteable tool in our limited arsenal) was not the highest on his list. He stressed the fact that every year Bikers should refresh with a saftey course visit.

    Whatever you choose to do in your riding enviroment, please stay alert, and stay alive. Situational Awareness is key. If a situation arises, watchout for compound occurances, or even the fluke simultaneous seperate occurance. Most of all, dont be that guy whos bike wont idle.


  2. kampcool says:

    The Hurt report. I remember reading about that guy who considered all the intangibles and went to bat for his fellow riders. I was bunkered down up here in Michigan during mid-Winter (2010) and read about his passing.

    Professor Harry Hurt gets a bad wrap, in my opinion. From what I understand, data from most of his research showed that loud exhausts made no difference in accidents occuring VS. quiet exhausts and accidents occuring. When this data was presented and construed as anti-noise ammo, he probably went for a ride.

    Fact is: most bikes are loud, or have had some exhaust enhancements. God bless the added sense output into our traffic enviroment, to wake up the “asleep at the wheel”. Trust me, Im all for it, I drive into the heart of Detroit’s hell highway everyday (I-696).

    That being said, if seven out of ten bikes are louder, the percentage of loud bike accidents are more, as well. Like I said, somebody and an agenda used this data to piss off the crowd I believe Harry dedicated a life to help.

    Proffessor Hurt was on our side, and I dont think he cared how loud we were. He just wanted us to go to a saftey course EVERY YEAR, because the battlefield changes.


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