By Jason Gilow
If you’ve been in or around the motorcycle community, you’ve likely heard the statement that “loud pipes save lives.” You may have seen it on a tee-shirt, helmet sticker, or just spoken amongst riders.
Due to the negative stereotype of bikers, I’d suspect that this is why “loud pipes save lives” got a bad name. Before I bought my first motorcycle, I once thought that phrase was an excuse for riders to be obnoxious and have “look at me” showoff moments. Unfortunately, much of that attitude remains in place today (in the minds of those who are less enlightened and more closed-minded. I won’t debate that many riders take pride in how loud their bikes can be, and some do it to “look at me.” But I would say that these are not the majority of riders.
In doing some research, I was surprised at the number of articles that resoundingly stated that loud pipes do not save lives. For example, many of these studies focused on newer cars that have sound dampening equipment, which blocks out lots of exterior noise. While that is factually true, there’s still faulty logic. When are motorcycles primarily ridden? During warmer days, of course. On warmer days, do you see a lot of motorists with windows down? Of course. You’ve rendered much of that sound dampening equipment useless once you roll a window down (even partially). That’s just one example of the faulty logic that “experts” use. It’s just bias that’s justified using easily dismissible data.
I know what many are saying at this point: you ride and have pro-rider biases. And that is TRUE.
But I also have real-world experience to back those biases up. The fact is that people generally respond quicker to sound than vision, especially when driving. That means that motorists are more likely to react quickly to hearing you before seeing you.
In a parking lot, I’ve cracked on the throttle a little bit and seen people snap their heads in my direction. That little vroom called attention to those drivers to my location and helped them to see me and avoid hitting me. On the road, the same idea. There have been quite a few occasions when I’ve been in the left lane when a motorist started to merge into the space I occupied. A few quick twists of the throttle notified those offending drivers of my location and allowed them the chance to correct their carelessness before their error took me out.
In those cases, my pipes saved me from potential harm. While I won’t speak for anyone else, it is easier and quicker to pull in the clutch and let out a few revs than to lay on the horn. It may be faster by a fraction of a second, but every millisecond counts when you have to react to someone potentially coming into your lane. It even works the other way, too. When I drive my car, there have been moments where it has been challenging to pinpoint the location of a very quiet bike in a nearby lane. I’m always on the out for my brothers and sisters that ride. When I have a hard time seeing (and hearing) a bike, it is scary to me, and it feels like an unsafe situation for riders.
While I’ll advocate for loud pipes on some levels, there IS such a thing as being too loud. I’ve been a part of packs where I have been 5-6 bikes away from “super loud pipes guy.” If I can pick out who’s got the two into one Thunderheader and you’re 7-8 bikes ahead of me, your pipes are obnoxiously loud.
Also, there’s no proper justification for blasting on the throttle while going through quiet neighborhoods at 11 pm. There’s no reasonable safety excuse when you’re going 50 mph in a sleepy community with a wide-open throttle. That’s when one needs to slow down and lay off the throttle a bit.
Don’t let the unscientific data fool you; loud pipes save lives. A good rumble makes motorists aware of your location on the road or in a parking lot when used appropriately. Like with most things, moderation is vital because there can be such a thing as too much noise. As riders, we want to have our share of the road. Being too loud is an excellent way to lose the spirit of cooperation with motorists. The goal is to stay safe, and we all play our part in keeping the roads safe for all!
Remember to keep the rubber side down and the shiny side up!