The merits of loud pipes on bikes: there are none

Those arguing the safety merits of loud, after-market pipes on motorcycles are neglecting their own longterm health.

Britt Santowski has been riding since she was 25

Those arguing the safety merits of loud, after-market pipes on motorcycles are neglecting their own longterm health.

The sound of the pipes travels in the wake of the bike is essentially useless on the highway. Other vehicles only hear your engine’s roar when you are beside them. If you insist that noise will save your life, then an air-horn applied only in the moment of need, is probably your best bet.

Bear with me through this teeny biology lesson about sound. There is this thing called “frequency weighting” which measures a sound’s intensity. Frequency weighting is referred to as A-weighted decibels (dB), or dBA. A three-decibel increase is barely audible to the ear, but add five decibel and the intensity increases the sound one-and-a-half times. When you add 10-decibels, you’ve doubled it. In other words, the 10-decibel difference between 70 dBA and 80 dBA is the doubling of that sound. A 20-decibel increase (e.g., from 70 to 90 dBA) quadruples it. It’s logarithmic (exponential), not linear in scale. Actual pain is inflicted at 140 dBA.

There are two bodies that define permissible noise levels. Individual townships, set limits on community noise. The BC Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) defines what happens on the roads. In section 27, the MVA sets the dBA for motorcycles to a maximum of 91. With after-market pipes, you risk exceeding this limit.

But never mind the legalities. If you are so darn focussed on protecting your pretty little ass(ets), you may as well add your health to the list.  At 85 dBA, you risk damage to your hearing after eight-hours of exposure. At 91 dBA, you have two hours. At 103 dBA, you begin permanent damage to your ear drums after only seven-and-a-half minutes.

The main contributor to hearing loss amongst bikers is what’s known as the “wind noise,” generated as the wind whistles through your helmet as you ride. Which is why ear-plugs are sold in motorcycle stores. Add to that the deafening roar of after-market pipes, and you are accelerating your own self-inflicted damage.

For the most part, riding a motorcycle is fun. And for the most part, nothing happens. The reason why bikers are on heightened alert when it comes to safety is because when something does happen, it’s life-altering for the biker. Her life may never be the same.

Seems to me that proactively learning defensive riding skills have a better return on investment, when the principle at stake is your health and welfare. After-market pipes result in self-inflected injury in the long run. And if you can’t afford to take a course, and if you want to persist with arguing the benefits of a loud noise to wake-up those sleeping (or texting) drivers, invest in an air-horn. They can be even louder than pipes, and won’t damage your, the rider, in the long run. Which is, after all, the whole reason why we entered into this conversation to begin with.

On one online motorcycle forum on wind noise, “Jaystronghawk” chimes in, “Too Late for me .. But those who can hear .. save the gift .. once [the] damage is done [you] don’t get it back.”

Truer words were never spoken. Let’s hope you hear them.