Time to silence the modified Harley

Seriously, why the racket?

Doug FirbyCALGARY, AB, Jul 10, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Summer brings many blessings to a cold-climate country like ours and a few curses, too.

One the blessings is being able to throw the windows open, before the heat becomes oppressive, and take in the sights and sounds of summer. Birds chirping, children giggling on trampolines, buskers strumming a guitar as you walk by. It beats winter’s constant blast of the furnace fan.

But then, there’s the distinctive sound of the bad boy of the neighbourhood – the modified Harley.

It kind of goes like this: “BRRRRAP! Chug, chug, chug. BRRRRAP! Chug, chug, chug.”

“BRRRRR-R-R-R-R . . . APPP!”

You’ve heard it. I know you have. It happens any time you sit down to luxuriate over a cold one at an outdoor patio. Or in the middle of the night when you’re shaken out of a deep sleep. Or when you’re waiting for a light to change in traffic.

Somewhere, when you least expect it, someone pulls up beside you with one of these machines, and gives the throttle a good crack. And because he has paid hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to have the machine pimped up, the perfectly reasonable mufflers that came from the factory have been replaced by pipes that seem to exist for no other purpose than to amplify the sound of the explosion happening in those big ol’ made-in-Milwaukee cylinders.

In June, I had the chance to ride with a bunch of very nice people who own Harleys, about 800 of them who travelled to Kamloops, B.C., to participate in a fundraising poker run. Almost without exception, the vehicles they own are absolutely pristine machines of gleaming chrome and expensive custom paint jobs.

At least half of them, however, have this thing with the mufflers.

My brother-in-law, who is also a very nice person, has a Harley. He bought it a few years ago, and within weeks had stripped off the stock pipes in exchange for the ear-splitters. In the interest of family harmony, I did not ask him as directly as I might have what the deal is. But I did delicately raise the question of the . . . uh . . . trumpets underfoot.

“Safety,” he explained, with a shrug. “They’re not going to hit you if they can hear you comin’.”

This loud-is-safe theory is one widely held by Harley owners seemingly everywhere. Strangely, it does not apply equally to owners of German motorcycles or Japanese (although there are notable exceptions, such as the “crotch-rocket” subspecies). But, for the most part, owners of non-domestic bikes apparently feel safe enough to keep the volume down.

There is no clear statistical evidence to support the claim that louder bikes are safer. A survey of commentary on the subject is equally inconclusive. In short, it’s a theory lacking solid evidence.

So, let’s call it what it is: noise pollution. Regardless of the motive, the people responsible for this pointless racket are mostly just cheesing off the rest of us. Can’t hear the birds sing; can’t hear the buskers play. It’s just a pain.

Thankfully, urban jurisdictions are getting the message. Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Victoria and Edmonton are among the larger Canadian cities to enact noise bylaws. In California, motorcycles manufactured since Jan. 1, 2013, are only allowed to use after-market pipes if they conform to EPA noise guidelines.

Canadians haven’t gone that far. So far, keeping the noise down is dependent on law enforcement agencies having a decibel meter and catching a motorcyclist in the act. Needless to say, enforcement is spotty at best.

Laws should be considered a last resort to deal with undesirable behaviour. If we acted every time somebody uttered, “There ought to be a law . . .”, then just imagine what kind of Brave New World we would live in.

But, sometimes, when people can’t take a hint, then a new law is the only solution. Sadly, it may come to that.

Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media.

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