Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Loud Pipes...

In the motorcycle world, there are certain polarizing arguments (sound familiar?).
  • American vs. Metric.
  • Lid vs. no lid.
  • Cruiser vs. sportbike.
  • Full gear vs.jacket and boots.
  • Squids vs. tourers.
Perhaps the most vitriol-inducing of all, though, is the "loud pipes save lives" vs. "loud pipes lose rights" crowds. One side believes that, as motorcyclists that are often missed by four-wheeled vehicle drivers, we need every advantage we can get to make ourselves more visible. A loud, rumbling scoot, they argue, is not only visibly but audible.

The other side points out that, for the most part, people are completely clueless idiots that routinely ignore police sirens and train crossings. Add to that mix luxury cars that tout noise cancellation as a selling point, and it's doubtful whether anything less than a 747 under full take-off would get their attention.

Obviously, I'm asking for a reason. The Harley's hitting her eleventh season now, and I've replaced the battery twice and she's going to need new tires soon. I'm figuring it's probably time to start thinking about replacing the exhaust, and I'll most likely upgrade at that time. Now, I am *definitely* not going for a bone-shakingly loud set-up - I enjoy riding long distances too much to increase the decibel level that much.

But man, I'd like a little more rumble in my ride...

(Picture courtesy of the lovely Cher)

I'm hoping to get a couple more years out of the factory pipes, then replace them before they start to get too bad. Ideally, I'd love something with just a little more of a growl, but that evens out at mid-range RPMs (like 2500 - 3500, or cruising speed on the highway). I've lost enough hearing to know I don't want anything that loud.

As far as I can tell, VA law requires mufflers, but has no acoustic criteria. Some states, like, oh, Massachusetts, only allow factory exhaust or the equivalent. Anything louder is verboten. I'm also running into a similar conundrum with the Earthf**ker, for what it's worth. I'll most likely find a local shop and see what's recommended.

In any case, it's a good place to be...

That is all.


Anonymous said...

I like Rinehart or Bassani true duals.


libertyman said...

I think I would replace 11 year old tires even if they are not worn out.

I don't know anything about Harley exhausts, but I will recommend the Corsa for the truck.

Alien said...

If you're going to ride the thing any distance, I'd suggest going with the quieter stuff. First, noise is a fatigue factor, second, at steady speeds you'll be listening to the same note.....for hours. Third, I don't really want to listen to your noise, so don't make me.

As for the "loud pipes save lives" crowd, people will turn to look at a noise that catches their attention, yes, but that means they're not looking at the motorcycle that may be right alongside them, and that may be me. If you don't want to be hit by cage drivers, it's your job to stay alert; ride as if their mission in life is to kill you and you'll be fine.

craig m. said...

I run V&H Longshots, but they are a little too loud. My buddy picked up these Patriot Defenders. He claims the 2 into 1 gives him more horses and I hear the difference in decibels when he makes the adjustments. We will see how long they hold up. I may switch next year.

Formynder said...

I view it like I do guns. If you want to make it more quiet, that's more polite. Going out of your way to make it louder is much akin to being that guy at the range with the loudener device. It's just rude.

Mopar said...

Dude, 5-6yrs TOPS on tires, ESPECIALLY motorcycle tires. No matter HOW good the tread it. Tires start degrading the moment they come out of the mold. Mounted or not. Garaged or not. A blow out at highway speeds in a car/truck is dangerous. A tire blow out at highway speeds on a motorcycle is often fatal.

Mopar said...

Robert the Biker said...

I run a set of V&H straight shots (staggered duals) on my lowrider and the rumble is great, though I do keep it down in my street out of regard for the neighbours. Vance and Hines pipes can also be customised with more or less restricted baffles, so are definitely worth a look. Anyone who thinks you will be left alone if you are quiet is deluding themselves; the politicos produce all these laws on bikes because we are a cheap target numbers wise and to disguise the fact that they are basically wusses who are scared of bikes.

Jay G said...


Point taken. One of my rides this spring is going to be to find the nearest motorcycle shop. Will price out tires soon.

Eck! said...


Long time since I rode. Reason I got tired of watching for the idiot 4wheelers.

I like the noise to match the bike. My honda 160cc cafe racer was loud, reverse megaphones with plates. The later CB750 had the 4pipes of a very smooth but fairly open tone, no bark or bite. Friends really smooth goldwing was oh so quiet. And Mikes Harly had that rumble you could hear down the street. By me they were right, and it was choices.

As to safety, Bucket, gloves, boots, and a head on a pivot with a mild dose of their out to get me. Back then they could barely hear me over their Lake pipes and 327s and 440s, now its uber silence inside with a stereo cranked louder than the cafe racer.

Ride what sounds good to you. Remember you may be listening to if for hours after the ride.

Oh, new rubber. Please!


Ruth said...

As someone who's never ridden a motorcycle, and doesn't drive a fancy "noise cancling car": I don't mind a rumble from the cycles I come across on the road (cause well motorcycle!). But the big loud ROAR is incredibly annoying and distracting. Plus when I can clearly hear the roar of your cycle from inside my house which is well over 50ft from the road its got to be literally deafening while you're on the cycle.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

As one of the ambulance drivers whose sirens are routinely ignored, I'm going to have to say that "loud pipes save lives" is most likely a myth. One thing we're taught is that at highway speed (~60 mph) we have to get within about 12 feet of a car before our sirens are audible. (There's a good overview here, referencing research showing that at 60 kph (~40 mph) just road noise cancels out the siren until the ambulance is less than 100 meters away, and "The study showed that the distance for getting the attention of a motorist travelling at 100kph [~60 mph] to be within 2 meters of the ambulance's front bumper.")

That's a standard, forward facing ambulance siren. Your rearward-facing pipes aren't going to do anything unless you're right next to someone.

Anecdote: A couple of weeks ago on my way in to work, I got passed by a fire engine. I saw it coming long before I heard it (I saw them getting ready to pull out as I passed the fire station), but even with all four windows open about 2-3" I couldn't hear the BIG siren until it was only about 100 feet away, even though I was listening for it.

Given the little-to-no benefit and the high "rudeness" factor of "loud" pipes, I would say you're better off with another set of factory pipes.

Mopar said...

I'll steer clear of the debate (Jay's heard both my bike and the lovely Cher's bike in person, so he knows where we are on the noise spectrum) but just point out one thing that might not be considered here. Most aftermarket exhaust systems require the carburetor(s) to be rejetted and retuned. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because when everything is done properly and tuned to your exact combination of parts you'll most likely have better performance/fuel economy then stock.

LCB said...

He didn't say his tires were 11 years old. He said they were due for replacement "soon". I'm lucky to get 2 riding seasons on my tires, but then I ride a lot.

As for pipes, I took the baffles out of my bike once. Gave me a major head ache after about 10 minutes of riding. So quiet pipes for me.

Stingray said...

I don't have a bike in the game, but as the owner of a loud car used for long trips, I could go for quieter. Six or eight hours listening to the engine/exhaust at 80 and I've got low-grade tinnitus for a few hours, and that shit can't be doing me any good long term.

Armed Texan said...

I cannot speak about motorcycles specifically, but surely the same rules apply: A good sounding exhaust is not necessarily loud. My Hemi puts out a sweet sounding deep rhythm when idle, but you can barely hear it in the house.

The brash, loud exhaust from screaming engine with straight pipes can be fun at a drag race or monster truck rally, but I don't want to hear it passing my house (and passing through my house) every two minutes.

Borepatch said...

Minigun pipes. Because NRA.

Roger said...

I never left the stock exhaust system on any motorcycle I owned (and there were a hellova lot of them) Mainly for weight or ugly or sound (stock pipes sound flatulent) and performance or mainly all four.
That said, straight pipe suck majorly, but a well tuned Hog or Ducati (in my case) is a sweet sounding musical instrument that can be played like a - - - - well a sweet sounding musical instrument.

Johnny - Oh said...

Like Jake said above, I don't believe that loud pipes do anything more than irritate people. Now I am 42 yrs old, and my first car had 2 wheels (at 15 yrs of age), so I know that bikes are out there and I am as diligent as I can be in watching out for them. One time, I turned right from a stop-sign intersection into the right lane of a 4-lane surface street, and suddenly a chopper was right beside me. Rider exclaimed "Why don't you watch where you're going?". I retorted "Why don't you turn on your F'n headlight?!" as his straight pipes screamed as he passed me. I'd go for quiet-er pipes myself.

Evyl Robot Michael said...

I had a "Loud Pipes Save Lives" sticker on my Honda Civic with straight pipe dumped behind the front driver's side tire. Between that and our uninhibited, fire-breathing Sentra, I can attest to the fact that I've avoided A LOT of accidents because I was heard by someone who wasn't otherwise paying attention. Logic would dictate that loud exhaust would be even more advantageous on a bike, which drivers of large vehicles usually pay less attention to than even little rice rats.

Will said...

a stock Harley sounds like crap with loud pipes, generally.

To sound right, it has to have a cam and carbs to go along with the exhaust system. Along with that is the fact that twins don't make power unless they are making music/noise. The fewer cylinders for the same size engine, the more the exhaust has to strangle the output to be polite in public, or legal. It is something of a balancing act. You want the exhaust system to help that engine to breath as well as possible, but you also need to tone down the volume and have it make music, more than noise. The definition of noise is unwanted sound. The HD is probably the most difficult engine to accomplish this successfully.

I rode for about 30 years on the street, in addition to some dirt riding and roadracing. In my experience, and observation, loud pipes do NOT enhance the rider's safety. The only people who notice you moving closer are those who are not a threat to you. Pedestrians and such like.

I'll admit I have a hate on for HD's with straight pipes, or similar.

One of the lessons I learned was the time one of them was splitting lanes (legal in CA), while I was stuck in my car. Traffic wasn't moving, and I wasn't looking in the mirrors. Never saw or heard him until he passed my open window. Me ears rang for many days after that. If I could have caught up to him, that bike wouldn't have been ride-able when I got done with it.

When you create this sort of effect on people who started out on your side, then you are truly stupid. This is one of many reasons why I consider the "loud pipes save lives" people to be truly brain dead.

When I was a kid, I had hotrods. One of my '57 Chevy's would yank the front wheels off the pavement shifting second gear. No one ever noticed it coming toward them, melting tires or not, as those turning in front of me often proved. Car sounded good, with that breathed on big block, but I know it would vibrate buildings I passed, even at a crawl. People in other vehicles did not notice the car, unless I was sitting next to them at a light.( The car rocking at idle was a bit intimidating to other muscle car drivers, I'll admit :D )

Hafnhaf said...

i like the flowmaster 50-series delta for my amc 360 v8 jeep grand wagoneer. the sound of restrained power at low speeds, ans it basically disappears on the highway. as for the bike, sorry, no clue.

JustJohn said...

Jay,I have been lurking here for about a year and this is the first time I feel I can have some positive input. I own a 2005 H-D Electra Glide Ultra Classic and have installed Metzler High Miler tires on it and have recommended them to other bikers and have been thanked for it. They handle well, don't follow small cracks tar strip, etc. and wear well. Also, on the exhaust I have a friend that put on some custom made mufflers he got on EBAY, type in
"Harley Touring Slash Down Performance Mufflers (Adjustable)" and I believe you will like what you see. They sound great without being obnoxious. By the way, thanks for running the blog, I do read it everyday and enjoy it.

mikee said...

I'm with the kids from South Park.

Geodkyt said...

Jay, I (several years ago) saw the results of actual testing of teh effects of "loud pipes".

Something on the close order of 80% of teh noise was focused in a cone aimed behind the bike -- exactly where the other drivers can see you.

Almost none of the noise actually projected any meaningful distance in front or amidship of the bike, when compared to ambient noise of driving speeds.

In other words, "Loud pipes only piss off the drivers who already have their hood ornament superimposed on your back."

Running headlight on (as I think most, if not all, modern street bikes do, right?) is actually useful, and doesn't annoy everyone else.

Tony Tsquared said...

Listen to other Harley's and when you hear a pipe that sounds "right" chase it down and find out what is on the bike.

To add a little more fuel to the "Loud pipes saves lives", I have a 96 Sporty that I bought with strait pipes. It was loud and obnoxious and the pipes saved me from the dreaded oncoming left hand turn from the cage a few times. I ended up putting a Hooker 2:1 on it as I needed something quieter.

Will said...

Tony, how can you verify that the pipes are what stopped them? Did they pull out a bit, then stop and cover their ears while cringing?

The only verifiable time noise stopped, or moved, cars for me was when I had multiple SETS of horns on my bike. Twin Fiamms + twin air horns + the stock Italian horns tends to get their attention.
They, of course, were facing forward, mostly. This only worked due to my Guzzi being equipped with a battery sized for a car.
Sounded like multiple vehicles, due to the response lag for each set. The stock set were direct, followed by the relay powered Fiamms, and last, the relay equipped, compressor powered air horns.

More than one car left the road to avoid the suddenly appearing 18 wheeler and entourage!