Letter: Motorcycle Noise

As the warm weather finally arrives, it brings with it noise pollution from the deluge of wannabe Wild Bunch members descending on the town and village.

I have to ask why two-wheeled motor vehicles are not held to the same standards as four-wheeled and trucks? If my car or pickup made the kind of noise most of these motorcycles make, I would have a stack of summonses and never pass annual inspection.

It is not only noise. I have observed bikers casually exceed the speed limit countless times on Peekskill Road and even on Main Street in front of the police station.

I was a U.S. Air Force pilot, and most of us retired with a 30 percent hearing loss from engine noise during ground ops. Motorcycles make much more noise than an aircraft’s engines. I am not in favor of infringing on the rights of motorcycle owners and operators. I just don’t want them infringing on my right, or that of others, to a little peace and quiet. A few well-placed signs and a few well-placed summonses might work wonders to limit this annoyance.

Steven Sohn, Cold Spring

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14 thoughts on “Letter: Motorcycle Noise

  1. Thank you, Steven, for your very good letter. What actually works is for the police and locally elected officials to receive a lot of complaints. The police don’t respond to the illegal and abusive behavior of riding loud unless they receive many complaints.

  2. To clarify one point: I mentioned that motorcycles make more noise than aircraft engines; more precisely, they make more noise than aircraft engines do when heard from within a sealed cockpit or cabin. I am not sure anything (other than ordnance) makes more noise than a large jet engine going to afterburner on takeoff.

  3. Hi there! Beacon resident, former Cold Spring resident, new motorcyclist as of last year.

    For what it’s worth, my motorcycle is pretty “tame” and I choose to ride as lower RPMs, which also keeps it even quieter, but that’s my taste.

    Here’s the conflicting factor with volume that some don’t think about… safety.

    I took the formal Motorcycle Safety Foundation, which costs a few hundred bucks and isn’t required by the DMV, but when you pass it, it automatically acts as your vehicle test. It is a classy and well-run organization, with experienced folks at the helm who have worked directly with state governments for ages improving road safety factors for motorcyclists across the country.

    One major thing repeated in that course is “a loud bike is a safe bike.”

    If you think about how dangerous motorcycle riding is, every factor that can improve safety is a good thing. For instance, sitting idle behind a car at a stop light, perhaps in a multi-lane road, you absolutely want your presence known/audible since chances are at least one of the vehicles doesn’t have you in their visual sight and might not know you’re there if they didn’t hear you. And if one car doesn’t know you’ve been sitting there and they decide to make a blinded traffic maneuver immediately after pulling through the green light, bad things can happen to you.

    And this is when the bike is quietest, at idle. So if you modify your bike to have a super-quiet exhaust system, which I admit is tempting if you enjoy the sounds of wind and nature more than the sound of an engine, it’s pretty dangerous to be on the road in general.

    This is just one of the example scenarios where volume is good. The MSF is not the only source for this advice, and “a loud bike is a safe bike” is often repeated in the whole motorcycle community across the globe.

    Now, since this is encouraged for safety, it is quickly abused by riders who actually enjoy the super loud sounds of a motorcycle and amplify them or just buy louder designed bikes. I in particular find them just as nonsensical and offensive as you do, so I’ll never be the biker you’re concerned about.

    But what to do about the riders who enjoy their sounds and take it too far?

    I suppose the DMV could impose a decibel-volume limit, but how would that be measured? Maybe there could be rollout of basic decibel test equipment for ALL locations that provide vehicle inspections, but that’s not something any state is likely to fund. That’s a solution though, since a decibel meter is quick and very simple to use, like a handheld speedometer but it’s for sound and you stand a certain number of feet away and point it at the sound and that’s it.

    Point is, there’s a reason that volume is encouraged, so perhaps that helps to gain some perspective!

    • New York State has a decibel limit for motorcycles: It’s 82 decibels for any motorcycle traveling at any speed, measured at a distance of 50 feet from the center of the lane in which the motorcycle is traveling. Police officers typically just look for original equipment manufacturer exhausts that are required to meet this requirement, but will occasionally test sound levels with a meter. I have never heard of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation officially advocating noise.

  4. Thank you for posting this. It’s devastating how the Harleys destroy the peace of this village (and wake up my child from his peaceful naps). It’s against the law and they must be stopped. Here are the challenges:

    – The perception that a “loud bike is a safe bike” is absurd and is easily debunked.
    – Many police officers are bikers and aren’t inclined to enforce the noise laws.
    – Police officers who would enforce the laws don’t have the sound meters to measure the decibel output.

    I’d like to start a group raise the issue with the police and see if we can raise funds to purchase them a sound meter.

  5. I also took the MSFD course and they never quoted that “Loud pipes save lives” line because it’s not true. The reality is that loud pipes are already illegal. They violate inspection laws. Second, the majority of motorcycle crashes are “single vehicle” crashes, meaning just the bike and the cause is excessive speed. Riders riding beyond their skill level and for the conditions.

  6. I am an avid motorcyclist and Cold Spring resident for more than 20 years. While I agree with the sentiment concerning in-considerate individuals who find the need to “blip” or rev their pipes in the middle of town, I am concerned when we start singling out motorcycles. I have experienced nearly as many large trucks with loud exhausts being disorderly as well.

    While I am not a diehard “loud pipes save lives” person, I have found it has been beneficial in waking up those drivers who feel it is OK to use their cellphones while driving. Distracted driving kills.

    Instead of immediately jumping to the top rung, perhaps we could advocate a lower-cost and possibly welcoming solution, such as having prominent and well-placed signs. There are a number of motorcyclists who do respect our community and provide revenue to it.

    All I ask is that we don’t become a “nanny state” town and resort to punishment to address issues and concerns. Perhaps these individuals may come to realize we appreciate their support and hope they appreciate our town.

  7. I drive a hybrid car, which while moving at slow speeds along village streets or stopped at a traffic light is almost silent — surely a danger to any pedestrian using their cell phone or having a conversation who might step off the curb to cross the street. Should I install a continuous airhorn on my hood to alert everyone of my presence?

    If riding a motorcycle in our village is so dangerous and unpredictable that the only thing protecting the rider’s life is a “loud pipe” it is probably time to consider a new hobby.

  8. Should I be comforted knowing that some bikers believe their loud pipes are beneficial in “waking up those drivers who feel it is OK to use their cellphones while driving?” The idea seems to be that if you ride a motorcycle you are somehow allowed your own set of laws and warped perception of the “public good.”

    I am a hearing-impaired, three-decade resident of the lower village, and many times, while walking my dog, I have jumped out of my skin when a motorcycle starts to accelerate over the bridge or turns on Lunn Terrace onto Main Street. On week-ends, I cannot sit in my backyard for more than 15 minutes without being distracted by cyclists “scooping the loop” or turning at the foot of Main Street. And that is without wearing hearing aids.

    It’s not a nanny state when tax-paying residents are requesting relief. It is abating the noise pollution that makes this some-times an unpleasant place to live. A sound meter and enforcement traps where this is an incessant blight on the nature of our village could well ameliorate the disruption.

  9. How about enforcing cars using their signals when they pull away from curbs, pull into curbs or change direction on the road? That’s a safety issue which is more important. [via Facebook]

  10. I was a bit surprised to see so many comments addressing the excessive loud noise of many motorcycles of local bikers during the weekdays.

    As a former longtime rider of vintage BMW bikes, I have more than a passing interest in the topic. While loud motorcycles wake babies, as a resident of senior housing, I can tell you it’s no fun on the other end, either. There are a litany of laws governing decibel levels, but they are not enforced. The laws are not there because loud pipes are a tad bothersome; they are detrimental to human hearing. It is vanity that pushes one to modify pipes to produce the loudest results.

    I have yet to witness a citation being given to a rider with loud pipes. These regulations have been ignored for so long that nobody seems to be willing to be the person who enforces them. Ignoring a restriction does not all of a sudden make it legal. I tried that defense in court on several traffic topics and not once have I been successful.

  11. I read with interest this discussion because we live on Route 9D and this time of year is particularly loud. California discovered how to control this problem by fining riders who have modified their bikes (and cars) specifically to make them more noisy. It’s easy to spot, you don’t have to measure the decibels, and eventually it makes it too expensive to pretend you’re a big boy.

  12. Thank you so much everyone who has weighed in that we need to stop this craziness in which souped-up motorcycles roar through here every weekend making it sound like we’re living on a NASCAR track instead of in an historic, bucolic village. Hopefully the police are hearing us: Please, please enforce the laws against this bedlam! We already have to deal with the constant din of lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weedwackers, and apparently nothing can be done about that. Let’s at least get the laws enforced against the souped up motorcycle problem.

  13. Let’s not forget the Route 9 and 9D corridors where motorcycles often speed in groups down the narrow highway and the terrible sound echoes around the valley. Please increase policing of noise polluters on our highways — so many of us are affected!