Is “Loud” the new “Quiet”?

Is there a right to peace and quietness? I think yes, but what is considered quiet and peace by one person, can be torture for another. And I mean this at both extremes. We all have individual thresholds for noise and silence, for the very loud and for the very quiet. I usually keep a radio on in the house, feel relaxed with some background noise, and get nervous in absolute silence, as each sound is suddenly registered with highest sensitivity.

Considering new pipes for my Harley-Davidson, the issue of noise is at the centre of all decisions, as the fine lines between boring and illegal are easily crossed. While boring is a very personal and variable sentiment, illegal is a clearly defined bureaucratic benchmark, most often set by “the other part of the population”, and should not be considered a fair compromise, as its typically designed to be just one thing: politically correct. As it is so often, the weakest link wins, and discussions are rarely tolerated.

Advertisement and catchy slogans invade this hotly debated space. Some decades ago, when I bought a ST1100, the slogan of Honda was: LOUD is OUT, today the view that “Loud pipes save lives” is gaining momentum.

From personal experience as an active and law abiding traffic participant I believe louder pipes are safer, while at the same time I am happy to admit that I revel in the sound of that deep, throaty rumble.

Since over 20 years I commute on a motorcycle, presently a Piaggio MP3, and bikes of all makes and speeds easily outnumber the cars in the early morning hours. I have a quiet exhaust on my scooter, but would sometimes like it noisier, as I realise every day that the sometimes louder approaches of other bikes from behind  is actually very helpful. It draws my attention to them, like the racket of emergency vehicles, and makes my own journey safer.

Worst of all vehicles in this daily commuting madness is the much overrated Toyota Prius, who’s stealthy noiseless electric engine is so quiet, this bloody car can sneak up from behind and more then once scared the shit out of me for suddenly being were it wasn’t a few seconds earlier.

Road Safety experts now recommend that fully electrical cars should produce some kind of electronically generated noise to be heard in traffic. I think this a very sensible approach, as these noiseless gliders can be very dangerous. A nice touch to have a small electric car with the sound of a roaring Ferrari played by a sub-woofer under the bonnet.

Opponents of the slogan “Loud pipes save lives” like to point out that some bikers just want to be loud for not getting killed. My point is: getting killed is one bad thing, but there is worse: I do not want to kill somebody else.

As long as there is no law against pedestrians on using their mobile phones while walking the street, and they continue to be allowed to neutralise their hearing with iPod earphones, I have to be loud, I want to be heard, because I have a right to participate in this traffic too.

I invite every day suicidal pedestrians and cyclists to share the streets with me, I respect their rights, strengths and weaknesses, but I want the right to be heard, for my peace of mind and for their safety.


Sorry, I did not hear you coming!” is rarely something a injured person will ever say, even with colour matched earphones still sticking out of their ears, more likely you will be accused of reckless and aggressive driving, and be convicted, because as I already said above: the weakest link usually wins.

So lets give them at least the chance to hear me coming.

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3 Responses to “Is “Loud” the new “Quiet”?”

  1. oh so true, i use my hearing when riding walkinf and so as well as my vision the 2 go hand in hand, mind i find a rap on 2.5 open drags usually wakes them from the deaf oblivion, makes me look an ass but when its me or a pedestrian and a choice of lying on the floor or walking/riding away – pipes win everytime

  2. There is a lot of merit to your argument, but on the other hand, sometimes no amount of noise will get a person’s attention. Recently here we had a person walking on the train tracks, wearing headphones, who didn’t hear a train whistle (now that’s LOUD) warning him off the tracks. Fortunately he survived the collision with minor injuries.

  3. I think you make an EXCELLENT point that as others have the right to neutralize their auditory input, you have the right to “talk over” them with your pipes. Sound is extremely important to how we navigate the world and I do agree that it is a right, not a privilege, to be heard when sharing the traffic space. Well put!

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