Most motorcycle riders love the sound of a good exhaust. Many go out of their way, investing time and money on modifying their exhausts or buying aftermarket systems. Some just want to make their exhausts sound better. Many do it because of the common belief that “loud pipes save lives”.

Unfortunately not everyone shares our love for a good exhaust sound and not everyone agrees that loud pipes save lives. A war is being waged on motorcycle “noise” in Europe and it’s going to affect riders across the globe.

Europe is getting more extreme and it will affect us all

The EU has always played a major role in setting the global agenda on environmental issues. In recent years it appears the EU has become more and more extreme on the issue of motor vehicle noise as the environmental-fanatics manage to force their extreme views all over Europe. 

In recent months countries all over Europe have been introducing or are planning to introduce anti noise laws.

England: noise detecting cameras are being trialled in England. The Yorkshire Dale National Park is considering a ban on vehicles due to motorcycle noise.

France: noise detecting cameras have been installed and are being trialled.

Belgium: the government is considering a ban on motorcycles in some areas of Brussels. Apparently the excuse is to “reduce emission”.

Austria: the Austrian state of Tyrol introduced on 10th of June a ban on motorcycles producing noise level louder than 95dB.

Switzerland: same as in Austria, a Social Democratic Party councilor has put forward a ruling to ban motorcycles louder than 95dB.

Germany: a number of measures have been recently voted on in the German parliament. Noise detecting cameras will be installed; police officers will be given powers to fine and impound what they consider as “noisy motorcycles”; motorcycles may be banned from certain areas on Sundays (a rule already applied to trucks in Germany). In addition, the government wants to reduce noise levels of all motorcycles to 80dB, a rule which will affect all German made motorcycles world wide.

Past experience shows that any environmental laws and regulations passed in Europe end up affecting the whole world. The Euro4 and Euro5 emissions laws are fine examples. Vehicle manufacturers must comply with the Euro5 regulations and make all their models compliant. So they make all their vehicles compliant, regardless of which market they are sold in. Once manufacturers start making “quieter” motorcycles to comply with EU regulations we will end up with those models too. 

What about Australia?

In Australia the rules governing vehicle noise are set in the Vehicle Noise Standard ADR83/00. They define “the limits on external noise generated by all light and heavy vehicles, motorcycles and mopeds in order to limit the contribution of motor traffic to community noise”. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in each state applies and enforce these rules.

What we have, in effect, is a complex set of regulations and standards with different noise levels for different bikes. In some cases the complexity and grey areas are simply absurd. For example, ADR 83/00 prohibits exhaust system modification if it reduces the effectiveness of the system. How can this possibly be measured or ascertained by a rider who wishes to do the right thing?

As there are no official noise testing facilities, riders may not be aware their motorbike exhaust system is legally too loud. Those who do want to do the right thing have no way of knowing if their exhaust is too loud.

Indeed, there are those who deliberately remove baffles from their exhausts in order to make them either louder or simply sound better. However, a rider may buy a second hand bike, not knowing what the previous owner has done and with no way of testing (how many motorcycle riders own a noise level meter for performing noise tests???)

In NSW a police officer who thinks an exhaust sound is too loud has the authority to issue a defect notice. The EPA will then issue a Vehicle Inspection Notice with instructions to take the vehicle to an approved station for the noise level to be tested. Members of the public may also report to the EPA what they believe to be a noisy vehicle.

The Sound of Silence

Although motorcycle exhaust noise level is measurable, the issue is also subjective. The sound of an aftermarket exhaust may sound beautiful to one person but may sound like a horrible and disturbing noise to another. 

Us, riders, need to be aware of this. Revving our engines in residential areas is not likely to win us sympathy in the community. The way things are going it is very likely the EU is going to win the war on motorcycle exhaust noise. We need to do whatever we can to keep the authorities and the community on our side of the debate.

In addition, the regulators need to ensure that the laws regarding vehicle noise are clear and unified across all states in Australia. Vehicle owners should have the opportunity to test their vehicle’s noise levels and know they comply with the law.

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