UK & EU studies show motorcycle use booming

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

The global COVID pandemic has been driving a huge increase in the purchase and use of motorcycles, as high as 30% growth in London. Motorcycle use is surging for several reasons, such as restaurant deliveries, commuters maintaining distance by avoiding buses and trains, and to reduce fuel costs. But new research from the UK and EU shows that the growing use of motorcycles is also increasing pollution, like cancer-causing small particulate, e.g., PM2.5, emission of exhaust pollutants, CO2, and, of course, noise, which has its own effects on public health.

For motorcycle riders who modify their bikes, two of the thrills are not about transportation or convenience or fuel savings, they’re about disrupting social norms: the racket, and the public rage it leaves in its path. Unfortunately, as economists know, noise and pollution are “negative externalities”—that is, the noise and pollution are byproducts of the motorcyclist’s activities for which he or she does not take responsibility. Sadly, society typically doesn’t hold them responsible for either.

So how should communities address these externalities? That’s a tough question that most won’t touch. Motorcycles seem to be almost sacred and the image of the motorcycle rider seems to have replaced “The Marlboro Man” from the old cigarette billboards as a mostly-masculine, American-style icon of youth and rebellion.

Our hope is that new generation of electric motorcycles (and scooters and bicycles) will gradually replace the noisy old hogs favored by aging boomers. In the meantime, make sure you’re packing ear protection when you’re anywhere near a place where motorcycle noise abounds.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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