Motorcycle Noise

New York pols seek stiffer fines for modified mufflers

Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

New Yorkers are very likely appreciative of the lawmakers, State Senator Andrew Gournardes and City Councilman Justin Brannan, for introducing legislation, a bill at the state level and a bill at the City Council, to impose stiffer fines for excessive vehicle noise. These legislators speak for many New Yorkers when they were quoted as being “tired of moronic motorists terrorizing New York streets with deafening loud mufflers and exhaust systems.”

The bills would increase the penalties for modifying mufflers and ensure that police officers have the ability to measure the decibel sound levels emitted. The legislators have noted the blasting noises from these vehicles at night have been especially disruptive to sleep. With so many people already experiencing extra stress, sleep is especially important. But sleep is always important to health, and lack of sleep due to noise has been found to impede overall health and quality of life.

While the legislators believe higher fines and police armed with decibel meters will make people think twice about modifying exhaust systems to make them intentionally louder, the key to stopping this noise is the enforcement of the law. Will this legislation indeed bring about an increase in the issuance of violations? Have the lawmakers thought of introducing provisions in the bills that will allow for an evaluation of how the bills are enforced within a year after their passage?

Passing laws is critical in maintaining order, but without enforcement these laws carry little weight. Too often, when it comes to noise, New Yorkers have found that noise laws do not get enforced as they should, as underscored in this 2018 noise report by New York State comptroller DiNapoli.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

German motorcyclists protest against new noise regs

Photo credit: Stephen Elson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We wrote recently about Germany’s new regulations concerning motorcycle noise. Today, NPR notes that Germany’s motorcycle enthusiasts are loudly protesting against those regulations.

Just imagine what would happen in the U.S. if the U.S. Department of Transportation tried to enforce their own motorcycle noise regulations. Yes, they exist, but no local, state, or federal authority is enforcing them.

Imagine America’s streets filled with raging, hog-riding Hells Angels and fellow travelers protesting their First Amendment right to “freedom of speech” and their Second Amendment right to protest by carrying guns while invading cities and towns—and holding state houses and town halls hostage.

Invasion of the Goths! MadMax come alive! What a nightmare.

I hope we soon see a massive shift to electric motorcycles as the next generation of millennial riders pushes noisy hog-riding Boomers off the pavement, because it’s going to take a massive demographic shift to end the racket.

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.

Brooklyn Navy Yard gives birth to quiet electric motorcycle

Brooklyn Navy Yard    Photo credit: Dsigman48 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Founded in 1801, Brooklyn Navy Yard’s sprawling 350-acre site overlooks Manhattan and has seen a lot of innovation—including construction of the Civil War ironclad, USS Monitor https://brooklynnavyyard.org/about/history. At it’s peak during WWII, the yard employed 70,000 people. But ship building at the Yard ended long ago, and now it’s home to hundreds of innovative enterprises including a movie studio.

Among those companies is a young company called Tarform funded by a California venture-capital firm and conceived by a young New Yorker, via Stockholm, Sweden, named Taras Kravtchouk, an industrial designer who is building an absolutely gorgeous, all-electric motorcycle using sustainable materials. Even the motorcycle’s “leather” seat is made from plant materials, not animal hide, and there’s no conventional plastic either—because he’s found substitutes made from biodegradable, natural materials.

Of course, we’re interested because electric motorcycles do not use petroleum and are extremely quiet—as well as impressively powerful. But this bike is also unbelievably beautiful.

As Karavtchouk say, “[b]eauty is its own form of sustainability; no one want to throw away something gorgeous.”

There are a quite a number of electric motorcycles coming onto the market—including several models from American “hog” manufacturer Harley Davidson, whose company executives are aware that their stalwart customers—Boomers—are aging out of the market and GenX and Millennials are much more interested in quiet, powerful, electric rides. But the new Tarform is a real knockout in the looks department:


We have nothing to gain from praising it but just can’t pass up the opportunity to point it out.

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.

NYC residents form task force against noise

Photo credit: Susan Sermoneta licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Concerned about the rise in noise in Inwood and Washington Heights, and supported by the largest number of noise-related complaints filed this year to 311 by the Manhattan community board that encompasses these neighborhoods, a group of residents formed a task force to address the noise in their community, e.g. street noises, residential noises, loud fireworks, and noisy vehicles. These two groups, named WAHI and Inwood for Respectful Decibel Levels, at their press conference, called on city agencies, elected public officials and their Community Board 12 members to support them in their efforts.

Over forty years ago, I had conducted study on the impact of elevated train noise on children’s classroom learning at their school in Inwood and found that the reading scores of children attending classes exposed to the train noise were significantly lower than children on the quiet side of the building. The results of this study were published in an academic journal but also shared with the community residents and their public officials. Working with the community and their elected officials, we were able to get the Transit Authority to lessen the noise on the tracks and the Board of Education to place sound absorbing materials in the noisy classrooms. A study following these two abatements found that children on both sides of the building were now reading at the same level.

Thus, it was not surprising that the Inwood/Washington Heights group would ask for my assistance to combat the noise they are now experiencing in their neighborhood. The fact that the community had played a role in lessening the noises at a district school earlier has given them confidence as they move forward to reduce the noise levels in their community today. The community also knows that today there is far more research demonstrating that noise is harmful to both our mental and physical health.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Germany and Switzerland crack down on motorcycle noise

Photo credit: Mia & Steve Mestdagh licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Want to incite some really nasty mobs in American cities? Try banning motorcycle noise as they’re doing in Germany and Switzerland. No noise above 95 dB with perpetrators spotted and fined based on evidence from roadway-mounted microphones & cameras.

If you think the NRA is virulent about 2nd Amendment rights, just wait until you see flash mobs of bikers demanding their right to “freedom of speech”—i.e., their presumed “right” to make as much noise as they want.

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.

Paris takes on bikers’ noise

Photo credit: Carlos ZGZ has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have written about several times, one unexpected result of the COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide was a reduction in noise–in cities, in the water, even in terms of measured seismic activity. As life has started to return to something approaching normal, noise levels are increasing.

In Paris, one cause of increased noise is motorcycles with altered exhausts. As this BBC report shows, one motorcycle riding through Paris at night can disturb the sleep of thousands of people.

In response, the police are enforcing motorcycle quiet laws, and the city is developing an automated noise monitoring system.

Maybe other cities around the world can do the same?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Could motorbike noise regulations push more riders onto electric motocycles?

Photo credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Could motorbike noise regulations push more riders onto electric motorcycles? That’s a distinct possibility in Europe, where regulators are more concerned about the adverse impacts of noise than those in the U.S. This piece from Electrek, a news and commentary site “tracking, analyzing, and breaking news on the transition from fossil-fuel transport to electric transport,” seems to think so.

Battery electric powered vehicles of all types are much quieter than gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. Additionally, they don’t create any point-source air pollution or contribute to global warming when they are used. Most motorcycles and motor scooters use two-stroke engines, which emit much more pollution than four-stroke engines used in cars and trucks.

The author, who rides an electric motorcycle himself, addresses the common myth that noisy motorcycles are safer because they alert drivers of their presence. Not true.

Harley-Davidson has started producing electric motorcycles here, so we hope these will replace the noisy, polluting “hogs” on the road. The electric motorcycles have much more rapid acceleration, so the rider benefits, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Motorcycle noise can damage riders’ hearing

Photo credit: Sourav Mishra from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Motorcycle noise is a problem for people in many cities, interrupting conversations, disrupting sleep, and being loud enough to cause auditory damage. But motorcycle noise is also a problem for riders. This online piece from a UK insurance agent discusses the dangers of motorcycle noise for riders’ hearing.

Noise comes from both the engine and from air moving past the riders’ ears. Wind screens reduced the noise somewhat, but it is still loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Many motorcycle riders aren’t aware that the noise can damage their hearing. But many of those who know about the dangers of wind and engine noise on their ears don’t want to wear earplugs because they want to hear what’s going on around them.  Riding a motorcycle is hazardous, and riders want to hear other vehicles that may or may not see them.

Filtered ear plugs, which allow transmission of lower frequency sounds while blocking high frequency wind noise, might be a good solution.  The best solution, of course, is to avoid the source of damaging noise, which will also benefit anyone who would rather not be exposed to motorcycle noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Quieter motorcycles are on their way

Photo credit: big-ashb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

After last week’s fiasco in Manhattan, where tourists raced out of Times Square when they mistook a motorcycle backfiring for gunfire, it’s good to hear the era of loud motorcycles may  finally be coming to an end. After all, motorcycles with exhaust noise violating federal and state noise standards are the bane of many urban and rural dwellers.

Quieter motorcycles are possible, and there have been efforts to design motorcycles that leave a smaller carbon–and noise–footprint. Well, they are finally here: Harley-Davidson and other manufacturers are introducing quiet electric-powered motorcycles.

We hope these become a preferred mode of transport soon.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Will this finally get the cops to do something about motorcycle noise?

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A motorcycle backfiring caused panic, sending thousands of people running for safety in Times Square. Coming so shortly off of this country’s latest mass shootings, one can understand why throngs of people ran for their lives when they heard what they thought was gun fire:

The backfiring could have been accidental, but as anyone who lives in a big city knows, bikers love to make noise and that noise is deliberate.  Here’s hoping the police, recognizing the danger of stampede, will finally start ticketing these miscreants for violating noise ordinances that are already on the books.