Motorcycle Noise

Bikers at risk of profound hearing loss

Photo credit: ajay bhargav GUDURU from Pexels

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

According to this article by Matt Colley for the British Motorcyclists Federation, bikers are making themselves deaf. Not exactly surprising, but the cause of the hearing loss isn’t just from riding loud motorcycles, it’s from exposure to wind noise.

Colley states that “[w]hen riding at 62mph, 95dB of noise turbulence is generated by the airflow within your helmet.” 95 decibels is more than enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The article continues, adding that “even at standards speeds, exposure to wind noise can have significant consequences.” So what happens if a motorcyclist goes faster? “Unsurprisingly, the faster you go the higher the noise level and consequently the higher level of risk,” says Colley, adding that at 74mph the turbulence ratchets “up to 98dB, which can be damaging after only seven minutes of exposure.”

Ironic isn’t it? People ride big, loud motorcycles because they love the sense of freedom and power and yes—they like being noticed. Meanwhile, motorcycle manufacturers–even Harley Davidson–are already developing quiet, battery-powered bikes. But a quiet, electric motorcycle, while clearly an improvement for helpless bystanders, won’t solve the wind-noise problem that the British Motorcycle Federation says is the real cause of hearing loss among motorcycle riders.

As Colley notes, it’s important for riders to hear sounds that are necessary for situational awareness, like horns and sirens. He adds that wind noise causes fatique, requiring rider to concentrate more. So what does he suggest? Something we at The Quiet Coalition have recommended since our inception–always use ear protection when you are exposed to loud noise.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Motorcycle noise is not a first amendment right

Photo credit: Pulicciano licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This story by NPR discusses what will be the last Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride in the nation’s capital. The Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride first took place in 1988, an excuse to ride loud motorcycles through Washington, D.C. to honor veterans and troops killed in action, and to put pressure on the government to do more to find those still missing. The organizers of the Rolling Thunder ride will be organizing their last event in Washington D.C. this coming Memorial Day, 2019. After that, they will celebrate local and regional motorcycle rides but won’t have an organized ride in D.C. because “the event had become too costly and that federal agencies were making it overly difficult to organize.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said, “[t]he department supports the peaceful, lawful exercise of American citizens’ First Amendment rights, and remains focused on ensuring the safety and security of the demonstrators and the Pentagon Reservation. The department is prepared to support the 2019 Rolling Thunder ride, as we have for the last 31 years.”

Some might interpret this statement to mean that the Pentagon supports citizens riding noisy motorcycles as an exercise of their free speech. I don’t think this is what those who wrote and passed the First Amendment meant. And I don’t think this is what the Pentagon means, either.

I’m a doctor, not a constitutional lawyer, but I can read the Constitution as well as anyone else. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Honoring veterans and pressuring the government to find those still missing action, and complaining about restrictions on a large, noisy motorcycle event are examples of protected free speech. Motorcycle noise is not.

States clearly have a legal right to regulate motorcycle noise, and according to the American Automobile Association, many do, even if state and local police agencies are reluctant to enforce these laws.

And there’s a federal law as well, namely transportation noise emission regulations. The law is very detailed, with different decibel levels depending on the engine size and purpose of the motorcycle (street use or off-road use) but 80 decibels is a common limit. Many if not most motorcycles exceed this limit.

Motorcycle riders may be a powerful constituency, but they are a minority. Their right to make noise stops at our ears.

If enough citizens exercise our First Amendment rights to complain to elected officials and police authorities, the laws will be enforced and we will have a quieter world.

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.

Loud motorcycle noise is a health hazard

The photographer, Muzzi Katz, has dedicated this image to the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the home of Harley-Davidson, discusses motorcycle noise as either a sweet sound or a nuisance.

Motorcycle noise is neither. It is a health and public health hazard.

Most motorcycles are noisy enough to cause hearing loss, both to riders and to passers-by.  And most motorcycle noise is loud enough to disrupt sleep. Uninterrupted sleep is important for good health.

Many states have specific laws governing vehicle noise, including motorcycle exhausts, and most cities have noise ordinances as well.

If motorcycle noise is a problem in your city or town, ask your mayor and city council member and police chief to enforce local and state noise ordinances.

I just sent an email to the mayor of my city about this. You should do the same where you live.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Calgary councillors take aim at motorcycle noise

 

Photo credit: Calgary Reviews licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Calgary Herald Editorial Board writes that “city politicians are once again turning their attention to the excessive sound of motorcycles and other vehicles with noisy mufflers and other needless modifications that are an irritant to all but the self-absorbed owners themselves.”  This year, the pols are looking at Edmonton, where there is a test underway that uses “a new photo-radar-style noise gun [that] is showing promise.”

If Edmonston’s test is successful, it’s possible that Calgary will adopt the technology and both cities could consider automating the device “to issue fines to too-loud users of public roads, including at nighttime, when the disturbance is particularly upsetting to residents trying to get a good night’s sleep.”

And the city of Calgary will heave a sigh of relief.

 

Proof quiet motorcycles are possible

They exist, and the police department in Warrensburg, Missouri is looking to purchase them.

If the motorcycles are powerful enough for the police to consider using them, then surely they are powerful enough for someone who just wants a reliable means of transportation. Among other things, “the bikes can go up to 140 miles in the city before being recharged,” though a full recharge takes nine hours.

Naturally, the motorcycle isn’t absolutely quiet, but removing engine noise is significant. Said Police Chief Rich Lockhart, “It’s a really, really cool bike. I rode it around quite a bit today and got a lot of looks from people. It’s completely silent. All you hear are the tires.”

For the sake of our ears, let’s hope Zero motorcycles and other all-electric competitors become the new normal.