Letters

Salon's readers are united: Noisy Harleys suck! Readers respond to Michelle Delio's "Loud Hogs for Easy Riders."


Salon Staff
May 23, 2003 11:30PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

Noisy motorcycles are not "the sound of rebellion." They are the sound of inconsiderate people. Something we have too many of in this country.

-- K. Cortese

With the 100th anniversary celebration of Harley-Davidson coming to Milwaukee this summer, I can look forward to tens of thousands of poorly tuned, oil-spewing H-D motorcycles and the attendant H-D "purists" polluting my hometown for a couple of weeks.

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Harley-Davidson has spent this last 100 years building a brand. By this point in their history, a brand is all they have left. The soul of their motorcycles left when they ceased being a voice of youthful rebellion, and started being a voice of upper-middle-class pseudo-rebellion. The Harley riders making their pilgrimage to Milwaukee this summer are lawyers and stockbrokers trying to take back a piece of their 1960s and '70s memories, armed with overpriced bikes and matching Harley-Davidson branded jackets, boots, gloves and underwear. They don't live to ride, they live for others to think they live to ride.

When I was in the market for my first new motorcycle, it came down between the $9,000 entry-level H-D, and the $4,500 entry-level Honda. Four years, 25,000 miles, and a couple of cross-country trips later, the Honda was the best vehicle choice I've ever made. It doesn't leak oil, it starts on the first crank after being stored all winter, and I haven't had any major engine work done on it. I challenge a Harley rider to be able to say the same.

-- Adam Johnson

I live in a neighborhood that features a few no doubt well-meaning but utterly obnoxious Harley owners. Deafening noise can be a thrill, but I'd rather have some measure of control over when and where I hear it. Harley riders don't seem to realize it, but their choice of outsize in-your-face self-expression is the only thing worse than the Hummer H2.

Why? It's the utter selfishness, stupid. "The entire world loves my motorcycle music just like me!" Or, perhaps, "I'm big and tough, just like my loud pipes!" Whatever the individuals' rationalization, they're forcing everyone within a mile or two to suffer from the annoyance they create.

I'm sick of the ever-increasing "Hey, don't be a prude" response when pointing out that something's stupid. But Harleys are stupid. They're stupid because they exist only for the purpose of creating a gawdawful racket. Why not a BMW? It's fast and quiet. Why not any number of Asian two-wheelers? Same benefits. But no. A Harley, a creaking tribute to technologies long dead, is the order of the day.

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"Loud pipes save lives?" Not when I'm removing my sword from the next Harley rider who interrupts my sleep, my phone conversations, recording sessions or general right to a little peace and quiet. Or perhaps I'll blast Barry Manilow outside my local riders' domiciles at 2:30 in the morning. Don't like it? Don't be such a prude, man.

-- David Ingram

I have been riding motorcycles for 30 years and own five at present. The idea that "loud pipes save lives" is ridiculous. Ask any ambulance driver how effective the noise of his siren is in getting the attention of drivers cocooned in their surround-sound equipped SUVs. Most collisions are caused by left-turning car drivers ignoring oncoming motorcycles. Blasting noise to the rear does nothing to help in this situation. The noise does draw attention to the "biker," meeting some psychological need to offset perceived or real shortcomings.

-- Tom McIntyre

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Silly bastards. The loud Harley noise destroys hearing bit by bit, permanently. Eight hours a day at 85 decibels will cause damage -- and long rides sitting on a box that can easily crank out 100 decibels will graduate a rider nicely into the category of moderately deaf. That's the reason the guy's "ol' lady" couldn't hear him coming on his V-Rod -- she's lost too much of her hearing.

-- Terry Wilson

Not all motorcyclists share the opinions expressed in "Loud Hogs for Easy Riders." There is a growing percentage, possibly a majority, that views superloud bikes as acoustic pollution.

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The view that loud pipes save lives has not been substantiated by the admittedly scarce research about motorcycle accidents. On the contrary, many riders feel that loud pipes risk rights.

Many Harley riders, as well as riders of other cruiser and sport bike brands, fit aftermarket exhausts to their bikes in an effort to customize their bikes and draw attention, whether for vanity or perceived safety. Aftermarket exhaust systems play a vital role in race tuning, but loud pipes on the street make powerful enemies.

-- Megan Draven

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The next time you accept an article concerning motorcycle engines, please make sure that the journalist submitting it has at least a modicum of technical knowledge.

Michelle Delio's piece on the sound characteristics of Harley-Davidson engines is hard to take seriously when it contains statements such as "he opted to graft a second cylinder onto his one-cylinder engine design rather than whip up a true two-cylinder engine" and "Harley used a connecting rod to join two pistons to a single crankshaft." The first is absurd -- if an engine has two working cylinders it is, by definition, a two-cylinder engine. And there is no means of attaching pistons to a crankshaft other than via connecting rods. Moreover, except for a very few extremely specialized examples, every known reciprocating internal combustion engine uses "a single crankshaft," regardless if it is a V-Twin, a V8, an inline-4, etc.

The characteristic Harley-Davidson sound, and the then-unique feature of Harley's engine, lay in the timing of the combustion stroke. All 4-stroke engines go through the intake, compression, combustion and exhaust strokes every two revolutions of the engine. Most V-Twin engines are designed so that one cylinder fires on one revolution and the other fires on the next. Harley's design was such that they fire with 45 degree offsets both before and after a full 360 revolution of the crankshaft. This yields the signature "pop, pop, pause" sound of the classic Harley-Davidson.

-- Andrew Henderson

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Note to Harley owners: Please know that, despite what you may think, most of the world really doesn't care that you own a Harley. We don't need a two-minute warning for your arrival home. Entire neighborhoods don't need to be informed that you've gone for your Saturday morning drive. People don't need to be disturbed from their sleep so they can appreciate your poorly tuned, and probably illegal, exhaust systems.

It may be hard for you to understand, but the sound of your pipes is about as charming and about as welcome as the sound of loud sex coming through a thin wall at a motel. Put a muzzle on it, folks.

-- Matthew Workman

Harley owners can keep their trademark sound, optimally provided to them via headphones.

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As a city dweller (San Francisco, if it matters), I am personally extraordinarily sick and tired of bikers who think their "sound of rebellion" is anything more significant than a skull-bone rattle to ordinary folks just trying to enjoy an afternoon (or a good night's sleep) in their apartments. It's no more a sound of rebellion than I could make with some high-pitched screaming in a movie theater, and should be given the same amount of tolerance.

If someone's "ol' lady" can't hear them from "a few blocks away," after meeting reasonable noise guidelines, might I suggest a cellphone?

-- Dan Avery

The "Harley sound" is nothing more than an overhyped accessory, the equivalent of a Gucci handbag for the midlife crisis brigade or a signed Sonny Barger photo for the soap-averse crew. They wouldn't be waxing quite so lyrical about the beauty of noise if I came and parked outside their houses and blared Bee Gees music all day.

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-- Luke Preston

I wish I could share the misty-eyed, tone-deaf admiration of noisy Harleys that Delio shares. But after nearly shattering my eardrums as Harleys revved and rumbled by in a parade, and having lost many hours of camping sleep to hogs roaming the mountain roads, I have to wonder why such a small group of folks is allowed to inflict their hundred-decibel wet farts on the rest of us. Noise does not equate to freedom. I applaud any effort to tone them down. Put the loud noise on the bike's radio and let the riders destroy their hearing by wearing headphones. Leave the rest of us in peace.

-- Gregory Pasztor

"But stock pipes or not, a Harley still sounds like a Harley. And to the faithful, it's sweet music indeed."

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You gotta be kidding me. What about the rest of us -- the faithless -- who can't stand the sound of the *#! things. Your article said nothing about why noise pollution laws exist -- to protect the vast majority of us from lunatics who think because they paid for something they can use it however they want. Freedom or consumerist posturing as rebellion?

-- Ray Walsh


Salon Staff

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