Loud Pipes. Open Letter Of Tom Zimberoff To Harley-Davidson








In a former Article about “motorcycle noise”, I posted a link to an Essay written on this topic by Jim McCaslin, President and Chief Operating Officer of Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Tom Zimberoff, “Chief Chopperating Officer” and best selling author of the 2 hard cover books “Art Of The Chopper” I & II, wrote this open letter to answer Jim McCaslin statements.

“Dear Jim. If I may offer a few reasons why, let me ask you to give second thought to your position about “loud” exhaust pipes. I hope you will lend the author of perhaps the best-selling book about motorcycles in publication an open mind. Your Web article begins perceptively and articulately, but the question you ask about what riders can do to appease those who vilify motorcycles is misconceived. As the number of motorcycles increases, decibels notwithstanding, their abomination by those who would never own one becomes ever more an existential reality. There is no statistical basis to assert a “sleeping giant of social concern.” Despite your nice turn of phrase, outspoken critics are few. They are, however, as strident as straight shots in an underground car park. Therefore, it is better to marginalize them, not mollify them. They are trying to marginalize us.
If you can cite a four-fold increase in negative media coverage, community motorcycle bans, the curtailing of events and the like, then kindly step up your public relations efforts against them instead of capitulating to the acrimonious opinions of unreasonable opponents and accepting the possibility of ill-considered legislation. The people behind such initiatives are prejudiced and always will be. It is they who should pipe down. The consequences of adverse laws are likely only if industry leaders fail to fight them. 

Just as no one rides a motorcycle because it’s safe (you may have to think about that one for a moment), no one buys a Harley-Davidson because it’s quiet. Quiet has not bespoke quality in a Harley-Davidson or any other marque since 1915. (I bring that up because you invoked the Silent Gray Fellows of yore.) Moreover, few riders change pipes to add power. You’re right: power is a prevarication. They do it because they neither enjoy the look of stock exhaust pipes nor how they sound, which, unfortunately, is no longer much like they used to.

If you want to protect our sport as you say you do, you cannot practically eliminate the acoustic self-indulgence that the Motor Company once tried to patent. The original American Idle, if you will, is indeed the robust and rhythmic rumble of a Harley waiting for a traffic light to turn green. Don’t kid yourself into believing that the sound is not linked to volume. Your business model is turning heads—and ears—as much as turning corners. Your customers want the whole hog, so to speak—and for vanity’s sake to be sure. They demand that people pay attention to them. Losing sight of any single aspect of that package, including the quality of the sound, means bikes will lose their appeal for your customers, especially younger ones. If I was on your board of directors, I would have to question the rationality of such a proposition as piping down.
I am not advocating a rider’s right to commit ear-splitting hole shots at intersections. Nor would I recommend blatting through a residential neighborhood bereft of baffles, which only a few inconsiderate yahoos are wont to do anyway. Isn’t that the point?

This is no time for industry leaders to act defensively. It is no time to pipe down but to speak up! Motorcyclists, particularly Harley riders, will never abandon their hedonistic prerogative to sound off. If laws already on the books targeting them directly are more sternly enforced, they will rebel. It is their creed, one reflected in your own marketing campaigns. And instead of creating an atmosphere of tolerance to ease tensions with those who will never appreciate motorcycles, a wider state of war will exist between latent libertarians and obstinate ideologues. Add more laws; and thousands more otherwise law-abiding citizens will become offenders by definition, while some police officers will let them go by anyway with a wink and a nod because they ride too.
Instead of caving in to bad press generated by a zealous but biased minority (the media sucks up content, especially when it involves conflict), why not counter by getting up in arms about the din of real noise polluters like leaf blowers, hovering helicopters, jake brakes, gut-wrenching car stereos, your neighbor’s penchant for power tools, barking dogs, and worst of all, car alarms. The good news about even noisy motorcycles is they’re gone in seconds. The aforementioned and more egregious noise pollution often lingers for hours at a time. A motorcycle or even a group of them is, literally, a passing distraction. Why single out motorcycles? Step up to the plate for us, Jim.
With regard to singling out motorcycles, let me bring up another issue related to exhaust without trying to upset anti-emissions advocates, with whom I agree wholeheartedly when it comes to automobiles, commercial aircraft, and diesel trucks, trains, and ships. The Motor Company drops the ball “protecting our sport” when it comes to air pollution. Other vehicles outnumber motorcycles by tens of thousands to one. So I ask you rhetorically: How would you feel about the government mandating a catalytic converter on your barbeque—or banning it? A single outdoor grill spews more hydrocarbons and harsh smoke into the atmosphere than all of the motorcycles on all of the streets of any large city on any given summer day by an order of magnitude. How about curtailing that American way of life, Jim?

As you admitted, there will always be people who are bothered by the fact that someone else is riding a motorcycle. They are the same ones who protest that they never saw the rider they just forced off the road or T-boned at an intersection. Had they heard him in addition to noticing his lights, bright apparel, gaudy paint job, and reflectors that might not have been the case. Regardless, there is no research to counter the assertion made by an awful lot of riders that “loud pipes save lives.” Any argument to the contrary is untenable.
Finally, you implied that loud pipes cause riders to selfishly wear earplugs on longer rides. That’s poppycock. One can hardly hear even the loudest of exhaust notes in the wind at speed. It is the buffeting of the wind itself that creates a debilitating racket (only for the rider) and ultimately tinnitus—even when wearing a helmet; sometimes more so with a helmet. That’s why riders wear earplugs.

Motorcycles are statistically negligible contributors to noise pollution. Instead of exhorting riders to pipe down, Jim, please give serious thought to championing the idea of indulging more delicious exhaust notes and setting the public’s ire against more repugnant and persistent noise polluters” Tom Zimberoff


24 Responses to “Loud Pipes. Open Letter Of Tom Zimberoff To Harley-Davidson”

  1. 1 bertrand Oct 2nd, 2008 at 9:54 am

    A bit long to read to me, but absolutely full of meaning ! ! ! Well done Tom

  2. 2 burnout Oct 2nd, 2008 at 10:23 am

    EXACTLY! I wear earplugs against the wind noise. I can still hear a potential hazard, such as tires sliding up behind me, but I am concerned about bikers with ipods and such connected to their head……………… peace

  3. 3 Wolfe Oct 2nd, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I enjoyed reading this coherent understanding of the issue. Said it before I’ll say it again, my loud pipes keep the deer at a stand still and on a four lane or more my loud pipe let other motorist know I am there.

  4. 4 vet10 Oct 2nd, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Loud Pipes, Small Dick!

  5. 5 aft customs Oct 2nd, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    When Ferrari designs an automobile they say that the “exhaust note” should create emotion in the driver. When we customise a cutomers stock motorcycle the first thing to go is the stock exhaust.The first question a customer askes when choosing an exhaust is “how does it sound”.

  6. 6 hoyt Oct 2nd, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Don’t underestimate the number of people who will agree with the few “outspoken critics”.
    Don’t underestimate the number of people who adhere to the “louder is better” mentality.

    The 2 are at odds while at the same time accomplishing the same goal against the majority of bikers.

    The louder is better crowd doesn’t understand the significant difference between a well-tuned, loud exhaust system (with the proper baffling) and a bad pipe with no baffle.

    Louder is not better. Frequently, “louder is better” makes the bike sound mechanically off, just as heavy music is distorted on a bad stereo system. I’m not saying turn it down too low. Improve the sound quality and the sound doesn’t have to go so high, which will annoy the “few”.

    Tom writes, “Despite your nice turn of phrase, outspoken critics are few. They are, however, as strident as straight shots in an underground car park.”

    Agreed. I would add, the number of people that would give these few critics the “go-ahead” with legislation is more strident

  7. 7 Nicker Oct 2nd, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    It needs to be said one more time. Loud pipes simply ain’t the problem, they are the symptom.

    “… Your customers want the whole hog, so to speak—and for vanity’s sake to be sure. They demand that people pay attention to them… ”

    Le-me suggest that the real problem is that too many of “the industry’s customers” do exactly that.
    They “demand attention.” And we all know what happens to the squeeky wheel.

    There was a time when most of the “scooter-population” knew exactly how to pull off the “biker persona” (for lack of a beter term). Allong with that came the ocasoinal “social shunning” (escorted out of town, etc…). But it was excepted as the price ya paid for membersip in, what was a fairly sellect demographic.

    As i see ti, there in lies the crux of the problem.

    As you say ” no one rides a motorcycle because it’s safe “

  8. 8 Nicker Oct 2nd, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Disregard the previous incomplete post:

    It needs to be said one more time. Loud pipes simply ain’t the problem, they are the symptom.

    “… Your customers want the whole hog, so to speak—and for vanity’s sake to be sure. They demand that people pay attention to them… ”

    Le-me suggest that the real problem is that too many of “the industry’s customers” do exactly that.
    They “demand attention.” And we all know what happens to the squeaky wheel.

    There was a time when most of the “scooter-population” knew exactly how to pull off the “biker persona” (for lack of a better term). Along with that came the occasional “social shunning” (escorted out of town, etc…). But it was excepted as the price ya paid for membership in, what was a fairly select demographic. Those from that era (and those who learned from them) know “how the game is played.”

    Unfortunately, because what we have now is “an industry.” It’s an industry not limited to OEM and hardware vendors. It also includes “software” vendors like yourself who trade in words, ideas and events.

    Moreover that industry (which emerged from “ya meet the nicest people on a Honda”… 50) has experienced explosive growth, fueled by a mass influx of bare-foot pilgrims who “demand.” They demand to become part of that exclusive minority. They demand “safety.” They demand attention. Oh ya, and some even demand “Respect” (not understanding that it’s a commodity, that is earned, not granted).

    As a demographic they have managed to foul up an activity that has been central to the live of many who “payed our dues” the old fashioned way. Their antics have forced legislation that would never have been enacted otherwise. They have driven our insurance rate up. And they have focused public attention on us in a way that may well destroy our ability to create and ride they fruits of our imagination and skill.

    These are your customers. They watch TV, they buy product, and they “demand” to get the type of attention they see on TV and in the Movies.

    Sorry Tom, the way is see it, there-in lies the crux of the problem (not pipes or scooters).
    So when was the last time some one wrote an article on how to “act.” When was the last time a dealer told a break-in-biker to keep their yaps shut and their ears open.

    But that’s just one old guys opinion.

  9. 9 Mike Greenwald Oct 2nd, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    A Right to Noise Excess?
    Legal attack on new MB ordinance is unwarranted

    It’s easy to understand why a lawyer representing two local bikers thinks the new city of Myrtle Beach restriction on motorcycle exhaust noise exceeds state law. It does. In passing this ordinance last week, one of 15 aimed at suppressing the worst aspects of the May motorcycle rallies, the City Council relied on its home-rule powers under S.C. state law.

    Tom McGrath of the Virginia-based Motorcycle Law Group rightly points out that state law does not specify permissible levels of motor vehicle exhaust noise. The city’s modified noise ordinance sets the maximum allowable noise level for idling motorcycles at 87 – above the noise level for normal busy traffic. McGrath argues – debatably – that the city doesn’t have the home-rule authority to exceed state law in this fashion.

    He also argues that the city’s noise ordinance is unconstitutional – which is another matter entirely. If by that he and his clients mean that bikers have a constitutional right to ride machines that exceed the “normal” noise level of busy traffic – which is noisy enough – he is on shaky ground.

    The principle that personal freedom is limited by the rights of others is well-established in constitutional law. McGrath, we’re guessing, will be hard pressed to persuade the court handling his case that the city should not have the right to protect residents from unreasonably high levels of motorcycle noise – especially since the new city decibel level for motorcycles is higher than the permitted levels for other forms of noise.

    Many local and visiting motorcyclists, we suspect, understand the public interest in balancing their freedom to ride with residents’ desire not to be subjected to noise excess. But some do not.

    As The Sun News reported this week, one Maryland biker whose machine failed a courtesy Myrle Beach police noise check – 91.6 decibels – said he won’t install noise-suppression gear. In our communities for this weekend’s October Harley-Davidson rally, he said, “This just tells me I don’t do any of my shopping in Myrtle Beach.”

    It may not seem a big deal that the gentleman’s motorcycle registers “only” 4.6 decibels over the city’s chosen limit. But a decibel is a measure of noise pressure on the human ear. With each additional decibel unit over “normal” environmental noise levels, noise pressure increases geometrically. So to normal human ears, a 4.6-decibel excess is much louder than the city’s 87-decibel limit (which arguably is too high). According to audiological experts, sustained noise between 90 and 95 decibels can cause hearing loss.

    A noisy motorcycle may be a passing irritation. But in neighborhoods where thousands of noisy motorcycles per day pass by, high noise levels can cause hearing damage to folks with no means of protection.

    For this reason, we suspect that this particular exercise of Myrtle Beach home-rule power will pass muster with the courts. The General Assembly set up the S.C. home-rule law, adopted in the 1970s, specifically to give local councils the ability to tailor ordinances to fit local situations.

    The motorcycle rallies constitute such a situation. No other cluster of S.C. communities experiences anything like them.

    Motorcyclists may be right in lining up lawyers to attack some of the city’s other rallies ordinances – such as the helmet requirement. But this legal attack on noise abatement seems downright antisocial.

  10. 10 Mick Chadwick- Custom Cruisers.com Oct 3rd, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Hi All we sell the National Cycle Peacemakers range of pipes allowing real quiet legal for neighbours and fully open (or anywhere inbetween) are the best bet looking reasonably stock and but have slachcut tips or turnout styles too- they are operated by a small toggle switch on the bars and really are the way to go -especially in Europe where we have a far stricter noise laws -www.customcruisers.com to see the video of how they work- .

  11. 11 Scott Oct 3rd, 2008 at 8:56 am

    No matter how we rationalize, justify, indemnify, we as bikers will always be treated as second class citizens. The onslaught of wannabes over the last decade has done nothing to help the image of bikers. I laugh and shake my head when I see them. After all they are easy to spot. They are the ones in shiny new leather. They are the ones walking around in chaps on a hot summer day. They are the ones trying so hard to look tough. They are also the ones making the noise on the streets. They are also the ones causing most of the trouble at the rallies. They are also the ones trying to fit in as a 1%er. Unfortunately for them there isn’t any room for them in that domain. These people watch way to much television and can’t handle the reality of life. Yes boy’s and girls OCC and Jesse James are not real life. Just because you and your bank own a bike does not make you a biker. Being a biker is not a weekend gig, it is not a role playing fantasy. Being a biker is a lifestyle. Being a biker is accepting that the population is not going to understand you, and your freedom. Being a biker is daring to be different than the cookie cutter lifestyle of many.

    What does this have to do with loud pipes? Everything!!! For a biker knows that if they make a bunch of noise that the law will come down on his ass. I prefer to just do my thing and if the rest of the world doesn’t like it they don’t have to look. As I putt down the road on my pieced together shovelhead, with no chrome. Life is about the journey not the accessories you buy on the way. I for one don’t need accessories to make a statement. I am me and I offer no apologies for who I am, what I think, Or what I say. At the end of the day I have no problem looking at myself in the mirror, no regrets and no remorse. At the end of my days I will have no problem facing my due. For I have earned it.

    As far as The motor company goes. First and foremost they are a corporation. Corporations exist for one reason, and only one reason. TO MAKE MONEY!!! So with that said it is not at all surprising that they take the stance that they do on many subjects. It is all about the money. In today’s economy it isn’t about selling the bikes. It is about selling the accessories and the clothing lines. And who buys these? They are the very same people that bitch about loud pipes, amongst others. It is sickening that the very same company has an accessory line to dress up your bike with skulls. Run ad campaigns that promote the bad ass image. All of it aimed at the very lame brained dip shit, nit wit wannabes. HD is not the biker’s friend that they want you to believe they are. They are simply a corporation that makes money by selling motorcycles and motorcycle accessories. The officers of HD have no emotional ties to bikers. It is all about business and what will bring them the best return on their investment.

    Sorry for the long drawn out tirade. I get pissed off about people who have their own agenda’s trying to speak for a group they aren’t part of.

    Peace to you all.

  12. 12 Harry Oct 5th, 2008 at 5:13 am

    Not to regurgitate old rants, but if the f’kn SVU/Minivan soccer moms and asshole execs in their 7-series BMW’s would pay attention while they are on the road, then it wouldn’t be a necessity to have loud ass exhuast systems on motorcycles, nuff said. Harry out

  13. 13 ChopperGuy Oct 6th, 2008 at 9:04 am

    It’s funny, you don’t see those against loud pipes advocating safety for the motorcycle. That isn’t in their agenda. If people would spend more of their time and effort on protecting the motorcyclist and bringing more public awareness to motorcycles then pipes wouldn’t be near the issue it is now. Truth of the matter is, all my bikes have loud pipes and if it wasn’t for those loud pipes I can assure you that I would have been run by the comotose auto driver on many, many occasions! The last event was when a lady was riding down the road texting someone as she approached me from the rear as I sat at a turn with my blinker on. She never saw me until I rapped on the throttle and then she threw her phone, locked up the brakes and slid past me. This isn’t just good for a helmet sticker…Loud pipes do in fact save lives. We are being over regulated to the point of political stagnation. Focus should be put on the more important issues!

  14. 14 buzzkiller Oct 10th, 2008 at 10:31 am

    This controversy has been going on a long time.I’ve been riding baffel free for over 30 years, and someone was telling me not too from the very beginning. There are always gonna be assholes who rev their bikes to the annoyment of others. There are always gonna be assholes who will try to tell me what to do. I don’t care what the law says or anyone else. I ride my bike my way. When they outlaw straight pipes only outlaws will have straight pipes, like it should be.

  15. 15 Mike Greenwald Oct 11th, 2008 at 2:12 am
  16. 16 Check your facts Feb 8th, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Motorcycles constitute the largest form of intrusive noise pollution, over 80% of motorcycles use muffles which don’t meet the federal standards. Noise pollution is a serious issue for many of us that are forced to listen to your inconsiderate use of illegal mufflers to generate rather than muffle noise.

    Think about it, 1 motorcycle using illegal mufflers is not a problem. 300 a week or more is a serious problem that affects the qualify of life and well being of residents. Think about constantly having your life interrupted within your home because people like you are on some macho trip which seemingly does not accommodate wimpy legal mufflers.

    Loud mufflers do not contribute to safety, in fact the opposite is true. Check the web for the numerous articles from motorcycling authorities about the facts. If you are concerned about safety buy a horn which points sound forwards, equipment to make you visible, and training.

    Any motorcycle generates more harmful air pollution than a Hummer.

    People do not have “freedom” or “rights” to operate any motor vehicle. Rather operating a vehicle requires that it meet the regulations and that you have passed the required test. Clearly loud mufflers are illegal by any standard in most locations in the U.S. When are you all going to start behaving like responsible adults and not like the teenage rap boomers?

  17. 17 Bob Feb 10th, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    I make a sound that expresses my individuality

    I made it to my legislators, urging them to take your loud pipes and stuff them up your butt

  18. 18 Jabber May 28th, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Keeping loud pipes legal is bigger than Harley Davidson………this is about motorcycle riders rights and safety…….I have alot of my buddies that ride all kind of bikes with A/M pipes that are louder than stock. (honda, victory, triumph etc) Just like anything else some people have loud pipes and does not abuse the fact they got them while others will do burn outs and rev up the RPMs at 4 am.
    The fact is “loud pipes get peoples attention while driving and saves lives.”

    The ways bills and laws get passed is through lobbyists that influence(favors and money for their state) politicians. Health insurance companies have 3 lobbyist per congressman or congress woman.
    maybe that is why there is no universal health care or affordable health insurance. (hundreds of lobbyist for health insurance companies)
    Not to get off track there is only 1 lobbyist in the entire nation for motorcycle riders rights. This does not look good for any other rights motorcycle riders enjoy in the future. There may even become a time in the future they outlaw 2 wheeled vehicles. All I know is as a motorcycle rider there is no level playing field when it comes to laws and rights. (until we have more lobbyists)

    With the age of Text messaging, cell phone calls, wireless internet, email and surfing the internet on mobile devices……..not to mention the radio, cd player, ipod, etc all these things that can distract a driver……….I think loud pipes on bike is a safety feature.

    (Harley Rider)

  19. 19 bob Jun 12th, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    get as angry as you like with your long winded rants, pin head, but the momentum is against you and you can get out of the way or get crushed

    i have asked my legislators for DRACONIAN loud pipes laws

    respecdtrfull riders like myself are sick of jerks like you

    we’re dealing you a deck of PAYBACK

  20. 20 Bryan Jun 25th, 2009 at 11:23 am

    I ride too. I love the idea of the motorcycle as a pure expression of speed and freedom.

    But I also am not the only person on this planet.

    Loud pipes get drivers to notice you, but if attention is what you’re after… be careful what you wish for.

    I will gladly donate $10 a month to any lawyer working on anti-noise laws. I just haven’t found one yet.

    Google “urban noise depression” to find studies proving that urban noise increases the occurrence of violence, depression, substance abuse, and crime.

    Next time loud pipes ride past a group having dinner outside or a wedding, watch their mood change. Congrats! You just ruined the day of dozens of people!

  21. 21 Grayhawk Jun 25th, 2009 at 11:36 am

    No wonder I get depressed when mowing my lawn guess I need an electric lawn mower. Only things i think of when picnicing is the food and I need to go for a ride when thru if a bike goes by.

  22. 22 Kazzot Jul 1st, 2009 at 1:18 am

    I am a new rider, possibly classed as one of those poser, biker wannabes. Heck thats what I jokingly tell other people when I talk about me riding.

    I had been wanting to get a bike for a few years, first looking at economy, comfort and reliability I looked to the quiet smooth imports. Then I got thinking about what I really wanted. I wanted something fun, exciting even a little scary.

    So I changed what I was looking for, a Harley, a hog, a chopper.

    I started looking at softails and what kind of mods it would need to get to the vision I had in my head. In 2007 HD announced a new model, the Rocker C and it was instant love. Two years in the planning till I was ready.

    I violated the saying that says you should buy a practice cycle before getting your dream bike. No regrets here.

    One of the first things I did was order new pipes. It wasn’t so much that I wanted them loud as I wanted them deep and vibrant, I wanted a sound that fit the machine.

    I don’t have them so others can hear them I have them so I can feel them, so I can enjoy them. I idle down my residential street early in the morning on my way to work. No desire to wake the neighbors. I feel the powerful low key bass thrum of the engine till I get to the main street. I wind her up through the gears feeling and hearing the power of the engine till around 40 at wich point I have to depend on the feel because wind noise drowns out the engine noise.

    I don’t rev the engine for the sake of hearing it make a loud noise. At stop lights occaisionaly it will start making a fuel starved popping idle and I will roll the throttle just enough to bring it back to that deep bass rumble of a large predator.

    In the week I have been riding I have had more than a couple of occasions where people in cars didn’t seem to notice me till they heard me and then thankfully decided not to pull into the lane I was occupying or turn to my path of travel.

    I listen to the bikes when they go by the house, enjoying the deep sound of power over the shrill whine and rap of the crotch rockets.

    It is a personal preference. I don’t think I am an obnoxious disrupter of the meditative peace of the other drivers around me. My bike is the sound of power and excitement and those that understand that nod, smile, wave or thumbs up. Those that don’t are unhappy souls who are looking for things to be offended about.

    I ride this beast because I can.

  23. 23 Mike Greenwald Jul 1st, 2009 at 5:53 am

    Being a new rider, I will offer a suggestion to you that will save your hearing from the wind and help you hear what is going on with the bike you are riding. Wear ear plugs or the wind will deafen you.

  24. 24 Kazzot Jul 1st, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Mike you seem like an intelligent person so it is hard to understand how you allowed your self to use such falacious reasons to support your reasoning.

    Two that jumped out at me in particular.

    You noted that according to audiological experts, sustained noise between 90 and 95 decibels can cause hearing loss, which is irrelevent because the only one exposed to the sustained noise is the rider on the noisy bike. To ever one else it is a sparodic noise and not a health risk.

    The other you talk about neighborhoods where thousands of noisy motorcycles per day pass by. Hoestly??? I challange you to find even one neighborhood were even hundreds of noisy motorcycles pass by everyday. I can’t even imagine it short of some houses surrounding a motorcycle race track.

    As to earplugs, wind or earplugs I still can’t hear the engine over 40, so I depend on feel, under 40 I want to hear what is going on around me and I want to hear my bike. That is why I paid extra for the V&H pipes and the upgrades to compliment them.

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