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