I'm pleased to introduce you more directly to Dean W. You've seen his comments on the blog. Dean's a good friend, and a former protege of mine. These days Dean's a Master in his own right and has been for a long time. We teach ART and police training classes together. Dean also happens to be a fellow FJR rider. Actually, he was riding one well before I bought Elvira.
Figuring you all might like a break from me, I invited Dean to do a guest post. The loud pipe issue is one we all face as riders. Dean decided to tackle a common proclamation. Without further ado, here's his thoughts.
You all know the saying: "Loud pipes save lives".
You've probably heard the justification: Car drivers don't see us, so having a loud exhaust will force them to hear us. Just blip your throttle and you can see their windows rattle...
It's always bothered me. Not just the noise- but the notion that it was helpful. ( I actually like the rumble of a well tuned motor. That doesn't mean it has to be ear-splitting loud.)
My first sticking point was that if a driver doesn't see you, there's no guarantee they're going to hear you, either. I'd be willing to bet that with windows rolled up, A/C on, and increasing efforts to isolate drivers from their environment, most any modern car audio system can be turned up loud enough to drown out those loud pipes. You're probably all thinking of a 20-something with a booming stereo that can be heard for blocks. I'll offer a retired couple enjoying their favorite symphony, or a 40-something reliving his youth with the AC/DC blaring. (Wasn't me, honest!)
Next, let's talk about sound propagation. Go look at any motorcycle, and the exhaust opens to the back. That means the sound waves are pushed out the back... not the most helpful if you're worried about a lane violation from the side or front. But sound does propagate in all directions. Unfortunately, low frequency sounds (rumble rumble) are hard to localize, even if the windows aren't rolled up. So maybe they know there's a bike around, but quite possibly, they don't know where it really is. Not helpful.
( editor's note: That's why emergency vehicle sirens are high pitched and pointed forward )
And loud pipes are... loud. If they're going to be loud enough to be heard by someone else, what are they preventing you from hearing? Horns, like the rest of us use? Sirens? Screeching tires as the car behind you loses control?
Finally, there's background noise. On an ongoing basis, your brain receives an incredible amount of data from your senses- sights, sounds, smells, touch, temperature, taste. It can't always process all of it, all the time. Ever notice how, over time, a constantly present sensation- a sound, smell, feeling, or even some commonly present visual object- fades away so that you don't notice it any more? Your brain has determined that it's not a threat and learns to ignore it. So, the constant bombardment of sound from a loud motorcycle exhaust will soon fade into the background, defeating the purpose.
(This is where I argue for a loud HORN, which is only loud when you need it to be. I've replaced the horns on my FJR with a louder pair. I chose the new horns so that when I push the button, the driver's first impression- before looking- is "1970's Buick Electra 225".)
More than once I've used those horns to temporarily convince another driver that they were about to collide with the proverbial irresistable force, and then escape during their confused and frantic search for one of the largest 4-door passenger vehicles ever built by GM. Afterward, I allowed myself the luxury of patting myself on the back for the foresight of installing these horns. . . then I beat myself up for getting into a position where I needed to use them.
The epiphany came when I was teaching a class. One of the topics we cover is "Mental Motorcycling". Amongst other things, this is where we discuss rules for lane placement, and present SIPDE (Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Execute) as a process for risk and hazard management.
Further along, while talking about specific hazards, we discuss blind
spots- how do you know if you're in someone's blind spot, and what you should do.
It came to me that this is the very situation that aficionados of exhaust noise claim justifies their aural assault- using noise to gain the attention of drivers that don't see them.
In contrast, the solution presented in the book is a two step process that can be done by anyone, on any size motorcycle or scooter with any size engine.
Situation: Are you in someone's blind spot?
Recognize: Can you see their eyes in their mirrors?
Hazard: If they can't see you, there might be a lane violation. (Fancy phrase for "collision")
Solution: (and here's the epiphany) GET OUT OF THEIR BLIND SPOT.
Remove yourself from the situation. Just that simple. You can speed up, slow down, or just move to one side a little- but get to a place where they can see you. I'll go a little further- get to a position where, if they do change lanes, they can't collide with you. That means moving ahead of or behind the car. Give yourself enough space cushion to evade if need be.
So, here's a challenge: next time you go for a ride (or drive), watch for how many times you catch yourself beside another vehicle. Then when you recognize the situation, take control of the it and do something to alleviate the hazard.
Irondad's comment: This is the part where you'd normally find the disclaimer: "The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the editor's." In this case I happen to agree with Dean's comments. I appreciate your taking time to contribute to the blog, Dean.
No matter what other arguments a person might have, there aren't any magic bullets. Nothing is as powerful a tool for a motorcyclist as are well developed physical and mental skills.
Miles and smiles,