Loud pipes: what do they really do?

Loud pipes: what do they really do?

Posted by Ben Baker on Aug 9th 2016

“Loud pipes save lives” is a common saying among the bikers who have aftermarket exhausts.

How effective is a loud exhaust?

Try this. Park in a cage on the side of a long stretch of straight road with little traffic. Turn on the radio. Have other people in the car talking. You may have to drive some distance to find a suitable road if you live in a city.

Have a riding buddy with loud pipes head toward you from a long distance away, then, pass you. When do you hear the motorcycle the most? After it passes you.

RevZilla took a nonscientific look at loud pipes. The writer says, “[M]ost of the racket from loud pipes is just pissing off the people behind you, while doing very little to warn those in front of you. Your headlights and horn, however, are pointed ahead. If you really were so concerned with an upgrade that could save your life, you’d add aftermarket auxiliary lights and upgrade your horn. But then you’d run the risk of looking like a dork instead of sounding like a badass.”

So what about science? Is there any evidence in either direction? Mark Zimmerman, a writer for, said loud pipes don’t save lives. He said there’s no proof to back the idea up.

“Then I received a letter from a reader who asked one simple question: ‘Where’s your proof that loud pipes don't save lives?’” he wrote in a follow-up article. “Erp, well, because bluster usually works well for me I suggested the respondent read through several motorcycle accident studies, which off the top of my head I figured would surely support my position. They didn't, and in no uncertain terms he let me know it.”

The vast majority of those who argue against “loud pipes save lives” are complaining about the sound. A complaint is not proof something works or doesn’t work. But in this case, people who complain about loud pipes give weight to the loud exhaust argument. After all, if they couldn't hear the bike, they wouldn't complain.

How Stuff Works puts it this way: ”There isn't any hard data to support either side, so it becomes a battle of anecdotes. It seems like every experienced motorcyclist has a story about a time he or she almost got hit, before the other driver noticed them just in time. Homeowners are ready to counter with stories about being woken up at night by loud motorcycles.”

When serious articles about motorcycles, crashes and loud pipes are written, the Hurt Report eventually comes up. Loads of data on crashes. It has nothing about the sounds produced by motorcycle exhaust and how it affects crashes.

There is a bit of evidence in a different report that noise makes a difference.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) co-produced a report ”Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles”. The report proposed a noise-making standard for hybrid and electric vehicles, including motorcycles.

“This standard would ensure that blind, visually-impaired, and other pedestrians are able to detect and recognize nearby hybrid and electric vehicles … by requiring that hybrid and electric vehicles emit sound that pedestrians would be able to hear in a range of ambient environments and contain acoustic signal content that pedestrians will recognize as being emitted from a vehicle,” the report states. “The benefit of reducing the pedestrian injury rate per registered vehicle of HVs … would be 2,790 fewer pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries. We also estimate that this proposal will result in 10 fewer pedestrian and pedalcyclist injuries caused by LSVs. Thus, 2800 total injured pedestrians are expected to be avoided due to this proposal representing 35 equivalent lives saved.”

And then, there’s California.

“But police in Oakland, Calif., embraced the notion that a louder bike is safer,” wrote Rick Barrett in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “The Oakland Police Department installed high-volume pipes on its patrol motorcycles, at a total cost of about $15,000, after an officer riding a toned-down bike was struck by a motorist who said he hadn't heard the officer approaching.”

For those of us who do ride with loud pipes, perhaps this comment sums it up best:

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll tone down my exhaust note and ride a quieter motorcycle if you get your head out of your posterior, drive your car in a responsible manner, and stop looking at motorcyclists as if they’re dispensable,” Ted Laturnus wrote for The Georgia Straight.