The baffle of Britain: Noisy exhausts are back in the spotlight – but is the negative attention fair?

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Loud pipes and their effect on the public’s perception of motorbikes is an issue that’s been brewing for decades, but the combination of a lockdown, empty roads and an early summer has brought it screaming back into the political limelight.

And the issue has started to appear in the mainstream media, too. An article from The Times on July 8 says, "it’s time the decibels were reduced" and brands motorcycles as "unnecessarily loud".

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Nowhere is the tension more palpable than North Yorkshire, where a local outcry has led the Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan, to issue a statement on the topic.

"I am aware of the impact that loud motorcycles have for communities across North Yorkshire and, as people return to the county, this has been a particular problem raised with me," she said.

"From loud noise from motorcycles, to speeding through our rural communities… I know police officers are determined to address these issues."

The noise level of motorbikes has also been an underlying theme in other public matters and decisions taken across the UK. Back in April, an Oxfordshire County Council document referred to bikes making a "substantial contribution to noise pollution", while in Brighton Cllr Jamie Lloyd referred to "the deafening roar of motorbikes" in a council meeting about the fate of Madeira Drive.

MCN has been deluged with feedback from riders and residents in recent weeks on the negative impact of loud pipes and riders speeding through villages.

Police stop a biker

Nick Broomhall of the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) is well aware of the damage illegal exhausts can do to the reputation of bikers. "Unfortunately, for many government officials, the word ‘motorcycle’ instantly creates an image of a vehicle that is noisy and dangerous and is therefore something that has no place in their plans, a view that is reinforced every time an illegal exhaust is heard," he said.

"Loud pipes don’t save lives, they turn ambivalent citizens into powered two-wheeler-haters and help those who would like to see bike use restricted or outlawed."

The long-term effect of this political scrutiny could be restrictive and damaging for all bikers. Not only do excessively loud bikes add weight to calls for lower speed limits in biking hotspots, but so-called ‘noise cameras’ have been trialled in the UK and rolled out in France.

Authorities in one Austrian district have banned motorcycles louder than 95dB from selected roads between June 10 and the end of October. Because of the way that homologation noise tests are carried out – by measuring the noise within set parameters rather than the maximum noise emitted - many standard machines exceed the 95dB limit, so even law-abiding riders fall foul of the ban.

How long will it be before our politicians consider something similar? Watch this space.

What do the police say?

PC Paul Ennis

Lifelong biker, PC Paul Ennis is an officer with the Central Motorway Police Group.

"The problem is that if there are enough complaints from the public we’ll have to start clamping down on noisy exhausts. The law is very clear and we’ve got powers under the Road Vehicle (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and in relation to antisocial behaviour, specifically around excessive noise causing distress, under the Police Reform Act.

"A lot of officers, including myself, are bikers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a legal, aftermarket exhaust. But owners know themselves if they’re pushing it because they’ve removed baffles or have a system marked ‘not for road use’. If we can all work together and be sensible it would benefit bikers, the police and the public."

How does noise regulation work?

Markings indicate whether an exhaust is road legal

In the UK, the noise limit for a motorbike is set at 80dB, with an extra 6dB added to account for mechanical noise. This figure matches the 80dB maximum allowed for in European homologation rules, but this is measured in a very specific way as a ride-by at 50kph.

Standard bikes can register higher noise levels in static tests or at higher speeds but still make the required standard for going on sale. This is how standard bikes can end up failing trackday noise tests, and could also lead to law-abiding bikers falling foul of noise limit bans, like in Austria.

Noise cameras rolled out in France

First published on September 2, 2019 by Dan Sutherland

Loud exhaust

A French town on the outskirts of Paris Orly airport has begun tackling loud motorcycle exhausts, by installing a 'noise radar' capable of identifying the offending vehicle, pinpointing their location and automatically issuing a ticket.

Located in the centre of Villeneuve-le-Roi, as reported by Reuters, the system is set to go live once a law permitting the technology is passed, with the device linked to Police CCTV cameras in order to automatically issue fines. 

Much like the UK, France already employ a noise vehicle limit, however it relies on the police’s ability to catch them in the act.

Created by Bruitparif, This new system instead uses four microphones to measure decibel levels every tenth of a second. This can then be used to track the original source of the noise, illustrated as a series of coloured dots behind the machine, known as 'acoustic wake.'

Away from the urban sprawl, noise is now also being tracked in the hills of Saint-Forget, outside Paris. A popular route with bikers, a further two devices are set to be installed in central Paris in September.

Noise cameras to be tested in UK in a bid to cut down on illegal exhausts

First published on June 8, 2019 by Ben Clarke

Yamaha Thundercat

The Department for Transport has this morning announced that they will be trialling new 'noise cameras' designed to crack down on motorists breaching legal volume limits.

The cameras will be tested at several locations over the next seven months and, if successful, could be further developed across the UK.

Aimed at drivers and motorcyclists with illegal exhausts, as well as those that rev their vehicles excessively, a microphone will record the sound of a passing vehicle, before ANPR and video and image capturing cameras collect visual evidence against the offending machine.

Speaking about the new initiative, Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling said: "Noise pollution makes the lives of people in communities across Britain an absolute misery and has very serious health impacts.

Noise camera diagram

"This is why I am determined to crack down on the nuisance drivers who blight our streets," He added. "New technology will help us lead the way in making our towns and cities quieter, and I look forward to seeing how these exciting new cameras could work."

Enforcing legal noise limits is currently done subjectively by patrolling police officers, however these new systems will be able to determine whether the law has been breached by taking into account the class and speed of vehicle, relative to the camera's location.

CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Association, Tony Campbell, also said: "With growing pressure on the environment, including noise pollution, illegal exhausts fitted by some riders attract unwanted attention to the motorcycle community and do nothing to promote the many benefits motorcycles can offer.

"All manufacturers produce new motorcycles that follow strict regulations regarding noise and emissions and we welcome these trials as a potential way of detecting excessive noise in our community."

The trial comes after studies revealed that continuous long-term exposure to noise can cause both physical and mental health implications, with stress and high blood pressure being just two of the conditions linked.

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in News…

Ben Clarke

By Ben Clarke

Staff Writer, hick for life, two cylinders max