You’ve probably heard the phrase “loud pipes save lives” more than once in your motorcycling career. Like most things to do with motorcycles, riders have a wide variety of opinions about this concept. Now one motorcycle advocacy organization published a study that attempts to analyze whether this is true, so let’s take a peek.
The Association for the National Development of Motorcycling (MotoADN) is a Romanian non-profit organization that seeks to advance motorcycling within the country. MotoADN recently teamed up with a few other organizations to conduct a handful of tests and analyze the data they collected.
The team used professional microphones and recording equipment to record a stationary motorcycle revving to predetermined RPM ranges, placed at different distances behind, next to, and in front of a car. Sound inside the car—a late-model Volkswagen Sharan, for reference—was also recorded to see what occupants might hear in different situations.
A handful of motorcycles were used to perform this test, rather than just a single model. It’s unclear whether the bikes were all stock, or any had modifications that might make their sound appreciably different than stock.
While the study designers did attempt to have a very small range in testing, there are so many variables involved that there’s no reasonable way to account for every situation. For purposes of the test, the Sharan’s engine was running, windows were closed, and music was on at a moderate volume. Test designers did not quantify the volume, but said it was at a level where the car’s occupants could comfortably have a conversation. Rather than get lost in the minutiae of single, specific instances of this or that bike against this or that car’s soundproofing, it’s clear that the test hoped to establish a general baseline.
What did the study find? Loud pipes, most of the time, can’t be heard in a modern car in enough time for the driver to react. Therefore, the authors conclude, riders should concern themselves more with visibility on the road than loud pipes.
Now, it’s clear that this test didn’t account for every possible situation. For example, when I must drive a car, I’ll roll the windows down if the weather is nice—and I’m sure many of you do, too. What if you’re driving a car with more or less soundproofing, or riding a bike with an aftermarket exhaust? There’s no way to account for everything, although you could argue that study designers could have considered a wider vehicle range. There’s also the fact that both vehicles were stationary for all of these tests, and not rolling in traffic.
Regardless of this study’s flaws, one thing is clear. When moto safety courses teach us about defensive riding, we’re told to assume that drivers don’t see us. This study certainly isn’t perfect, but it can only make us safer if we assume that drivers can’t always hear us, either—and we ride accordingly.
In addition to this video, you can read the full study here if you can read Romanian.