One of the first things riders usually upgrade when getting a new motorcycle is the exhaust. This can be credited to a prevailing belief that, “loud pipes save lives.” The saying has led many riders to think that fitting a loud exhaust or straight pipe will make your motorcycle easier to hear, and consequently, cars and other four-wheeled vehicles more aware of your presence. This means they’re more likely to check where the sound is coming from and less likely to cut a motorcycle with a loud exhaust off.
However, the law doesn’t seem to agree, with several operations and checkpoints deployed in the country specifically to catch motorcycles with loud exhausts.
One motorcycle advocacy organization has decided to put the theory to the test, using precise instruments, to analyze whether this is true.
The study was conducted by the Association for the National Development of Motorcycling (MotoADN). The Romanian non-profit organization is a pro-motorcycle group and recently teamed up with a few other organizations to conduct these tests. There’s a full report online, however, it’s in Romanian. Thankfully, there’s also a video in English you can watch.
To conduct the test, the team used professional microphones, recording equipment and decibel meters to record a stationary motorcycle revving to predetermined RPM ranges. Sound is recorded near the tailpipe, next to, and in front of a car, and even inside a car with the engine on, and even with music playing. All these were done while stationary, of course, for safety, and to determine where and when a motorcycle’s exhaust can be heard.
While many will argue how different the results may be when both vehicles are running, the stationary test was intended to get a baseline and control as many variables as possible. The tests were done with several motorcycle models but just one car model.
What the study discovered is that loud pipes often can’t be heard from inside a car. This is especially true when people inside the car are talking or music is playing. Most often, the exhaust is only heard when the motorcycle is already very close to the car. This gives the car driver very little time to react to the rider’s actions. As such, the study suggests that riders put more priority into making themselves visible, whether by keeping headlines on, wearing bright protective equipment, honking the horn, or all of the above.
Naturally, there are still many factors the test didn’t account for. It’s unclear if the motorcycle exhausts were stock or aftermarket, whether this may be different at stop-and-go traffic speeds, or at highway speeds.
One thing that is clear is that it’s safe to assume that most driver’s may not see or especially hear a motorcycle near them. As such, take caution and make yourself visible and audible when passing a car.