Two Wheeled Sonic Rationalization

Recently I was hauling a half ton of (free!) firewood. My redneck-mobile was on cruise control and I was happily chugging along at roughly the speed limit. Not too fast but I wasn’t oozing down the road like an anemic Prius either. I was on a spacious two lane divided highway which was almost devoid of traffic; the perfect all-American paved environment I love so much.

I was mentally tallying my firewood inventory as if firewood (acquired for free!) were immensely valuable. When it comes to heaps of firewood I’m practically Scrooge McDuck.

What a marvelous day. The skies were sunny and my chainsaw had run like a top. Did I mention the wood was free? I couldn’t wait to get home and fire up my wood splitter. Free wood and a good truck. All was right with the world.

I caught up with a couple of sweet motorcycle cruisers. (It’s Sturgis season and their migratory activity is at it’s fullest.) I gawked at their superb styling as my truck cranked past in the left lane.

I had an interesting thought. “How is it that I’m swooping past them on cruise control?” Indeed my lumbering oversized truck had floated past all that gorgeous chrome like they were a couple of tricycles. Oh well.

I’m not a speed demon but when I’m on my motorcycle I wouldn’t generally let a heap of firewood ditch me on a highway. The solution was obvious. They weren’t wearing helmets. I’ve ridden my motorcycle with and (rarely) without a helmet. I know from experience that exposing your cranium to highway speeds tends to tire you out and encourage you to slow down. (You’d expect the force of the wind to be the main factor but I think it’s the noise. The roaring wind is almost visceral once you’re going Interstate speeds.)

My motorcycle (despite being a cruiser) is deliberately outfitted with a windshield and subtle ergonomic gadgetry. It was intended to reduce fatigue but a secondary benefit is that I can comfortably run at slightly higher speeds. The two wheeled artwork I’d just passed was the opposite. Ape hanger bars, forward controls, chrome doo dads at odd angles, leather fringes, and lowered rear suspensions; all the special touches that made them “unique” gave them the ergonomics of a proctology exam. I lost them in the rear view mirror and forgot they existed.

Five minutes later the bikes came up behind me like their ass was on fire. They passed at full throttle (which is massive overkill for overtaking a load of firewood). The racket was enormous. I rolled up my window to block out the painful sound.

Then, in a spectacular combination of stupid and annoying, they lurched back into the right lane close in front of me. It was as if they wanted nothing better than to test out my deer guard with their ass. I switched off the cruise control and started easing back. I don’t need the hassle of picking some loser’s femur out of my radiator.

My only thought was “what the hell makes the front of my truck so attractive?” They must have asked the same question. One of them glanced in the mirror and (presumably) realized he couldn’t see anything but my license plate at the level of his head. He apparently decided that “flattened by a truck” was a bad life plan and laid on the throttle. All this did was send out another barrage of ear splitting shrieks. The other bike followed. Once they’d created an epic shitload of sonic waves they finally found enough spare power to drag themselves of my truck’s kill zone.

Only when they were far ahead did I stop cursing the noise. I also hit “resume” on the cruise control. Ten miles later I passed them again. Apparently they just couldn’t hold highway speeds for long. They once again receded in the rear view mirror and I never saw them again.

. . .

The only thing that offended me was that one of the bikers had slapped a bumper sticker on his rear fender. The horror! A bumper sticker on that gorgeous bike? Why not add a tramp stamp to the Mona Lisa?

What did the bumper sticker say? “Loud pipes save lives.”

I call bullshit! You know what saves lives? Staying the hell away from the grill of a six ton truck. That’s what saves lives!

I call more bullshit! You know what else saves lives? Helmets. Yeah they suck. Nobody wants to ruin their moment of freedom and glory by wearing a skull condom. Too bad because helmets actually save lives. Splitting your cranium like an overripe melon when you highside is the exact opposite of “saving lives”. I don’t care if someone does or does not wear a helmet but I do care if someone is spreading bullshit. Balancing ones eggshell thin skull on a wobbly biped’s neck at 70 MPH while emoting about safety is utter and complete nonsense.

I call even more bullshit! You know what else saves lives? Volvos. No motorcycle, no matter how glorious the chrome, is as safe as the cheapest Volvo. If you’re really enthused about saving lives (especially your own) strap your ass in a Volvo. Wallow in the luxurious life saving joy of seat belts, crumple zones, reinforced door panels, anti-lock brakes, and air bags. That stuff is real, honest to God, life saving technology.

Which brings me back to loud pipes. Loud pipes are loud. That’s all they are. They’re no more related to safety than a generic barbed wire tattoo on a bicep.

I hate rationalization. If you want loud pipes have at it. (Though keeping them quieter than a screeching chainsaw being raped by a mutant amplified bagpipe would show a hint of good character.) Quit trying to come up with some bullshit safety based pretzel logic to explain that you installed “bitchin’ loud thunder pipes” for safety. Nobody on planet earth is fooled by your dumbass rationalizations so just quit pretending. Enjoy loud pipes because it’s fun to be obnoxiously loud. How hard is that?



P.S. And seriously…a bumper sticker? You’ve got to be kidding me.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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14 Responses to Two Wheeled Sonic Rationalization

  1. Beer Holiday says:


    As a full time rider, the best place to with respect to any truck carrying wood is in anywhere front of it of far behind it. I never venture out with anything but a full face visor, and wood chips a splinters piss me off. I imagine some dudes with nothing but ray bands and highway speed would like the splinters even less. Anyway just a theory.

    And I think stickers of any kind suck on a bike, especially when you can buy a cheap factory racer in designer team factory race colours like Houses bike; House’s bike

    • If something fell off my truck it would have been a 30 pound block of oak…not a splinter. Which is why I go nowhere near the back of anything when I’m on my bike. I’m especially careful about recaps on semis. Never had one delaminate and fly at me but don’t intend to court that risk.

      As for the front of a truck…I’ve got good brakes but physics cannot be denied.

      I suppose the safest place to be around my truck is not around it.

      For a while I had a little sticker on my helmet that said “helmet laws suck”. Made sense to me but it confused the heck out of a lot of people. No stickers are allowed on my motorcycle…that would be unacceptable.

  2. ILTim says:

    I traded my cruiser harley for a much faster bike, and I’m of two minds on loud pipes. On one hand I like to be stealthy and evasive with quite pipes, be able to slink through places somewhat unnoticed, or come home at oh-crap-thirty am without my neighbors lighting the torches.

    On the other hand, yeah I like me some loud pipes sometimes just for fun. But more to the point of the post, I use my exhaust sound like the horn a lot. Its more quickly accessible and somewhat more subtle. Think inattentive cars at a red light, or blind lane changers or those who appear to be threatening a lane change, and so on. I really do see people take notice after rapping the throttle often enough to know its not coincidence, and I feel more free to use it than to ride around blipping the horn ten times a day.

    But a “loud pipes save lives” bumper sticker? You nailed it, that’s pure bullshit.

  3. Joe in PNG says:

    I find a set of ear plugs to be quite the asset for long distance riding…
    Anyway, I think a lot of biker culture is set up more for impressing other bikers at (city) Bike Week than it is for actual riding on the road. Just take a look at your average Goldwing rider, or Iron Butt competator- gloves, full face helmets with radios, waterproof riding suits, large bikes with luggage, windscreens, et al. And not one of them will have loud pipes- it gets exhausting. Which is why most custom bikes ride on trailers.

  4. kx59 says:

    That rant is so full of WIN, I don’t even know where to begin, so i’ll just leave it at that.
    Wait, one thought: Riding at 60 or 70 without a helmet, bugs and/or gravel are an encouragement to slow down.

  5. cspschofield says:

    The only thing I can suggest is that you put a sticker of the front bumper of your truck that says “Think of it as evolution in action.” and hope to …. run into …. them again.


    • …would you make it backwards, so you can read it in your mirror correctly?
      Though perhaps shortening to “evolution in action” would be better, because in the time it’d take for them to read the whole phrase, they’re likely to eat the grill for not paying attention.

  6. MaxDamage says:

    I’ve been riding for just over 40 years, a good half-million miles under my heels, so I think I can safely state that you are correct on all counts, but the loud pipes area does require two caveats.

    1) deer are the stupidest animals on the planet and their hearing varies directly with the hunting season. During deer season they can hear your stomach growl a half-mile away. Outside of deer season they are incapable of hearing a Led Zeppelin concert mere feet away. On the Honda with quiet exhaust during my morning commute from the country I’d see the deer grazing. On the Harley with the louder exhaust I’d see them look up. On the Honda with the air-raid siren exhaust I’d see them run away. I do not believe your average Harley rider, or sportbike rider, will have chosen his exhaust for this effect.

    2) There are few things in this world more fun on 2 wheels than an inline-4 with an open Kerker megaphone exhaust. In the automotive world we have the 12-into-4 exhausts of the Ferrari and Porsche flat-12’s, of course there’s the V12 Merlin moan, and a V-8 with duals at 5000rpm will surely raise the pulse. Likewise, the only way an inline-4 is going to sound right is if it has a megaphone exhaust with that perfect harmonic resonation screaming by at 8000rpm and then cackling and backfiring under deceleration. Note that there is nothing on 4 wheels with a coffee can on the tailpipe capable of this effect.

    – Max

    • I rode a Honda V-Twin with mellow pipes in Yellowstone. The herds of placidly grazing wild bison ignored everything; RV’s, minivans, chattering tourists, kids, dogs (on leashes), cars parked by the road watching them, etc… But my pipes made them all stand at attention and look my way. I imagined they were glaring at me and thinking “I can take that thing and pound it into the ground”. Not a reassuring feeling. Why bison should be pissed off by a Honda is a mystery to me.

  7. John says:

    Doppler Effect is why the Loud Pipes Saves Lives is bullshit.

  8. MaxDamage says:

    For those who like the sound of multi-cylinder open exhausts:

    Ferrari. If I had car #2 I’d not only drive it to work, I’d happily pay the fine for noise violations every single day.

  9. Firehand says:

    Maybe it reminded them of a competitor where a car does not?
    Son’s first bike was my old Rebel 250, which had a small windshield on it. He decided it would look better without and took it off, and after first time on the highway informed me “Those bugs hurt! I reminded him that was one of the reasons the bike had the shield in the first place.

    I love a deep, throaty rumble exhaust, and I friggin’ hate straight pipes that hurt your ears two blocks away. Bike I have now is quiet, and I like it; where I used to work sometimes had to work late shifts and I could start it without worrying about pissing off all the neighbors, or deafening myself when riding near a retaining wall(first time on the VFR, got a bit worried about an odd noise until I realized I was hearing the chain hiss).

    I like full-face helmets for protection in case of a crash, protection from bugs and rocks(remind me to tell you about that big damned grasshopper sometime), and because by itself it reduces wind noise, and on the latter I also wear earplugs for highway trips: not only can I hear better when I get off, as Joe mentioned they also reduce fatigue. First time I wore a pair for a trip I was amazed at how much better I felt at stops.

    And yeah, any vehicle that something might fall off of is to be either avoided or passed soon as can. Once watched a wheelbarrow on top of a truck rack almost fall off, only stopped by that bracket around the front wheel catching on the rack. And since the damn thing would’ve started bouncing around in my lane before bounding God-knows-where, it impressed that lesson on me quite well.

    • Joe in PNG says:

      The earplug thing is not original to me- I read a book by one of those Iron Butt guys about how to ride long distances. One thing they missed is “don’t ride a ’78 Honda CX 500 more than around the neighborhood!” I borrowed one for a trip, and it would take about 45 minutes for my eyeballs to stop shaking once I got to my destination.

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