State and city governments as well as AMA Motocross all have regulations limiting noise emissions, and now they are working hard to enforce them.
Sound has always been an issue with off-road riding. Motorcycle manufacturers and aftermarket companies have tried to make their bikes quieter, but for years, they didn’t make much headway. The common belief is that less noise means less power, and for the most part, that’s true. However, if the motorcycle industry and race officials were to ignore the issues at hand, we would lose many riding areas across the country. The cliche of more sound equals less ground is absolutely true!
Of the many issues we as motorcyclists are faced with today, excessive noise pollution is the single greatest threat. It’s a hot potato of a topic, with both sides vehemently fighting for what they think is fair or right. It’s also the one topic that we have the most control over. Dirt bikes are being banned ever increasingly from public riding areas, and more stringent restrictions are being put on private land riding. Our pavement brethren aren’t escaping unscathed either, as on-highway motorcycles are increasingly being banned from private roads and gated communities. Many local, state, and national motorcycle organizations have spent exhausting hours and countless dollars keeping at bay the legislators, city councils, and now the federal government – and all of this because of some ridiculously loud motorcycles.
As of right now, if you want to hear that sweet cacophony of motorcycle mayhem running around in California then you must be at or below the 96 dB requirement. Conversely, as soon as you hit 97 dB or above, you’re making too much noise and are liable to get a ticket as well as put our riding areas in jeopardy. I can hear it now, “Yea but you guys in California get it the worst.” Well, unfortunately you are correct in that California is usually the most stringent on requirements for nature usage and noise. However, remember that what happens in California almost always works its way eastward, and it’s happening already.
It isn’t a hollow threat any more. If it’s too loud you just might get ticketed. In California, US Forest Rangers have been equipped with $1400 QUEST sound meters to enforce the 96 decibel limit.
In September, 2004, New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed to rewrite the city’s noise regulations to deal with the leading complaint about the city’s quality of life. His reasoning was that even though they live in the city that never sleeps, it shouldn’t be from excessive noise. Bloomberg’s proposed changes allow police officers to write noise tickets without using meters to measure sound and yes this includes motorcycles. This may not be an off-roading issue, but you can see that noise pollution is gaining limelight across the US. This is a nationwide issue, and something we as responsible riders must accept and work with.
Effective January 1, 2003, the recently passed California Assembly Bill 2274 states: “All off-road vehicles must meet the static noise test limit of 96 decibels to legally use any and all public off-road riding areas.” This standard is a reduction from 101 decibels and applies to all EPA-legal bikes manufactured since January 1, 1986, and all competition bikes made since January 1, 1998. And the lawmakers are serious this time, they have bought enough $1400 QUEST sound meters to equip the US Forestry Rangers out in the trenches; and yes, this means the Ranger near you.
There have been complaints that Rangers have been giving tickets unfairly, or obligatorily. Some have said that they didn’t use a sound measuring meter or that they thought they used it incorrectly. Currently there are two approaches to measuring sound, and I’m going to tell you exactly how the governing bodies say they should be administered so you are informed if you ever get stopped.
Issues regarding sound play a factor in many proposed limitations. Motorcycle Hall of Famer Jeremy McGrath is currently fighting proposed rules limiting OHV riding in Riverside County, California where he owns property.
The first kind, and more popular, is technically called the SAE J1287 Stationary Noise Test. Basically this test is a measurement of your exhaust, and only your exhaust, at a standstill. It is based on one-half maximum rated RPM (aka “half throttle”) and it must be measured 20 inches away, at a 45-degree angle from your exhaust. A 96 dB(A) limit is recommended for this type of measurement, unless otherwise stated by law or local ordinance. Also, you can use the redline of a bike and add 3 dB of tolerance to the limit (99 dB), but who wants to stand there holding your throttle balls out while a Ranger watches his meter.
The other form of measuring noise is a RPM-based procedure called the US EPA F76A Passby Noise Test. This test basically tests your noise output (both exhaust and engine, and maybe some screaming if that’s your thing) as you passby a microphone at peak power. This test is rarely used as it requires more intricate knowledge of the bike’s peak net brake power and because it must be administered on a hard, flat surface with no obstacles within a 30 meter radius of the microphones. Your dB limit for this test is 80/82 dB(A). I wouldn’t worry about this test too much as you’ll likely never see one or be asked to participate in one.
Fortunately, production bikes and race bikes are quieter than they were just a few years ago. However, increasingly both race officials and OHV authorities are paying more attention to the noise that motorcycles and off-road vehicles are making today. The 2005 AMA rulebook states that all motorcycles must meet sound limits of 102dB/A measured on the “A” scale at 0.5 meters (20 inches). In layman terms, if you stood 20 inches from the rear of your exhaust and your pipe was 105dBs loud, your bike would not make the cut and you wouldn’t be allowed to race until it was lowered 3 dB.
During the 2004 season, AMA Motocross started cracking down on noise emission. During round six at Unadilla they began random tests with warnings, and at round seven began disqualifying those unable to pass a noise test.
The 2004 AMA Chevrolet Motocross Championship season saw the first signs of authorities coming down on noise violators. The 102 dB/A limit has been in the AMA motocross rulebook for a while, however 2004 was the first time they started checking and enforcing that rule. Round six at Unadilla saw the first changes as AMA officials were randomly testing competitors and issuing warnings to anyone over the 102dB/A limit. Round seven at Kenworthy’s was the first time a competitor would be unable to compete if they did not pass a noise test. Your local track or riding area might not be as stringent as the Pro’s, but being noise conscientious helps ensure the future enjoyment of our riding areas. Less noise complaints mean fewer headaches for those fighting to keep our riding areas and tracks open.
One way to stay on top of your noise output is to frequently check the inner packing in your muffler. While there is no set time for how long it takes to burn through your muffler’s packing material, you might notice that your exhaust is getting louder, this means it’s about time to repack that muffler. Also, pay attention to the quality of the material or “pillow” packing you are buying, low quality packing material will burn out or vaporize into thin air much faster than the quality stuff. We used a “pillow” type packing from Race Tools and it’s only $1-$2 bucks more than the generic stuff. Save yourself some time and get the good stuff the first time you repack your exhaust.
Josh Bartenik from Rocket Exhaust was kind enough to talk to me about repacking exhaust and bike noise. Rocket Exhaust’s cans offer an average 3-4 hp gain in most motorcycle applications as well as appreciable weight savings over stock pipes and most importantly they meet the 102 db requirements, but like all pipes, they need to be repacked over time. “Most people don’t realize their exhausts are getting louder with time” says Josh. The gradual degradation of the packing makes it hard to discern a difference over time. However, Josh explains that “you can usually expect about a 3-6 decibel drop with a fresh repack”.
One way to reduce sound emission is to repack the exhaust, which should result in a 3-6 decibel drop.
While the end result is generally the same, there are a couple different ways to go about repacking your exhaust. One such way is to buy the “pillow” type packing where you simply wrap the packing material around the exhaust core then slide it into the exhaust can. This seems to be the preferred way because of the noise damping capabilities of the “pillow” types. The other common way of repacking is to use the actual packing material by itself, rolling it around the core as you reinstall the whole assembly. Whichever way you decide to do it, repacking your exhaust is an effective way to lower your noise both on the track and out in the wild.
Another way to reduce your noise output is to buy a muffler from an after market company that specifically addresses the noise pollution problem. Mufflers such as the FMF “Q2” and “Q Series” are doing their part in giving consumers choices in lowering their decibels. The Q2 muffler was built from the ground up with performance in mind, yet still remaining at or around 93 dB. They also come pre-equipped with a USFS approved turbine type spark arrestor so there is no need to clean or burn it out. White Bros.’ E2 line of exhaust also offers much the same in performance and quality craftsmanship, and still within the 96 dB USFS spec. The list can go on and on, and as I write this more and more companies are developing ever quieter cans with performance in mind. Quiet bikes are the future and the muffler companies are noticing.
So, what does this mean to me you ask? Well, short end of the shifter is that yes, you may be able to go riding with your 120 dB, straight piped CRF450R and not get a ticket. And yes, you may have been riding in the same area for years and never seen a Ranger. But these days are limited, and whether or not you get caught you are still hurting the sport in the long run because of the noise complaints. It’s a bummer I know, loud, obnoxious, gnarly exhaust notes are, excuse me, were a symbol of raw power and masculinity. But to be completely honest, if we want to keep riding in our favorite spots we’re going to have to put a cork in it.
Another option for riders to reduce noise is to install a muffler designed to address noise pollution problems. There are a growing number of options out there as companies respond to demand.
We are also going to have to actively fight for what we love to do, and to fight on a fair playing field there is no better way then to educate ourselves on the issue. Many groups have popped up in recent years trying to address and educate people on this issue. I think one of the most prolific is the Motorcycle Sound Working Group which is a conglomerate of 50 people representing 30 organizations within the industry. They spent 2 years collaborating recommendations on what we, as a society, can do to alleviate this problem. I encourage you to educate yourself on the subject that is so vital to the future of our sport, check them out and read their recommendations at Legislation Soundbook and get out there riding, just tread quietly.well, quieter.
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