Earlier this year, in Southern California's Riverside County, a controversy erupted that affected only a small portion of the off-road community, but carries some possible far-reaching implications for all motorcyclists. Despite what were thought to be fruitful discussions between lawmakers and Riverside County residents who ride off-highway vehicles on their own private property, the county's Board of Supervisors suddenly decided to approve a series of ordinances that basically make it extremely difficult to legally operate OHVs on any property in the county. Even testimony during an open hearing from Riverside County families; national, state and local OHV organizations; small businesses; and hundreds of other individuals failed to sway the board, which approved the ordinances by a near-unanimous vote.
What brought on this draconian attitude by the politicians? While there had been a few complaints of trespassing, many in the OHV community attribute this clampdown to the popularity of four-stroke off-road bikes, which are far noisier than their two-stroke counterparts, especially when equipped with an aftermarket exhaust. Anyone who's attended a Supercross event lately will attest to how much louder the races have become since the four-strokes have taken over. Of course, those are organized, closed-course events, so the noise isn't really considered a nuisance. Gather a group of barely muffled four-strokes together anywhere else, however, and the sound can carry far enough to disturb a neighbor more than a mile away.
Add hillsides to reflect that noise, and the sound carries even farther. The Santa Monica mountains ringing the western edge of the Los Angeles basin have long been a favored riding spot for many California motorcyclists, due to the numerous canyon roads that swirl through the area. Unfortunately, construction of affluent homes in those canyons continues to grow, and roads that used to be devoid of human population are now sprouting driveways and fencing. A former publishing executive with Primedia bought a home in those canyons a few years ago. Back then, he'd thought he had found his dream home, along with great roads nearby where he could ride and drive.
I'm told he's now regretting his decision to move there. The ever-present din of barely muffled motorcycles descending upon these canyons every weekend during what is supposed to be his family's quality time is driving him crazy. While many of the motorcycles rumbling by are un-muffled Harley-Davidsons ridden by RUBs (rich urban bikers) on their way to the Rock Store or some other nearby watering hole, there are just as many aftermarket-exhaust-equipped sportbikes contributing their wail to the unwanted symphony. And remember, this is someone who is an enthusiast.
Back when I was first getting into sportbikes, there was a good amount of performance to be had from jettisoning the stock exhaust in favor of an aftermarket unit. But even back then, I was more concerned with the power gain and the actual exhaust tone, rather than how loud it was. In fact, I viewed overly loud exhausts as a sound beacon for law enforcement (as I still do); the stealthier we were, the less attention we drew to ourselves and the more fun we could have in the canyons.
There was a time about five to seven years ago when we noticed a move by many aftermarket exhaust manufacturers to produce pipes that were quieter than average, while still maintaining the performance benefit that comes with a freer-flowing exhaust. Some companies still offer quieter "stealth" exhaust canisters as options to their available systems. In fact, we've tested many standard aftermarket systems that offer the same or better performance than far noisier exhausts and do our best to promote that aspect. It's in our best interests to help the general riding public discover that "loud" does not equate to "more power."
While it may seem far-fetched to think that a county or city could outlaw sportbikes on public roads, I caution you not to take our riding freedoms lightly. We are still a small minority, and taking a nonchalant or even rebellious attitude toward those around us erodes what little goodwill we've been able to cultivate up to this point. Whether it's too many crashes on a certain stretch of road or loud exhausts bothering the locals, we simply can't afford to draw negative attention to ourselves. It's much too easy for society to keep us branded with the outlaw stigma we've been trying to shed for years.
And ending up on the radar screens of those in power is a sure recipe for disaster.