Love It Or Hate It, Motorcycle Noise Is Back In Wisconsin

As Warm Weather Returns, So Does The Roar Of Motorcycle Engines

Woman on Motorcycle
Sangudo (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Warmer weather is back in Wisconsin, and along with it comes the sounds of spring and summer.

Birds outside the window in the morning, kids playing in the park before dinner, and of course, motorcycles revving their engines and hitting the road.

That last sound may bring out some strong feelings in you — and if so, you’re not the only one.

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Reporter Rick Barrett wrote about whether Wisconsinites consider motorcycle noise “a sweet sound or an offensive din” for a piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Really loud”

Federal guidelines limit noise levels for new motorcycles to 84 decibels or less. But bikes with modified exhaust systems, Barrett said, “can go way higher than that.”

And despite Wisconsin statutes that bar modifying stock exhaust systems on motorcycles, some bikers do make modifications, for a number of reasons.

“They say loud pipes save lives,” Barrett explained. “Someone might turn their head, they might notice you whereas they wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s also an argument, some people say they get a little more performance out of the motorcycle. That could be the case, but for the most part I think the performance issue is not so much.”

For other riders, Barrett said, the appeal of a louder exhaust is simple. “Some just like the sound. It’s just a beautiful sound to them.”

“Very disruptive”

But what’s beautiful to some riders is an intrusion to some residents.

“For some people, this is just very disruptive,” Barrett said. “If you live downtown, especially, in the summer evenings, this can go late at night, early in the mornings, sometimes. It’s pretty loud. Some people just choose to leave on the weekends, especially if there’s a large motorcycle event or rally, they’ll just get up and leave town for that weekend.”

Audiologists have said there’s also a danger of hearing loss from loud exhausts.

Police are authorized to issue tickets to riders over motorcycle noise. But Barrett said authorities write few of them.

“They look at it, I suppose, like everything else — on a case by case basis,” Barrett said. “The statutes are there, they could be enforced. But I think police departments will tell you a couple of things. If there are motorcycle rallies in town, they’re going to say, look, you’ve got to expect some more noise, that’s just part of it. The other thing they’ll probably tell you is that their resources are stretched pretty thin, and they’re probably more concerned about public safety issues than they are a noise issue.”

Another factor in the debate: Wisconsin’s and Milwaukee’s pride in being the home of iconic motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson.

“The heritage here with motorcycles is deep,” Barrett said. “A lot of people just really like that sound of the bikes, and if it’s louder in their minds, it’s better.”

Given all that, Barrett doesn’t expect summer motorcycle noise to quiet anytime soon.

“It’s going to be loud this summer,” he said. “With Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary coming, there will be a lot of bikes in town and it’ll be pretty loud.”