RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Motorcyclists are planning trips before the weather turns cold in parts of the country, and dozens of communities are getting tougher on motorcycling. They have passed noise laws aimed at reducing the rumble of motorized vehicles. The largest U.S. manufacturer of motorcycles, Harley-Davidson, says it's paying attention to the trend and it's trying to get riders to go easier on the ears.
Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.
CHUCK QUIRMBACH: If you want to hear what the roar of a group of motorcycles sounds like, come to a Harley-Davidson riders reunion on a late summer night in Milwaukee.
(Soundbite of motorcycles)
QUIRMBACH: That's the kind of noise that's led dozens of U.S. cities to crack down on motorcycles. For example, New York City and Denver have new laws aimed at loud mufflers on the bikes; and in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just 25 miles from a Harley-Davidson plant, the city has a new ordinance that makes it illegal for drivers of motorcycles or cars to draw attention to themselves by revving their engines or doing fast accelerations.
Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray said he's owned dozens of the powerful bikes and has been a leader of a motorcycle advocacy group. But Gray says he's also hearing more complaints about motorcycle noise.
Mayor RICK GRAY (Lancaster, Pennsylvania): I don't know how many times when I tell people I ride a motorcycle, they say, I hate motorcycles, and I can complete the rest of the sentence: they're too loud.
QUIRMBACH: Additional government regulation is hardly welcome news to Harley-Davidson riders, many of whom like to project a rebellious image.
Tim Dulca(ph) of Big Bend, Wisconsin, says government should be focusing on larger problems.
Mr. TIM DULCA: Pick your battles. Address the drug issue and crime and other problems. This is small potatoes.
QUIRMBACH: Many Harley riders like to customize their bikes by adding special exhaust pipes that make the motorcycle louder.
Debbie Muchowski(ph) of Waukesha, Wisconsin says she altered the pipes on her bike for safety.
Ms. DEBBIE MUCHOWSKI (Resident, Waukesha, Wisconsin): When I come up by a car, they know I'm beside them. It's not like super loud but it's loud enough that they know I'm there.
QUIRMBACH: Harley-Davidson says it's what's done to the motorcycles after they leave the factory and how the bikes are used that create the loudest sound. The company says it spends a lot of time and money to produce a motorcycle that meets federal noise standards.
(Soundbite of revving engine)
QUIRMBACH: A Rocker model Harley starts and runs inside a company testing lab in suburban Milwaukee. Here among about 50 microphones and 1,400 echo-deadening wedges on the walls and ceiling, engineers can simulate a motorcycle passing by at different speeds.
Noise, vibrations and harshness manager Alex Bozmoski says they can pinpoint what part of a prototype motorcycle is making too much noise and try to fix it.
Mr. ALEX BOZMOSKI (Harley-Davidson): You know, if someone can hear maybe a fuel pump, or maybe a valve ticking, and it's a very silent little thing in the background but it might annoy them.
QUIRMBACH: But the company says it realizes it also has to do more rider education. Spokesperson Rebecca Bortner says customers are urged not to put on ear-piercing pipes, not to rev the motor at stoplights, and to be careful when many people are sleeping.
Ms. REBECCA BORTNER (Harley-Davidson): I work with a lot of people who ride to work every day and they will coast out of their driveway in neutral and make it down their block before they fire up their motorcycle just because they don't want to wake their neighbors up.
QUIRMBACH: Massachusetts-based writer Ken Condon of Motorcycle Consumer News praises Harley-Davidson for its efforts to keep the big bikes relatively quiet. But Condon says with population density increasing in many areas, riders have to be on their best behavior to stave off more noise regulations.
Mr. KEN CONDON (Motorcycle Consumer News): Everybody's got to pay attention to this. Otherwise we very well to be heading down a road that none of us wants to head down.
QUIRMBACH: And Condon says he's not just talking to Harley-Davidson riders but to customers of Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki and other motorcycle brands.
For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.