Battling the Loudest Motorcycle Exhaust and Hearing Loss

Do you really want the loudest motorcycle exhaust around?

Loud pipes on motorcycles.
Can you hear me now?Rich Lee

There must be something wrong with me. Every Saturday night, in our otherwise sleepy beach town, I hear Harleys, R6s, and Mustangs with their pipes and throttles wide effing open, screaming through the gears on Rosecrans Boulevard. As with sex, beer, and breadsticks at The Olive Garden, many of my fellow humans operate on the assumption that when it comes to noise, more is, well, just more. I've never understood this.

Even if making more noise means making more power—which, with modern intake and exhaust systems, it often doesn’t—in my case going a little faster on the straights is not worth the toll in jangled nerves, pissed-off neighbors, and shell-shocked eardrums. On the street, I actually lose power with a loud intake or exhaust. If a bike makes too much noise, I’m simply not going to rev it. Yes, I wear earplugs. I have every time I’ve ridden a motorcycle since 1982. But even the best earplugs are no match for an unrestrained Panigale.

Last year I met my new girlfriend, a gorgeous 2006 Ducati ST3S. Despite its stratospheric mileage (more than 70,000) it looked and felt fresh when I flew to Albuquerque to see it. The next morning I bundled up in my Aerostich and electric vest and headed west into the snow-dusted mountains.

A few flaws started to appear, as they will in any hormone-fueled relationship. The suspension setup was early hyena: too low in the back, too high in the front, which made the steering feel more truck-like than trackbike. And as the miles rolled on, even at cruising revs, it became clear that the “track only” Ducati Performance airbox, ECU, and Termignoni carbon silencers that had seemed so righteous in the ad were way too raucous for the street.

I went to eBay for a stock airbox cover, welded up decibel killers to calm the exhaust note, and juggled the ride height and Öhlins suspension to turn the handling from Leslie Jones (bless her hilarious heart) into January Jones.

The ST now works so well in the corners that I may take it to the racetrack. I will leave the perfect fairing pieces in the garage, but the airbox cover and decibel killers stay. The second or so I might gain from 3 more horsepower is not worth having my ears beaten like the kettledrums at the beginning of Also Sprach Zarathustra.

I see, every day, the toll a lifetime of noise can take. Dan Gurney, a friend and legendary Formula 1 driver, lost most of his hearing to, among other things, the beautiful titanium bundle-of-snakes exhaust headers of his Eagle-Weslake F1 car. My brother Dave, who spent a tour in Vietnam under the screaming turbine of a 1st Air Cav Huey, is already losing touch with the sonic world. My father, Big Dex, who spent World War ll in the co-pilot’s seat of a roaring Navy PB4Y-2 patrol bomber, just 4 feet from the flailing tips of the number three engine’s Hamilton Standard propeller, lost most of the words his grandkids spoke to him in the last years of his life, words none of us will ever get back.

I have nothing against the Yoshimuras, Termignonis, Akrapovics, and FMFs of the world. All power to the people. Added lightness rocks. Elegant curves of stainless, titanium, and carbon make my heart sing.

I just want to make sure, as I careen into late, late, late middle age, that when my daughter, TJ The Brain, gets the infrequent urge to talk to me, I can hear her too.