Oakland, California Police modify their Mufflers to make them Louder!

oakland motorcycle accident attorneyOakland has spent $15,000 on mufflers to make their police department’s Harleys safer — and noisier than federal standards. Chronicle photo by Kat Wade

Over in Oakland they like it loud – so loud that all 45 of the Police Department’s Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been equipped with shiny new tailpipes, at a cost of $500 apiece, to rev up their roar.

It seems the cops just didn’t feel safe on toned-down bikes.

“There’s an old motorcycle adage that you are heard before you are seen,” said Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki, explaining the department’s decision to toss the bikes’ muted factory-issued mufflers in favor of the more high-volume pipes.

Kozicki cited an accident three months ago in which an Oakland officer riding a toned-down cycle was struck by a motorist who said he hadn’t heard the officer approaching.
But some City Hall insiders, as well as motorcycle cops elsewhere, said the safety argument is a stretch.

Even the folks at the national Motorcycle Industry Council, which represents all the big bike manufacturers, were unaware of any safety benefits from louder mufflers.

“We encourage all motorcycle riders to keep the original low sound levels that meet the … federal sound limit of 80 decibels,” said industry spokesman Mike Mount. “It would seem counterintuitive that a law enforcement agency would go against federal standards.”
Ironically, it was just a short time back that Oakland police were called upon to crack down on noisy motorists who had modified their auto mufflers to make a whistling screech. The “whistle tip” pipes were eventually outlawed under state law.

Oakland’s cops had a long tradition of riding their Harley-Davidsons with the modified, louder tail pipes, earning them the nickname “Rolling Thunder.” But after an officer complained about a loss of hearing and others around town questioned whether the police force was violating the very noise standards it was supposed to enforce, the department brass ordered a switch to the quieter stock mufflers.

According to Kozicki, the decibel drop sparked a chorus of complaints from other officers, who said they felt less safe.

So last year the department launched a $1,200 study in conjunction with the city’s risk management division to determine whether A) the louder motorcycles contributed to officers’ safety, B) were detrimental to their hearing, and C) complied with noise standards.

Kozicki acknowledged that whatever safety-related findings the study produced were largely anecdotal. Still, after everything was taken into consideration, the department concluded “it was in the best interest of the officers to put more-audible pipes back on,” Kozicki said.

Hence, all 30 of the department’s Harleys were sent down to the central maintenance yard for a muffler makeover, at a cost of about $15,000, according to City Hall insiders. Another 15 newly purchased motorcycles were ordered with the louder pipes, though at no extra charge.

Oakland officials acknowledge that the noisy pipes, when tested, averaged 93 decibels – well above the federal legal noise limit, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
But city Finance Director Bill Nolan, who oversees the risk management division, isn’t alarmed.

“If they were riding eight straight hours, it would be a problem,” he said. “But they aren’t.”

Oakland California Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

26 Responses to Oakland, California Police modify their Mufflers to make them Louder!

  1. need to keep a copy of this with you when you ride so if you get pulled over for loud pipes you have a justification

  2. In a modern car, you can hardly hear the noise of an 18 wheeler traveling 2 feet by in the other direction, much less a “putt-putt” of any motorcycle. Good for the economy though! I have 250,000+ miles on my current ride, and from my experince 16 flashing blue lights wouldn’t help. You have to drive for them as well as drive for youself.

  3. I have to share this with you guys! The coolest way to blaze the roads on your motorcycle and ensure that other motorists notice you…is to check this place out – http://www.ironhorsehelmets.com ,they have some of the coolest bling for your helmets. We all have to be safe out there, but we can have fun doing it! One of the greatest benefits is the fact that YOU ARE NOTICED! It is shown that the majority of our motorcycle accidents are due to other motoristsÂ…who say they DO NOT SEE US!, lets throw that excuse out their window! Yeah I know the famous t-shirts all you fellows wear that say “If You Can Read ThisÂ…The Bitch Fell Off” are the only accessory you feel you need, but I have to say, there is something hot about a guy with a MohawkÂ…..especially a purple one! I wear mine and I love it, I get lots of attention, not that a lady on a bike does not anywayÂ…but the more the better! The helmets are affordable and I plan on getting a few for my riding buddies for Christmas gifts, I want to keep them safe, and I do think this is a cool way to do itÂ….make motorcycle helmet wearing fun.

  4. I am in Mass. A Buddy of mine owns a service station and relayed me this story. A few weeks back he had an “undercover” RMV employee go to his station and try to get an inspection sticker. The car in question was missing a front bumper which is illegial, and they were checking to see that the service station was honest. My buddy said he couldnt do it, and the guy revealed himself as a RMV employee. Anyhow my buddy had his bike in the bay,and the RMV employee started looking at his bike which currently has drag pipes on it. The RMV guy said “I ride a Harley, but i have mufflers on my bike and am pushing for the new noise laws to be enacted against bikers with modified exhaust systems.” Well la-de-da bikers against bikers. I have ridden with him many times and he is always mindfull of where he is riding. Never gunning his bike in residential settings.

    Current law states 99 decibels measured at 50 feet at 50% of redline RPM. Never heard of it being inforced.

    I went to my local motorcycle shop and he said that the RMV had contacted him stating no more aftermarket pipes, ape hangers, or sideways license pates. He said they threatened to pull his license, and they mentioned that a new noise law was on it’s way.

    Moral of the story is your state will be next. If you are unhappy about it you can thank your local town idiot who guns his bike through your residential neighborhood at 2am giving all bikers a bad name.

    If you ride, you know that there is no question that louder than stock pipes get you noticed, and in my opinion prevent accidents. Unfortunately a few bad apples ruin it for the rest of us.

  5. I came across your site “Googling” for articles on Veterans Day. I’m really glad that I just kind of fell in here. I enjoyed reading this article on the Oakland Police Department as I used to live in the Bay Area. I also tagged your blog to keep up with your writing as you hit a sentamental spot for me. My brother was a rider, all his life. He had built several over his life, having passed away last year due to health complications. My brother was one of those big, burly, mean looking bikers. When you got to know him, you became aware of how amazingly smart and talented and funny he was, and being one of the kindest and most gentle individuals you could know. It is a tragedy that he is now gone. Shortly after his death, I had picked up a scooter/motorcyle (a Honda Reflex Sport). The memorial that was held for my brother several months ago, I rode in on my little bike, his friend blessed my bike with my brother’s ashes, so now I feel like my brother will be guiding all my adventures as I take it on the road whereever I go. Your site will give me insight and tips that a novice just would not be aware of and can only have access to with a circle of fellow rides, which I have not having just moved back to Cali last year when my brother was diagnosed. I packed up and came back home to be with family and am enjoying the process of starting over.

    So any tips you can offer a newbie, novice, dork, who is also a woman would be delightfully read.

    Wishing you great love and success,

  6. It’s remarkable that we have to go these lengths to increase chances of survival on motorbikes. The guy who taught me to ride had a saying: “If we ever think we can make riding idiot-proof, the car drivers will just make a better idiot.”

  7. If it makes their life in a safer place to have a louder muffler so they can be heard…then so be it. It’s part of their job to be on a motorcycle rain or shine protecting our cities and states. Who cares if it’s loud.

  8. Pat Hahn of the state of Minnesota’s Motorcycle Safety Center says he understands individual expression. But he says the idea that loud pipes save lives is a myth. Hahn, who writes books and articles on motorcycle safety says there’s a problem with the safety theory because the pipes direct the sound backwards.

    Ignoring the fact that many aftermarket pipes are illegal, motorcyclists who defer to the wisdom, “loud pipes save lives” are sadly misinformed. Riders who believe that an ear-shattering exhaust note actually increases safety are either kidding themselves or rationalizing self-indulgent behavior. Fact is, loud pipes do more to hurt motorcyclists than help them, the attention they draw to a rider is not worth the negative public image they create.

    It’s rooted in physics. Unlike an earthquake, which emits waves in a sphere away from its epicenter, sound waves can be directed. (A good example of this a megaphone: if sound waves were not directionally sensitive, megaphone users would all be deaf.) The pressure wave emitted from an exhaust pipe is pointed away from and behind the motorcycle. To hear it from anywhere other than directly behind the bike, you rely on the resonance of the pipes and reflection of the sound waves off of other objects, like cars, signs, buildings, etc.

    The EPA also considered the issue of “noise visibility” as popularized by the slogan, “loud pipes save lives”. This is the theory that a small group of motorcyclists believes that they are making themselves more conspicuous to other motorists in traffic by modifying their motorcycle exhaust systems to produce an excessive level of exhaust noise. The EPA concluded that the proposed noise emissions regulations would have no effect on rider safety.

  9. I am a motorcyclist and was a cop for several years. That is the dumbest thing I have read in a while. Loud pipes do nothing for safety. I have heard loud bikes many times and it is not really noticable until the bies pass by. It is all about ego and attention. They even call themselves “Rolling Thunder” for god’s sake. To top it off they abviously have a sence that they are “above the law.” And $15,000 to replace the mufflers! What else could that money have went to that would produce much more use?

  10. What a bunch of hogwash. Typical egomaniacs on their crotch rockets stroking their own narcissistic tendencies delving out tickets to others but they can’t even follow the law themselves!? Outrageous. Anecdotal evidence counts for nothing but propped up religion-like belief systems. Someone should sue the city.

  11. Well, as far as those who say hogwash to the safety aspect… Get in your car, and have a bike pull up behind you with factory pipes… Then have one pull up behind you with aftermarket pipes, and see which one is more noticeable. You WILL hear the aftermarket pipes before you hear the factory pipes.. if you are listening for pipes, or don’t have your stereo blaring loud.

    Yes, sound waves are directional, but like someone mentioned with megaphones, while you don’t get the full volume from behind the megaphone, you do still hear more than you would if you were just talking.

    As for the cops doing it themselves, if they continue to cite people on bikes for noise violation, then yes something needs to be addressed.

  12. If I can’t be seen then I want to be heard. . . Check out AB435 bill submitted by Fran Pavely Assemblyperson reagarding smog and loud pipes on your motorcycle. Also check out ABATE of California’s web site for more info regarding legislation that effects motorcyclist. . . Get involved. . .

  13. The message that the Oakland P.D. is sending to the community by using illegal tail pipes must be considered; the old adage, “do as we say not as we do”, translates as hypocrisy and being “above the law” in the eyes of the community.

    Prior to fitting an illegal exhaust pipe on the bikes the city should have changed the law so that their own officers are not breaking the law every day in view of the public. This type of behavior leads to distrust and resentment of the government. A recent report (“American Homicide” by Randolph Roth -Harvard University Press, 2009) has demonstrated that the level of trust in our government has an effect on the overall crime rate in a city, including the number of homicides.
    The good people who enforce our laws on the street should abide by those laws on the street to ensure that they are not sending the wrong signals to the public.

  14. I really question the validity of the story……… Based on what I have read on some other forums, I would have to PERSONALLY see these modified bikes to truly believe this story. Sorry…………..

  15. Yea, but I bet they will STILL pull ya over and write a ticket for loud pipes!!! Gotta fill those quotas !!!!!!!!! LMAO

  16. There has been a Federal Law EPA stature on the books since the 70’s which prevents somone from modifying a stock exhaust period. It generally has never been enforced and may even be unconstitutional because it would force someone to not be allowed to choose aftermarket solutions which may be as good, etc.

    In the end, I agree with you. However, I still think that loud pipes save lives as well.


  17. I agree. But you miss the point of the article and the hypocrisy of it. They are busting bikers all over California for having the same pipes that the police do, which violate EPA standards! The Police themselves are breaking Federal regulations with their pipes!

    Many bikers have the pipes for the same reason, for safety.

    Why is it OK for the Police to have loud pipes for safety and not us?


  18. It’s better and safer to be loud whenever you’re on a motorcycle. Already that you’re in a small vehicle which makes it more difficult for drivers to see. The loud sounds let large vehicles be aware that you’re around and less chance of an accident. I refuse to ride my bike if it’s too quiet.

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