I've never been a "loud pipes save lives" guy. I believe paying attention and playing the "what-if" game ("what's the stupidest @#$&!!! thing another motorist around me can do, and what will I do when -- not if -- they do it?") are the best ways for a motorcyclist to keep him/her -self safe. I've also always held the opinion that being courteous when sharing the road was a good idea. I've often cringed when another motorcyclist with straight pipes rode by, worrying that non-motorcyclists would lump us all in the same group. To me, the "loud pipes save lives" crew has always seemed like they were trying to rationalize their unbaffled exhausts with a thin veneer of justification. However, I'm starting to think that I was wrong. Loud pipes might not be such a bad idea, after all.
So I'm on my way to work on my V-Strom the other day, cruising down a 45MPH, secondary road (two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes, and a suicide lane down the middle). I'm in the right-hand northbound lane when a dually work truck pulls out ahead of me. No problem; he's far enough ahead that I can slow down or change lanes to avoid him. There's a four door Jeep Wrangler in the left-hand lane, but I've got room to change lanes, so I do. About the time that I turn off my turn signal and get stabilized after changing lanes, some complete tool in the suicide lane pulls into my lane so effing close that there's no time for me to brake, and the work truck is still just slightly ahead of me in the right-hand lane, and not yet up to the speed of traffic. I do a quick assessment of my options (not many), and think to myself, "I'm not gonna avoid this one. This is gonna hurt."
Fortunately, my guardian angel (who has got to be mainlining Valium at this point in my life, and who is well past due for a promotion, lol) points out the one escape route I have available. Maybe. It's marginal, but the only other option I have is to go over the hood of the Escape or CR-V or whatever little SUV it was that pulled in front of me (identifying make and model was honestly not at the top of my priority list at this point), so I grab a fist-full of throttle, and go for it.
As it turns out, there was *just* enough room for me to lane split between the SUV and the work truck, even on my wide-butt Suzuki, and I managed to successfully slip between them before I rocketed down the road ahead of them, wanting to get as far as possible from the distracted driver in the SUV as fast as possible.
I originally posted a slightly shorter version of this rant on one of the forums I frequent, and several people chimed in with various observations about the pros and cons of this plan, including some interesting things I hadn't thought of, like an anecdote about revving the engine on a louder bike to make sure that an obviously distracted driver knows you are there. Since, in our society, honking the horn is often used to express displeasure with other motorists rather than to politely get someone else's attention, revving an engine once or twice on a sufficiently loud motorcycle can draw others' attention to you without the baggage associated with honking your horn.
Others, of course, took issue with my decision to make sure my bikes were loud enough to draw attention to them, mostly due to the fact that being loud can be offensive to others. I get it. That's why I've ridden my Strom for six years already with the stock exhaust. That's why repairing the broken exhaust on my Yammie was such a priority for me. But here's the rub: I can't count the number of times I've had to take evasive action to avoid another motorist who obviously didn't see me. Some of them were merely annoying; I had options and was able to avoid the conflict by adjusting speed and/or position without much drama. Others were a little more memorable, like the teenager in the bright orange H2 Hummer who looked me in the eye, then pulled out Right...Freaking...In front of me (and then tailgated me after I swerved past him in the oncoming lane of traffic!!!) or the twenty-something punk that had a near-death-experience (although he didn't know it) after he cut me off with so little room to spare that I locked up my rear brake TWICE to avoid crashing into the rear quarter panel of his car. This year, however, I've had two instances where I really didn't think I was going to be able to avoid the accident. Fortunately, I was wrong both times, but these two incidents have shaken me up enough that I'm seriously re-thinking my stand on loud exhaust systems on motorcycles. As a good friend of mine recently said in a Facebook post, "An aftermarket exhaust is cheaper than your deductible." Hmmmm...that's actually a really good point!
If cagers are so self-absorbed and self-centered that they can't put down the cell phone for the twenty minutes it takes to get to work, can't be bothered to put on a turn signal before changing lanes, and can't be bothered to perform a head-check or even look in their rear-view mirrors before pulling into traffic, then I no longer care if my exhaust disturbs their Zen moment with Enya on their 1200 Watts of Dolby Surround Sound during their morning commute. My right to have a reasonable chance of arriving alive at my destination is just a little more important than your right to peace and solitude inside your insulated cocoon. Sorry.
So here's the deal: I'm going to try to find a louder-than-stock exhaust for my Strom that (hopefully) will drop the weight a bit (OEM exhausts are notoriously heavy), that (hopefully) will improve performance and/or gas mileage a bit, and that (hopefully) will garner a little more attention from other motorists when I ride. I'm shooting for something that won't be obnoxiously loud, but I definitely am looking for something louder than stock. From the evidence I've seen, motorcycles are all but invisible to other drivers; I'm tired of being silent (or close enough, anyway) as well.