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I was up on the hill the other day, and ran into a friend of the magazine. Billy Uhl, Billy is a leader in our sport. Top American finisher in the 6 Day ever, his record has never been beaten. Billy lives in a quiet mountain setting and does trail maintenance, this gives him plenty of time to think and study. Billy has watched our sport from behind the scenes for many years, when he speaks we should listen, if we are smart. When I ran into Billy, he was out doing trail work and I was out riding for fun, I was looking for new subjects to write about so I could send in an article and make the trip a business expense and deductible from my taxes. You thought I rode because I loved riding, ha, if I’m riding or writing, I’m not working!
Billy had a subject for me, NOISE. He works on the trails up here in Idaho, he’ll ride his old bike up the hill, park it and swing an axe or pulaski all day, it’s hard work but nice surroundings. He had heard me coming, and I have a quiet bike, 250 two stroke with a good silencer, then it’s never reved up on the pipe so it’s stealthy quiet, yet he had heard me for the last mile or so.
We talked and visited, he had been to the ISDE Reunion and wanted to tell me all about it. He had a good time and got to see a lot of old friends. Many had read the article I had written a year ago and they were all envious of his job and location. I was mumbling along and he had to turn his head and say "Huh?" Billy can’t hear well out of his left ear, he blames it on years of chain saw and bike use with out ear plugs.
Here is a guy who loves dirt bikes and riding, he is deaf in one ear, but was still complaining about the noise my reasonably quiet bike was making. We continued our visit and at one point he perked up like Radar on M*A*S*H:
"Jet plane, you can hear them for two and a half minutes."
"I never paid any attention."
"Exactly the point I’m heading for." Replied Billy. "You can hear a plane for two and a half minutes, but people are used to them and don’t pay any attention to them, so they block them out, just like you have."
I perked up with my new found sound sensitivity. "Dirt bike, 4 stroke." I used my native Indian accent.
Billy checked his watch and the noise from the bike died then got louder as it made it’s way towards us.
We listened for twenty minutes, the bike rode down the hill, across the valley, then up this hill to us, we could here him for twenty minutes. A happy trail rider rolled up to us on a blue bike with a big man exhaust, neither of us knew him. He was all smiles. Billy tactfully told him we could hear his bike from when he crested the ridge 12 miles away. The guy just shook his head and said something about the bike needing to breathe so he opened it up with a silencer.
"Why do they call it a silencer if it makes more noise?" Was my smart ass remark.
The guy went on to explain to us how to get the most power out of the 450 he needed the louder exhaust.
"So who are you?" I asked.
" I’m Bob Nobody."
"Are you a famous racer? Have you ever won a big championship?"
"Are you in a big race now?"
"No". He replied sheepishly.
"Then why do you need to disturb everything for miles around just so you can trail ride?"
"I just like the power." He was getting defensive now.
"Can you actually USE the power? Coulnd’t Larry Roseler kick your ass on an 80cc bike?"
Our conversation was coming to an end, Billy strapped his chain saw and pulaski back on his dilapidated Kawasaki, I strapped on my helmet and the three of us took off. Not surprisingly, Billy rode away from me, two turns and he’s gone. Something about the quality of getting the power to the ground, never spinning a tire, something about the quality of picking good lines basically the art of riding well.
The Booming 4 stroke was right behind me, or so it seemed, the noise seemed to be right on my shoulder. I made some good turns, and soon it felt like I was getting away from him. Although it sounded like he was still on my fender. The three of us rode a few miles before Billy stopped again and unhooked his chain saw to clear a fallen tree. I rolled up and removed my helmet and started to help, then the loud bike showed up. We had made our point, it’s not the bike or the power, it’s the rider. Bob Nobody was shaking his head up and down, he took off his helmet and started helping clear the trail.
"I get your point fellas, I’ll put the stock quiet exhaust back on my bike, if a guy in hiking boots riding a tool wagon can out ride me, then maybe I don’t need the little bit of extra power the noisy exhaust gives me."
We all laughed and BIlly put in a shameless plug about his riding school and how he could get Bob up to speed with out all the extra noise. I told Bob that I would write about him in the next magazine article and that he could pick it up at Motosports in Boise. We laughed some more. Bob said it was like he had ridden into a commercial:
"Hey wheres the hidden cameras?"
More laughs, then Bob rode on his way leaving Billy and I there. We listened to his bike for a long while, Bob was being light on the throttle, trying to slip away with out making any more noise than he had to.
"Noise is bad". Was my attempt at intellectual conversation.
We sat down on a log, over looking the mountains of Idaho. You could see the Saw Tooth mountains from here and know Sun Valley was busy in their shadow. The Trinity Mountains to the south, over there is the Swanholm look out, the little town of Atlanta would be just East of there. Above us was Sun Set lookout and a view of everything west. Huge pine trees and rocky crags, streams cut their way through valley floors. The sharp sweet smell of pine sap and rich dirt. Birds chirped, chipmunks skittered about. Mountain Lions and Wolves live here too, not to mention Elk and Deer and all the other friendly woodland creatures. A 24 inch wide motor cycle trail snaked it’s way along, following old miners routes which had followed Indian traces who were following animal trails. A tiny ribbon of trail zig zagging around not bothering any body until you put a loud bike on it, then it is 12 miles to the north and 12 miles to the south, a 24 mile wide corridor of noise just so one biker can use 24 inches of trail.
"They are coming after us and noise will be the next issue."
"They who?" I jerked around and looked over my shoulder looking for Bears or Wolves or Mountain Lions.
"The Government is coming. They used the two cycle exhaust excuse in their last attack, out lawed two cycle engines, they thought that would close us out or at least make it more difficult for us. So the factory’s started building better four stroke motors and our sport struggles on."
"Yea and the noise a four stroke makes carries a lot differently than a two stroke." I tried to stay in the conversation.
"Yes the 4 strokes noise carries differently but any more the snow mobile guy’s are running straight expansion chambers and can be heard 25 miles, that’s a 50 mile corridor of noise. The snow and cold air carry and reflect the noise so much more. I love snow mobiling and ride them all the time, but it is annoying to listen to them all day while I’m at home trying to split some wood or patch the roof, selfish is what it is."
"Hell they have three cylinders, how much more power do they need?"
"They don’t need more power, it’s just like the bikes, it’s not the power, it’s the rider and riding well."
"Talk about noise, how about those Harley pukes?"
"Yea they aggravate every one for miles around, the worst thing is dirt bikes are lumped right in with the Harley crowd, the general public does not see us as separate, a bike is a bike, Harley or KTM, one loud one turns them sour against us all. Then the loud snow machines get us in trouble with the land use people. We know we are separate from the Harley’s and the snow machines, but the public and the government lump us all together."
"Ugh, I don’t want to be lumped in with the Harley guy’s" The picture in my mind is not pretty.
Billy goes on:
"Some how we have to rally the troops and police our selves, if we don’t do it the government will and we won’t like what they do to us. It’s a problem we need to convince the manufactures to stop selling loud exhaust systems and sell us good quiet systems. They make them, 92 db all day long, same amount of power just quiet, we need to convince them to stop selling the loud ones, no body needs the power, no body wants the hearing loss, not to mention the trails and tracks which are closed because of the noise. How many tracks have been shut down just because of the noise?"
"You know the Speedway guy’s have gone to quiet exhaust and they have a new track right in town back in Indianapolis, it shares the parking lot with an exotic dance club, so how much noise are they making? They share a parking lot then offer free admission to spectators, so it’s good for every body!"
"Yea, that is cool, I wonder how the Speedway guy’s got the quiet thing started?"
"I don’t know about that but I do know about the free admission to the dance club!" I always blurt out the wrong thing, Billy is trying to do something positive and all I can think of is free admission to a strip club.
"I think I’ll use my hearing loss to ignore that last comment." Replied Bill.
"Hearing loss, land closure, fatigue, these are just a few problems with noise, how about just getting the evil eye when you are at the trail head? Noise is the next battle field, did you know they are using money from the Green Sticker program to buy decibel meters? How stupid are we? Are we really going to finance our own demise? Uncle Sam will shut us out, it’s the only thing he knows how to do, if we don’t address the noise issue on our own we are committing recreational suicide." Bill has given this lots of thought and energy.
I told Billy: "You know, I went to a desert race the other day, they started in three rows, A B and C, the A row was pretty quiet, most of the four strokes had stock exhaust and the two cycles didn’t stand out as being loud, the B row had a couple of loud bikes but the C row was the noisiest of all three! Every four stroke had a big man exhaust on it, so what we are up against is educating the beginners."
"Yes" Said Bill "It is the ones not burdened with education that need to see the light."
I continued on, pretty much rewording what I had just said, it sounded good last time, let’s see if I can pass it off as genuine thoughts again. "The expert riders understand the loud exhaust is not good, the manufacturers understand noise is not good. Manufacturers just build them because the educationally unencumbered buy them, thinking they need the extra. The general public HATE the noise and other riders are annoyed by the noise. No body needs the extra power. No body wants hearing loss and none of us want land closure."
Bill went on: "Even on ‘closed course’ noise is a problem, if the MX track is bothering neighbors 4 and 5 miles away, the government has no other choice than to shut the track down, I agree, it is the right thing to do, we all need to get along with our neighbors and noise reaches out, way out of the fenced area, besides do you really want to hang around a track listening to loud bikes all day? MX is miserable enough the way it is, I can’t imagine adding a lot of noise to the dusty boredom."
"Yea they claim the loud pipes are for closed course only, but how often are those bikes out play riding or just testing in the lot behind their house, just a few moments of noise can sour a neighbor."
"Closed course my butt!" Said Billy "If the sound travels like it does here in the mountains, that makes the closed course a 25 mile radius of angry neighbors. These neighbors don’t care weather it is closed course or trail riding, all they know is bikes make noise and they don’t like it, they are going to act against us. Neighbors are going to call the cops, the cops call a meeting, the public gets organized and comes after us, and I don’t blame them one bit." Said Billy.
I went on: " You know we had the noise issue going pretty good once the two cycles became water cooled and good re packable silencers became practical, it’s only been in the last few years, when the so called racing four stroke came back on the scene has noise become an issue again, and most of the racing four strokes are fairly quiet from the factory. It’s the after market people who are feeding this problem, and they are marketing to the ignorant, how do we convince the after market people to stop selling the loud ones and focus on building good quiet ones? Don’t they realize they can sell more quiet than noisy? First off, for every noisy exhaust they have sold, they need to sell a quiet one to replace it. If they would just stop making them loud and sell a good quiet one, the problem would solve it’self in time. All the loud bikes would soon become out dated and pushed to the poor barn." Billy continued: "I’m afraid the ignorant will always want more noise, they relate noise to speed, that is so wrong, to really ride well you need to be one with the bike, you need to feel the RPM, you need to feel the ground through the tires and the pegs, if the bike is deafening you, how can you feel these things? Billy went on: Even if we get FMF and the other major manufactures to quit making loud pipes, ignorant company’s will take up and start building loud pipes. We need to make sure every one knows how un-cool it is to be noisy. Michal Lafferty’s 450 racer is quiet, why does Joe Schmoe think he needs the couple of extra horse power? He dosen’t, none of us can use it properly, if Michal does not need it why does the C class? Every one needs to know just how stupid they look when they are loud. We need to make every one conscious of the problem. We need to change, and we need to change now, if we don’t the government will change for us, and we wont like it one bit.
I gathered my things and said my good byes, I told Billy I would write a story for the magazine but most of the readers at Trail Rider are already on the quiet bus, it’s the knuckle heads who we need to reach, it’s the guy’s who read and believe Dirt Rider Magazine. We as readers of Trail Rider, we who are of a higher plane of consciousness, need to educate the ones making the noise. We need to start by enforcing noise restrictions at all of our races, Enduro guy’s do a pretty good job, but the Hare Scrambles and MX crowd could do better. The clubs need to change their rules and stand by them, riders want to ride so they will have to follow the rules, they will buy quiet exhaust. Manufactures want to sell, if we as riders and clubs demand quiet pipes, they will produce them, so they can sell them. The noise issue is finally one where we can start at the bottom and work our way up. If riders demand quiet, every one will fall in line above us.
When I got back to the trailer home, I did a little research on hearing loss. It turns out the ear canal if filled with tiny hairs that change the mechanical energy of incoming sound waves into nerve messages to the brain. Too much loud noise like a gun or explosion has the most dangerous affect, but sustained noise like a bike or a chain saw damages these tiny hairs, thus causing permanent hearing loss. Ear plugs are not always the cure, some sounds go right through the skull and cause damage. There is not enough research, but I’d bet a noisy 4 stroke bores right through the skull, it does mine.
So do something, write the manufactures and demand quiet pipes, contact the clubs and demand quiet races, repack your own silencer, educate a friend, lead by example, our future depends on us making a difference, like Billy said, if we wait for the government to do it for us, we will not like what they do.
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