Motorcycle Exhaust Facts
When a bike is running, the first thing you most likely notice is the way it sounds. Some bikes are loud, almost to the point of being painful; others are quiet. Some have a low, throaty rumble, while others have a higher-pitched whine. Different states have different laws regarding noise levels generated by bike exhausts. It’s good to stay informed if you’ve got a bike in your family.
Federal Motorcycle Noise Laws
As of September 2009, there is no federal standard set for motorcycle noise limits. However, in an attempt to regulate the matter somewhat, the EPA has issued noise emissions standard regulation §205.169. This is a stringent labeling requirement for all OEM (original equipment manufacturing) exhausts sold on modern motorcycles as well as all aftermarket motorcycle exhaust systems available for sale in the U.S.
This regulation contains specific wording that must be printed on a label on each exhaust, in such a way that it can’t be removed without being destroyed. For each exhaust, the label states that it conforms to EPA noise emissions standards for specific bike models, and it lists those bikes by model number. Use of an exhaust labeled in this way on a bike for which it’s not labeled is considered illegal.
Manufacturers of exhausts intended for sale outside the U.S. aren’t required to put these labels on their exhausts. Instead, they must use a label that says “For Export Only.” (For the full text of this regulation and the labeling language, see References.)
State and Local Motorcycle Noise Laws
Motorcycle noise emissions laws vary from state to state. Additionally, there may be local regulations to consider. Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles to find out what the current regulations are for your area to make sure you are in compliance with them.
American Motorcyclist Association Official Position on Exhaust Noise
The AMA is the single largest motorcyclist rights and advocacy group in the U.S. As of September 2009, it advises all bikers to voluntarily avoid “excessive noise,” for which it does not give a definition. Instead, the group says you should be able to determine for yourself what is excessive, but that you and all other bikers should be mindful of your surroundings. It believes that this can help avoid attempts by various jurisdictions to ban motorcycles altogether.
Aftermarket Exhausts: Street-Legal
Aftermarket exhaust manufacturers sell a wide variety of exhausts (with appropriate EPA stickering) to fit your bike. However, you need to choose an exhaust that is street-legal for your locality. The EPA has different regulations intended for street use and track use; you should always combine their suggestions with your local rules and regulations to avoid being pulled over by the cops. It’s fine to want to tweak the performance on your bike by installing a non-OEM system, just make sure you do it in a legal way.
Aftermarket Exhausts: Track Only
Of course, another reason you may want to change your exhaust is to hear your engine the way the manufacturer intended. Aftermarket parts manufacturers know this, and it’s for that reason they make exhaust systems intended for track use only. These often offer higher performance gains—and they’re usually a lot louder. Make sure you buy one that’s got the EPA sticker on it and keep it on the track where it belongs. Do this, and you’ll have fun while still promoting a positive image of riding to the world—even to those unlucky people who don’t go out on two wheels.