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A pending ‘anti-muffler’ ordinance shows how nuanced our laws need to be

The beginning of the end for loud motorcycle pipes?

Avoid complications by getting an aftermarket muffler that passes existing regulations. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Before we begin anything else, we can all agree that excessive noise is irritating. Congested city streets are already stressful with undisciplined motorists, jaywalkers, potholes and the like. Nearly everything that moves adds to the general cacophony, and it’s exhausting to just spend a few hours trying to filter out all the chaos. This is why driving through quiet, scenic roads can be relaxing and enjoyable.

A pending “anti-muffler” ordinance (No. 8145) for Manila City is a step in the right direction, and presumably adds more teeth to the new Land Transportation Office-mandated noise limit of 99dB. More correctly understood as an “anti-modified/open muffler” ordinance authored by Councilor Joel Villanueva, it aims to penalize motorists who use open or modified mufflers that exceed said limit. As motorcycles outnumber automobiles on the road these days, this is good news for the general public and a warning to hardheaded riders who still think that “loud pipes save lives” and that, in general, noisy mufflers are cool. Um, no, it’s not cool. It’s just obnoxious.

Nearly all riders start out wanting their bikes to be louder. Heck, I know I did. The rev of the engine, the wind in your face, a loud BBRRAP emanating from the pipes make you feel more alive. “The sound of freedom,” as they say. But your freedom ends where another man’s begins. And if the din of your motorcycle begins to irritate your neighbors, well, the responsible thing to do is to lower the volume.

In general, there are two ways to make a stock motorcycle louder. The cheap way is to just open it up or “kalkal.” The pricier method is to choose from any of several dozen vendors—local or imported—that can shape any kind of muffler for your bike. Either method also involves removing the catalytic converters (whether partially or entirely, depending on your system), because these are integrated into the mufflers. Right there, you can already see the environmental cost to the planet, because those ‘cats’ were put there for a good reason, and it wasn’t to strangle your bike—it was to lower your emissions.

Where our ordinance might be deficient is the possible exemption of big bikes with aftermarket mufflers that exceed our 99dB limit

One area of concern is that the good councilor has said that big bikes—or motorcycles with 400cc displacement or higher—will be exempt from the rule. Villanueva told DZBB:

“Under the proposed city ordinance, such vehicles are exempted if they compete in car shows, sports competitions [racing], and motorcycles with 400cc-and-above displacement.”

Considering that these show and race cars, as well as big bikes, are equipped with tuned or powerful engines, a mere ordinary (stock) exhaust could destroy the engine, added the councilor.

Perhaps Villanueva is just unfamiliar with the engineering behind big bikes, but we can presume that all unmodified production bikes are compliant with the latest type-certification requirements. For Europe at least, the new limit according to UNECE Regulation 41 is 77dB, conducted using a very specific testing protocol involving an exact speed, gear and throttle opening. The full methodology is quite rigorous and confusing, but if you want to take a look, check here.

Reputable vendors will provide aftermarket upgrades that sound great while still following the noise regulations. PHOTO FROM SC-PROJECT

In the United States, on the other hand, the rules vary by state. Alabama, for example, has no motorcycle noise limits, but in California the limit is 80dB for bikes made after 1985.

Where our ordinance might be deficient is the possible exemption of big bikes with aftermarket mufflers that exceed our 99dB limit. And this will be an unpopular opinion, but rules should be fair and apply to all. While we can argue that an underbone with a high-pitched shrieking exhaust note may sound different from a modified Harley that sounds like Zeus farting, excessive noise is, well, excessive.

If a big bike exceeds 99dB, then it should be penalized the same as a small-displacement bike. What’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander, and considering that 99dB is already quite generous, big-bike owners should be considerate of their neighbors. There are aftermarket options that sound better than stock, but still comply with existing regulations.

In any case, like I said, Manila’s pending ordinance is a step in the right direction. Quieter roads will benefit everyone, and if you must insist on riding your noncompliant motorcycle as loud as you like, go bother other people elsewhere. Until other cities follow suit, of course.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.