The Shame Among Us

One day a couple of years ago, my wife and I took a ride down the Pacific coast and stopped in for lunch at a great little seaside restaurant near San Clemente.
It was a beautiful spring day, and the restaurant had rolled up the plastic awnings around the outside dining area, so that diners could see and hear the surf rolling in, just a couple of hundred feet away. The restaurant was perched on a small spit of solid ground, with the beach in front of it, just across the Pacific Coast Highway, and a marsh behind it that is a wild bird game preserve. Dozens of people were strolling the paths through the preserve, watching and photographing the herons and other seabirds gathered there, and several artists had easels set up along the perimeter, painting the peaceful scene. All in all, it was about as perfect a setting for a casual lunch as you could imagine, and the little restaurant was packed with families and other couples like ourselves.

To aid traffic pulling in and out of the beach access road and the game preserve, the highway department had placed a stoplight right in front of the restaurant, about 50 feet from where we were dining. About halfway through our lunch, five motorcycles pulled up to this light. Like most motorcyclists, I immediately identified the machines in my mind: One Harley Fat Boy, one Harley Softail, two Kawasaki Vulcans, a Yamaha Road Star and a Honda VTX. Each and every one of them with aftermarket pipes--though the ones on the Softail looked almost homemade.

As they sat at the light, for an almost interminable 30 or 40 seconds, they took turns blipping their throttles. The noise was so bad that all conversation in the restaurant ceased, because no one could be heard above the racket. A waitress impatiently tapped her pencil on her order pad and shrugged apologetically to the family whose order she was trying to take. Loud Derailleurs Save Lives!

The light turned green, and all five bikes took off at full throttle. The ear-splitting roar was so bad that glasses and silverware on the tables rattled and shook. Two little children at the table next to us, and their mother, covered their ears and made faces. A small baby in a stroller next to another table awakened screaming, terrified by the racket. I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see flocks of seabirds rising from their "protected" marsh, trying to escape the offensive cacophony. At the same time, I noticed one of the artists disgustedly picking up his canvas from the dirt, where it had fallen when his startled hand rammed a delicate paintbrush into it.

One quick glance around told me that virtually everyone in the restaurant, strolling through the game preserve, or suntanning on the beach, was now staring at the backs of the five receding motorcyclists. If looks could have killed, the offenders and their bikes would have been vaporized instantly.

MO's Maven says to Pipe Down! For the next few minutes, I couldn't help but overhear the conversations at several tables around us. Actually, I think the diners were purposely speaking sotto voce, hoping my wife and I would hear--because of the two motorcycle helmets perched prominently on the end of our table: "Oughta outlaw the damned things..." "You know they're all just gangsters and drug dealers anyway..." "...glad I bought a big SUV--next time one of those things pulls up alongside me, I'm gonna let my hand slip on the steering wheel and knock him on his ass!"

For the first time in my life, I was actually ashamed to be a motorcycle rider--something I had once told myself could never happen.

For many years, one of my favorite haunts during Bike Week in Florida has been Flagler Beach, about 20 miles up the coast from Daytona. "I see no reason those bikes have to be so loud, so invasive. I have other clients who have bikes that are quiet, and I just don't understand the need for all that noise." Unfortunately, for the past few years Flagler has also become increasingly popular with the straight-pipe crowd. As the Daytona event has grown, the incursion into once-peaceful Flagler has become greater each year. So I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that the residents of Flagler Beach have decided that they've had just about enough.

Recently, two local papers in Flagler County carried stories about the rising tide of sentiment among locals to rid themselves of the scourge of Daytona. Only this time, it's not stopping with just talk. When the issue was brought up at the next meeting of the County Board of Commissioners, it was proposed that the Board have the County Administrator and the County Attorney develop anti-Bike Week policies and laws for the Board's approval. The motion carried by a unanimous vote. In an official statement, the Board said, "The commission needs to work on a specific plan for the kind of tourism that Flagler does NOT want to attract." And if you think the loss of the biker revenue is going to affect their final decision, take into account this interview with Sharon O'Brien, owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Flagler, and a member of the City Commission of Flagler Beach: "Bike Week is great for businesses in Flagler Beach, I'll give them that, because I own one of those businesses. The problem I have with Bike Week is the noise. I see no reason those bikes have to be so loud, so invasive. I have other clients who have bikes that are quiet, and I just don't understand the need for all that noise."

If you think these are nothing more than isolated incidents, you've had your head buried in the sand for the past five years or so. I realize fully that this editorial is going to make me more than a few enemies, but I also believe we've gone beyond the point where any of us can afford to sit on the fence any longer and refuse to take a stand on this issue.

Hey, I like a motorcycle that makes a bit more noise than normal. But I've also experimented with a decibel meter, and know for a fact that you can make a bike sound really good without going beyond the legal, allowable limits. There is absolutely no defensible excuse for making your bike so loud that it's painfully annoying to everyone in the general vicinity. And don't even think about giving me that lame, "Loud pipes save lives" baloney, because we all know it's a load     of crap. If anybody really believed that, he'd have his horn button duct-taped down. About eight times more bike accidents come from cagers turning in front of you than from ones running you down from behind.

In addition, I want to make it perfectly clear that this isn't a "rights" issue, either. No one has the right to make so much noise in public that it disturbs the peace of everyone around them. If you did, then I could just as well come over to your house at three o'clock in the morning and set off a string of M-80 firecrackers on your front walk anytime I felt like it.

If we don't solve this problem ourselves, and soon, the rest of society is going to do it for us, through the force of law. And do I really need to tell you how that will turn out?

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