Can you hear anything now?

Tracy Figler is a freelance writer who lives quietly in Reno.

Tracy Figler is a freelance writer who lives quietly in Reno.


But it would also be rude. Roaring may be fun, but it is not friendly.

During this year’s Street Vibrations, local TV and news gave considerable attention to the “loud pipes” theory, creating the impression that area motorists and residents should welcome nerve-jangling muffler noise in the name of biker safety. In a Sept. 24 Reno Gazette-Journal article, a Street Vibrations producer suggested that some participants consider loud motorcycles to be a safety net. May I suggest that some residents don’t share that view?

Noise is a matter of public health and public safety. It is measurable and quantifiable. Hearing loss is on the rise. It can be immediate or cumulative, temporary or permanent. Beyond the complications of auditory damage, noise produces other physiological responses. Loud noise is read as a warning by the body, stimulating adrenaline and our fight-or-flight response. It is painful and annoying. It is used as torture. Noise is a stressor.

In fact, the startling effect of loud pipes may have much to do with safety. The head-splitting roar that announces the presence of motorcyclists also obscures ordinary traffic sounds like sirens, whistles and horns. While some bikers may derive a sense of security, the safety of every motorist is compromised when they can’t hear these important highway cues.

Of course, not all motorcycles produce the decibel equivalent of a jackhammer. To its credit, the American Motorcycle Association reminds members that the sound of enhanced exhaust systems is poorly received outside the biker community. It contends that few factors contribute more to prejudice against the sport than excessively loud machines.

In the Sept. 24 article, a Street Vibrations participant explained that he carries a “car-tapping” hammer “to let people know he’s there.” Whatever the legality of bludgeoning autos, it is neither safe nor friendly. Our HammerMan might rest assured that, from downtown to the canyons above the city, all of Reno knew he was here.

When they’re not wielding hammers or blasting us aside, “bikers are a friendly sort,” said another interviewee. Renoites are a friendly sort, too, aware of their obligation as party hosts—and sometimes captives—sharing an increasingly crowded tourist town. Some, like me, may not construe an event tainted by three deaths, three-dozen accidents and extreme noise to be friendly.

Visitors deserve our hospitality, but guests have obligations, too: to leave things as they found them; to be considerate and respect their hosts; to be no trouble. When taking advantage of others’ generosity, Emily Post, doyen of social etiquette, offers party-goers this friendly advice: “The good guest is almost invisible.” And, I might add, inaudible