Motorcyclists and Respect


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Many years ago, when I lived in a suburb of Boston, I called the local police in the middle of the night because neighbors were partying with blaring music and loud shouting.  I said to the officer who answered that I wanted to report a “disturbance of the peace.”  “A what?” he asked.  “A lot of noise,” I translated.  This story has been told at my expense in many circles to illustrate the old-fashioned “turns of phrase” I sometimes use.  (Just as an aside, I have also been teased mercilessly because I once said, “so-and-so had a baby out of wedlock.”)

This post is about motorcycle noise, so, in a manner of speaking, it’s about disturbing the peace.

Let me say up front that I love motorcycles.  A highly polished black and silver Harley Davidson is a thing of beauty.  Riding with an experienced cyclist can feel exciting and freeing.  So, I’m not prejudiced against motorcycles or cyclists.  I know a couple who have taken cross-country motorcycle trips as seniors and I admire their sense of adventure, their courage, and their style!

Loud motorcycle noise, however, is definitely a “disturbance of the peace” in my book.  When I lived in Massachusetts one of my greatest joys was sitting on our screened porch on a warm summer evening with a glass of wine and a book, or engaging in quiet conversation there with friends.  I was livid when our peace and our conversation would be interrupted by the deafening roar of a motorcyclist racing up a nearby street, revving his engine to the maximum.  Often, as I was falling asleep at around ten p.m., I was incensed to be awakened by the same cacophony – inconvenient for me, but even more so for the neighboring parents of small children whose interrupted sleep would make them cranky the next morning.

Early on, shortly after we built the porch, I called the town police to report the disruptive motorcycle noise.  They indicated little interest but said they would “look into it.”  The noise continued, multiple times daily.  Next, I dropped in at the police station and expressed my concern.  The duty officer behind the glass wall said that it would be impossible for the police to catch such a cyclist in the act of making the noise because by the time they arrived on the scene he would have sped on his way.  I suggested that just parking a cruiser in the vicinity for half an hour on a summer’s evening would enable them to catch the culprit.  They suggested I call the next time the disturbance occurred.  I gave up and the roar of engines continued.

Several years later, after my retirement, I finally had the time to think about a more effective approach to the problem of excessive engine noise in my neighborhood.  I asked the candidates running for town council to suggest solutions (hinting that the one who provided a successful result might get my vote.) Their answers ranged from presenting the issue at a town council meeting to organizing a petition with my neighbors.  I chose, instead, to write to the town’s police chief.  He responded, after some delay, by saying that he would raise it at his next staff meeting to see if his duty officers could suggest solutions.  He did not report back to me the results of this consultation and the noise continued.  Finally, I moved away before having the opportunity to approach the town council or to organize my neighbors.

What is the point of this story-telling?

I am presumptuous to speculate on the reasons why cyclists loudly rev their engines, but I will do so anyway.  Is it the thrill of accelerating quickly?  I wouldn’t want to put brakes on the thrilling activities of others, but it seems that a muffler might mitigate the consequences for those nearby. Is it selective defiance of the restraints of society?  Which of society’s restraints would the cyclist want to be enforced for his or her own comfort and peace? Is it a deliberate attempt to ruin his or her hearing?  Or is it simply a “f— you” attitude?

Whatever the explanation, at its roots, loud motorcycle noise demonstrates lack of respect for those nearby – a lack of interest in or care for how the cyclist’s behavior affects those in the vicinity.

This post completes my “pet peeves” series:  disrespectful bicyclists, dog owners, and motorcycle noise perpetrators.  Respect arises from, among other things, thoughtful reflection on how my behavior may affect the lives of others – it’s the good old “golden rule” principle.  Do I want to be endangered, limited or even just interrupted by others?  Does exercising my so-called rights or liberties harm or inconvenience my neighbors?  These are “old-fashioned” questions like the phrase “disturbance of the peace,” but perhaps it’s time to revive them.

2 thoughts on “Motorcyclists and Respect

  1. This is the second house I have lived in that sits on a corner with busy traffic. In Middlebury, the noise was light and occasional, but here in Portland (the Oregon one!) it is frequent and very much disturbs my peace. Worse in the summer when I want to open the windows for cool air or sit outside as you mention. The lesson I have learned is to attempt to live on a quieter street in future. I accept it as part of the price I pay for living in a town.

    That said you are wondering why someone would do that? Have you ever been to a car race or (like we had at our Field Days every summer in VT) a demolition derby? For these folks it’s all about the noise and the speed. That’s what makes them happy and thrilled and–yes–I think a bit defiant. Sometimes I see them look out the window while revving engines on the street to see if anyone is noticing. “I’m here! And I’m loud and powerful and you will now SEE me!” Well, or hear me I guess. Since usually it is young men driving, I can only hope they find happier ways to enjoy life and to make their presence known to their communities in positive, quieter ways. I don’t think it ever occurs to them to be concerned about others. That is just an observation, not a judgment.

    I have no love of motorcycles. I rode one only once when I was in high school and it scared me to death! I guess I’m just a whimp. And many dogs are fearful of them–really fearful of the noise they make and that’s tough for those of us who walk our dogs in towns. Plus having done trauma support in an ER, I place a high value on protection of humans and animals while we are in vehicles. Driving is a dangerous thing to do at all and I’ve seen the results when things go wrong.

    But I too have known wonderful people who enjoy their motorcycles and go on trips. I had a patient once who said he had been on every road in Oregon! I was impressed and wished I could do that too (well, in a car!) And impressed by the love, support, and constancy of his motorcycle friends as he went through his dying process. No one could have had better friends.

    Meanwhile, Jazz and I go to the park on our neighborhood volcano for peace and quiet, or when we can to the beach to listen to the waves and the wind. And I rejoice in the quiet and think: this is how I need to live one day when I am able. Another life lesson learned. Gratitude.


  2. Thanks for your perspective, Diana. You are right, there is no real solution to this problem except changes those who are troubled by the noise might make in their own lives. The “defiant” attitude is ancient, and unlikely to be eradicated by persuasion, coercion or enforcement. It’s sad that exclusion of the defiant is the only real answer (there are no motorcycles in my retirement community,) which only makes the cyclists more defiant, I suspect.


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