Noisy cycles are hard to ticket without decibel meters

I'm wondering if motorcycles have a noise restriction. If a car made as much noise as a Harley, I would expect at least a fix-it citation. Are motorcycles given a pass? I think that the amount of noise that motorcycles make is extreme and inconsiderate.

— Robert S., by email

Sounds like you're more into easy listening than Easy Rider, Robert, and we're sure you have plenty of company.

To answer your question, motorcycles and cars are for the most part held to similar but not quite the same noise standards, with motorcycles allowed to be slightly louder. However, there is a big loophole that allows motorcycles to exceed the limit.

According to Lt. Mike Budreau of the Medford Police Department, Oregon Revised Statutes 815.250, which highlights operation without a proper exhaust system, outlines the maximum decibel level of motorcycles and mopeds.

"Before 1976, the maximum decibel level for motorcycles was 94," he said. "After 1976, the max level is 89."

The current maximum level for cars is 88 decibels.

However — and it's a big however — the decibel limit for motorcycles doesn't apply to a bike equipped with a manufacturer's exhaust system that exceeds the maximum decibel level, Budreau said.

So how do officers tell which motorcycles are custom made and which ones are exceeding the decibel level?

"We do not have decibel meters," Budreau said. "Based on some training, officers can tell which exhaust systems are custom-made and which are factory-made."

He said Medford police normally limit citations to bikes that are loud enough to be challenged without a decibel meter.

Violators who receive citations can take their motorcycles to the Department of Environmental Quality, where they check the decibel level.

If the motorcycle doesn't exceed the maximum decibel level, they can take the evidence to a judge to have the $160 citation lifted, Budreau said.

Sadly for you and your ears, Robert, all of the vagueness and loopholes mean that not very many bikers are cited for noise violations. Budreau said over the past year seven citations were given out by Medford police for the Class C traffic violation.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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