Vince Riggi wasn’t expecting loud and obnoxious behavior on Memorial Day.
The Schenectady city councilman was on his morning walk, touring the city’s Bellevue section at 6:45 a.m. On Second Street, he passed two guys astride idling motorcycles. Both were talking to a friend standing at the curb.
“As soon as I got just about to one of the bikes, he decided to crank the thing,” Riggi said. “It was to get me to jump out of my shoes. I didn’t. I was a rock musician so I know about volume. But that really, really hurt my ears.”
Sounds of the season include home fireworks shows, barking dogs, loud parties — and the roars and whines of motorcycle engines. Police say they receive complaints when cycle riders rev and speed, and say there are steps people can take to improve their chances for peace and quiet. Motorcycle advocates know about the noisemakers — and try to keep the sounds down.
Riggi said he didn’t blow his top when one of the morning cycle guys blew up his engine.
“I didn’t want a confrontation,” he said. “That high-pitched whine really is so piercing. I really think there should be state laws about what can be sold here and what passes New York state inspections for noise, because when they wind those things out, they are really loud.”
Riggi said he is bothered when motorcycles are in motion, too, as riders let everyone hear heavy metal thunder.
“It’s the young guys on small bikes,” he said. “They get their jollies on Campbell Avenue, where there are a bunch of stop signs. I can hear them coming, they slow down and then they crank the hell out of them, from stop sign to stop sign. They slow down. They never stop. You can just hear them.”
The problem has been around for decades. The American Motorcycle Association, founded in 1924 to promote the motorcycle lifestyle, started its Muffler Mike campaign for quieter riding in 1948.
As a biker, Maggie McNally-Bradshaw of Albany follows both safety and sound rules. As chairwoman of the board of directors for the American Motorcycle Association, McNally-Bradshaw is against the loud faction that causes problems for people who respect both road and neighborhood.
“Loud bikes risk rights,” McNally-Bradshaw said in an email interview. “The general public hates the noise, and frequently the folks with influence respond by mandating various restrictions. These restrictions include legislation that severely limit the ability to modify a motorcycle and can lead to very expensive repairs down the road when you can only purchase exhaust systems that meet highly controlled standards.”
She also said landlords and community organizations can restrict or deny a motorcycle owner access to parking and riding in their communities.
“You can live here and you can own a motorcycle, but you have to park it down the road,” she said. “That restriction would apply to all motorcycles, not just the loud bike. Public trails get closed to recreational use to anyone with a motor, and this is happening now at lightning speed.”
Like Riggi, McNally-Bradshaw also hears loud cycles during the summer.
“My reaction is usually one of despair, but sometimes I am quite amused and confused,” she said. “Frequently, that rider that is super-loud in order to be seen and therefore be safer, is the same rider that’s wearing shorts, sneakers and a tank top.”
According to the association, the sound problem is not limited to motorcycles. Members said loud cars and trucks, booming car stereos and leaf blowers are all part of town and city noise. They also say riders must take an active role in the self-regulation of sound, by telling loud riders to tone it down.
Schenectady Police Chief Brian A. Kilcullen knows people hear summer cycle noise.
“We don’t generally get complaints about it because it’s kind of a fleeting moment. It goes by and it’s gone,” he said. “It’s a nuisance. It’s certainly nothing people want to hear while enjoying a barbecue in their backyard or a beverage on their front porch.”
“I don’t think we get an overwhelming amount of calls about it, but we do get calls occasionally,” said Capt. Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police Department. “I don’t know if it’s specific to this time of year. It could be all during the summer. But not very often.”
Riggi believes obnoxious behavior is part of the problem — riders making noise to show off and ruin peace and quiet.
“Isn’t it sad we almost have to hope for bad weather to come for a lot of these quality-of-life issues to go away?” he asked. “We wait for summer, it was a terrible winter, and when summer comes, all the stuff that comes with it comes down the pipe.”
Riggi added that while the Second Avenue noisemaker was trying solely to shock him, he probably surprised bunches of other people with the mechanical outburst.
“He had to shake everybody out of their beds on that street, for sure,” Riggi said.
Nick Capra, manager at Spitzie’s Motorcycle Center in Colonie — a Harley-Davidson shop — doesn’t want to see obnoxious behavior.
“Our take is that we want to be good neighbors, and from a business perspective, we want the people that come in here to respect their neighbors and neighborhood,” he said. “We’re aware that noise has been an issue for motorcycles for a long time, and there are certain inspection requirements. … We don’t sell straight pipes or pipes without baffles in them. Those are the ones that really make the noise.”
With the annual Americade Motorcycle Rally beginning Monday in Lake George, Capra said state police will be checking for helmet, inspection, license and exhaust compliance.
“We’ve had seminars here with police departments, in terms of noise levels, and encourage people to come to those seminars,” he said. “Obviously, it’s good for our business when people come here, no matter what they do.”
As far as noisy Harley riders go, Capra said the Harley demographic is an aging part of the cycle population. He believes that means more conservative and responsible riders.
“I’d say prior to 2006, probably 60 or 70 percent of the motorcycles sold here, people would come in and want to change the muffler on the bikes — not illegal mufflers, but to have them a little bit louder,” Capra said. “That percentage has dropped dramatically. A lot of it has to do with money, but it also has to do with the fact that Harley-Davidson was able to do some things … to have their bike run cleaner. They could put a muffler on their motorcycle, which had a mellower sound.”
Police can make moves to deal with brash riders. Trooper Donald Fougere, safety officer for state police Troop G in Loudonville, said if numerous complaints are received, police can increase patrols in different areas. And just like speeding cars or areas with high rates of accidents, police can put extra attention on places where people have complained.
“What will happen is, we’ll get in touch with the police agency close to that area and say, ‘Hey listen, we’re getting numerous complaints about speeding vehicles, loud exhaust in that area,’ ” Fougere said. “They’ll just be more cognizant of it when they’re on patrol.”
Sometimes, people in a neighborhood will know the loud rider. Police say confronting the cyclist about his noisy habits is not the path to take.
“I would suggest not,” said Lt. Jason Murphy, head of the patrol division for the Rotterdam Police Department. “Lots of times you get involved in a road rage situation. It’s better to call us and we’ll intervene.”
McNally-Bradshaw has something to say to bikers right now. “Please monitor how loud your bike is, whether it’s a street ride or a trail bike,” she said. “If you want some noise because it’s part of what you feel a motorcycle should be, that’s OK. Just remember that if your personal taste is to be super-loud, it can hurt every rider’s ability to own and operate a motorcycle.”