The idea that loud pipes save lives is one which still carries weight today, but for me I am running on stock pipes and here is why…

In the ’80s and ’90s only the fanciest cars had air conditioning so in the warm, when we riders were out and about, there was a good chance that car windows would be open. Which of course meant the roar of my mighty KH250 sometimes triple had a fighting chance of being heard – I say sometimes triple because mine mostly fired on two cylinders.

Now the modern rider on their relatively quiet stock, say, KTM 390 has no chance of being heard unless they go really loud. Car cabins are largely sound damped, windows are rarely open and car music systems are louder than their ’80s forebears. The reality is that illegally loud pipes simply draw police attention and may make a fully comprehensive claim rather stickier.

If you are running non-standard pipes your insurers are entitled to know. There is also a correlation between loud pipes and witnesses conflating noise with speed so, all in all, I think loud pipes are a bit anti-social and offer minimal safety benefits in the modern traffic jungle.

Go really loud

But sound is the most effective way of warning – it is multi-directional and the inattentive car driver need not be looking at you to hear you approach – especially if the approach is warned, as is proper, by the use of a horn. If you are having a buttock clench of fear, the reality is you are unlikely to give your throttle a big twist to generate extra noise but hitting the brakes and the horn simultaneously (if you want a car to stop where it is) is a practicable proposition.

Two types of horn

I have two different types of horn: my green lane bike has a horn to warn walkers of my presence, and this horn gives an asthmatic little parp; my road bike has an upgraded foghorn of a horn which, I swear, is capable of waking the dead. I can’t actually recall the last time I used it.

Horns such as this are to be used as a warning not an admonishment and frankly, if I want to scold a car driver, making them leap out of their skin in my vicinity when I’m on a bike is a plan with some obvious draw backs.

There is a fair amount of science which supports the proposition that the human brain will respond very quickly to an audible cue. In your own experience, if you are driving a car in a car park and someone blasts the horn, your close to instantaneous reaction is to get on the brakes and then see if the parp was aimed at you. No other signal gets to the brain as quickly as an audible alarm. Watch car drivers melt into panic if they hear an emergency siren. Therefore, my pipes stay stock and my horn gets upgraded – and if you can connect two wires, fitting a new horn is a job even the most mechanically incompetent can manage. Unless you have CANBUS.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine October 2022