It’s an average summer day in the city. People are out to enjoy the warm weather, do some window shopping and sit outside for lunch or cup of coffee. But then … out come the motorcycles, thundering up and down popular thoroughfares like Newbury and Hanover Streets.
Vince D’Angelo, who lives in the North End and runs the eatery Parla. He says he hears motorcycle noise all the time.
"I live above it, so I get it at night at like 1 a.m., when they’re leaving there," D'Angelo said. "It’s right outside my window."
While D’Angelo has accepted the motorcycle noise as part of city life — many other Boston residents and business owners have not.
Complaints about loud motorcycles led Boston in 2009 to ban exhaust systems that exceed EPA noise standards. The problem is, many pipes bearing the EPA approved label are still pretty noisy.
"The variations as far as sound level are — they’re extremely wide. You get something that’s just a shade over stock and stock is fairly quiet, but then you can get into a wide open system, which is basically race ready and typically shouldn’t be used on the street.
Michael Sienkiewicz, manager of High Octane Harley Davidson in Billerica, says the debate over motorcycle noise is often oversimplified.
"There’s definitely a benefit to some of these louder pipes," Sienkiewicz said. "Can it be excessive? Yes. On the riders side, if they’re riding obnoxiously, then you know what, you probably deserve a ticket."
In Boston, police admit that many bikes that sound loud to others still comply with the EPA standard, making noise enforcement difficult. Up in Salem, police have also wrestled with noise complaints.
"One of the quality of life issues that came up was motorcycle noise in and around our common area – downtown Salem, the common area, Bridge Street, heading towards Beverly," said Sgt. Dennis King. He says Salem police started cracking down on motorcycle noise in 2007, using checkpoints to enforce a more general state law targeting public disturbances.
"When we set up at a point, we’re a couple blocks away and you’re coming in and we can hear you from a couple blocks away, that’s harsh and unnecessary," he said. "That’s an unreasonable noise coming."
They also did educational outreach to riders, and seven years later, King says their efforts have paid off.
"We’ll get some input from neighborhood groups here and there," he said. But the calls are, you know, one, two, three times a year, we might get a loud motorcycle call."
Back in Boston’s North End, Vince D’Angelo suggests another strategy.
"I actually just got my license," D'Angelo said. "I’m looking to ride next year."
If you can’t beat ‘em — join ‘em.
Longtime biker Dave Condon and Salem Chief of Police Paul Tucker discussed motorcycle noise on Greater Boston: