The most important link in this political chain

Tim CalhounIt is amazing and sad to me as both the senior executive at LeoVince USA and as a lifelong rider that we are just now seeing reaction over California’s new exhaust/emission/sound law, SB435.

The Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), which represents OEMs and aftermarket manufacturers and distributors, has been very vocal and proactive in intercepting this bill and to point out the potential pitfalls of enacting this law. The council also has offered up an option, the MIC-developed and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)-approved J2825 sound testing standard, a legitimate and viable alternative to this poorly thought-out law.

I believe as a person who has made my living from this industry for the past 22 years and as an avid rider, I needed to take the time to write this and publicly speak out about this issue as it will potentially impact me in both of these areas, each of which I am equally passionate about.

The passing of this law is really a case of few understandably fed-up legislators (tired of excessive noise) dramatically impacting the many riders, dealers and manufacturers that live, work and ride in the state of California. This bill was introduced by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and was sponsored by the American Lung Association under the ruse that it was to reduce the pollutants being emitted by motorcycles. It quickly became obvious that it was more about a backwards and ill-informed attempt to quiet motorcycles and in reality was aimed directly between the eyes of eliminating noise pollution or, more plainly, excessively loud exhaust systems.

The truth about motorcycle emissions, as I can best decipher, is this: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) states that on-road motorcycles emit 1.02 percent of the total reactive organic gas (ROG) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) being emitted in California; motorcycles represent about 3 percent of the vehicles in California, and annually we travel about 70 percent fewer miles than cars and trucks. The Department of Transportation estimates motorcycles traveled about 1.4 million miles versus 122 million miles traveled by cars. This law is not well represented if we are strictly speaking emissions.

In contrast, “Off-Road Equipment,” which includes lawn and garden equipment, farm tractors, construction equipment, etc., accounts for 12.79 percent of ROG and NOx. I do not need to mention others, like over-the-road tractor trailers and the biggies like coal burning power plants, to make my point.

There were comparisons made that presented motorcycles as gross polluters, and they were true as presented because the comparison used was partial zero emissions vehicles (PZEVs). The clear picture is these representations were greatly misconstrued and inaccurately represented the true picture of the impact of motorcycle emissions on the state of California and, as usual, this was lost in translation and in the well-prepared, although misleading, presentations made by Sen. Pavley and her supporters. Make no bones about it, this was primarily an opportunistic attack on motorcycle noise pollution, not actual emissions, and it is a case where the few offenders are definitely affecting the many.

The MIC-developed J2825 sound test (a test that could be administered roadside by police agencies) would have been a much more realistic solution to this issue as it would essentially serve to weed out the worst sound offenders and resolve the core of the sound issues and arguments that currently exist, the same issues that have helped to drive this bill forward and get it signed into law. It also would have provided manufacturers with a realistic sound standard to build to, the police with a sound standard to enforce and the public with a sound standard they could legally defend if necessary. It was a reasonable solution.

My primary argument against the California law is it unfairly singles out motorcycles as sound and emission offenders. There was nothing mentioned in this bill about regulating the automotive industry and cat-back automotive exhausts. These exhausts are the most similar in comparison to an after-cat slip-on motorcycle exhausts.

My secondary objection to this law is I feel it would do little to stifle the noise issue as bike owners will just simply keep the exhausts they remove and put them back on if ticketed, or worse yet, just gut out the interior of their OEM mufflers, only increasing the noise issues and creating greater public animosity. I only have to look daily at the number of drivers rolling down the highway in California still talking with their cell phones to their ears to understand how little impact this law will make on resolving the sound issue. Laws that are “if you are caught, then we will fine you” just are not effective. It also leaves a lot of room for subjectivity of what “loud” exhausts are and a license to just pull over every motorcycle based on a personal opinion of “loud.”

My final argument against this law is many police agencies honestly wouldn’t know where to find the EPA stamps on the host of motorcycle exhausts that exist. Some of these stamps are unable to be seen unless portions of the motorcycle or exhaust are removed or the bike is elevated. This law is an unrealistic solution to a very real ongoing issue.

Many aftermarket exhaust manufacturers, along with the MIC, have been pushing J2825 to law enforcement agencies and have invested in and stood behind its development as a real-world alternative to laws like SB435 that will directly impact dealer aftermarket exhaust sales and potentially damage, diminish or eliminate the shrinking number of exhaust manufacturers still serving the powersports industry.


Manufacturers are busy developing DOT- and CARB-approved systems, but it is not currently financially feasible to do this on a large scale as the testing costs alone would create a financial deficit that even the largest manufacturers could not absorb with the sales they would generate with these exhausts. We also have found through our sales in Germany in particular that it is not what the consumer wants or will buy, especially if there is an added cost and a lessening of performance, which there will be.

In order for real solutions to surface and make their way to market, there needs to be substantial revisions made to the current testing procedures and the inherent costs involved in this for manufacturers to dedicate the funds needed to engineer these solutions. Sound is an issue that can be managed through solid engineering practices and things such as decibel-limiting inserts that, contrary to popular belief, rob very little horsepower. Case in point, I only lost 1.5 hp on my Kawasaki Z1000 with the insert in, but still easily passed the J2825 sound test, making me a friendly neighbor to have, and I still received the performance benefits I was looking for.

We need manufacturers, private agencies, dealers and the riding public to step up their political activities and fully understand that this is one more warning shot across the bow of our powersports industry ship from outside interests that will directly affect our business interests, the public’s overall riding experience and the future of one of the largest manufacturing sectors in our industry.

The most impactful thing we can do as manufacturers, dealers and riders is to first use our rights and vote. Then commit to sending e-mails, faxes or making calls to your local, state and federal representatives and let your voice be heard. You as dealers and riders are the most important link in this political chain.

My final comment to riders and industry professionals is that being motorcyclists is what binds us together and collectively we can impact potentially negative legislation and bills such as California SB435. If we remain separate and non-committed, we all fail. But collectively, we can impact these poor legislative decisions.

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  1. Great viewpoint, Tim. You nailed it right on the head. My first thought was that with an exhaust system being the #1 aftermarket change made to street bikes riders will undoubtably take a stock system and modify it should this law get passed. Which will result in louder exhaust systems. And leave it to the politicians to put the false emissions spin in the mix. Putting their own personal agenda ahead of the ripple affect this law would have on aftermarket exhaust companies such as Leo Vince. Our economy needs a boost..not more backlash.

  2. I did write protest letters to Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) who heads my district where I live in Woodland Hills, CA, and to Governor Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. My biggest objection to SB435 as originally written was the required annual vehicle compliance inspections to re-register our motorcycles, while cars in California are not inspected at re-registration. However cars must have a paid Smog check every 2 years. Bikes do not…while we all remove our charcoal canisters and modify our exhaust the minute we bring our motorcycles home.

    They did listen to my objections (and those of others Californians I must assume) and they deleated the required annual Motorcycle vehicle inspection from the bill.

    As for the SB435 Required Noise Certification on aftermarket exhaust systems, I say “YES!” I am for it.

    Because nothing will change. Police have never enforced the current “Modified Exhaust” law on the California law books, so they will not bother to enforce SB435 when it takes effect as well. There is no difference between the old law and the new law. And the new law is still just a Fix-It Ticket like the old law, if and when it is enforced. At least the cops can now see if they pipe has an approved sticker on it. As if it matters, because in the past they could write tickets without it as well.

    I’m a hard core sportbike rider and I do have modified racing exhausts on all my street sportbikes. And I have never gotten a noise ticket in 30 years of riding in California. My local Ducati dealer illegally sells and installs Ducati Performance racing exhaust systems and CPU modules bikes on my registered street bikes in violation of state and federal laws. All metric bike dealers in CA, with the exception of Harley-Dealers who are under the eye of CARB and can’t even sell Screamin’ Eagle Performance parts, do sell and install aftermarket pipes.

    Sportbikes with race silencers are 4 times quieter than straight pipe Harleys. Sportbike People will still buy Leovince pipes with SB435.

    Still, it is the American V-twin / Harley crowd who ruin it for everyone with their straight unmuffled pipes, which you can hear from miles away on a quite Sunday morning. And I have to stop talking to my friends when those Harleys fire up and pull out up at the Rock Store. And yet, the Police never ticket them. It pisses me off. Some of my friends are cops and I ask them why not. They are bike riders themselves with modified exhausts, or the Harley riders don’t run from the Police like Sportbikers often do, and finally, they do not have the time to enforce vehicle infractions,or they’d have to write up every car and bike on the road. So loud exhaust in California will continue as always…..

    I just wish SB435 had some mandatory enforcement balls to get the straight pipe Harleys off the road.
    Tom Calhoun, meanwhile, should get off his soap box. He has nothing to complain about, rather he should be grateful that guys like me got SB435 modified so he can keep on selling illegal exhaust systems in California to street riders.

    If Calhoun has anything to worry about it is the new 200hp / 400 lb. Sportbikes are already way too fast and too light with stock exhaust systems! No one has the need to buy an aftermarket exhaust system any more. The motorcycle manufacturers will put him out of business before the State of California does.

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