Loud bike exhausts in Malaysia, what’s the big noise?

A recent crackdown by Malaysian police, in cooperation with JPJ and the Department of Environment (DOE), on motorcycles with loud exhausts has the local biking community up in arms. Many of them are complaining of unfair persecution, along with allegations of revenue raising and going after easy targets while other, more serious offences like handphone use while driving and not using rear seatbelts, go unpunished.

Amongst issues raised is testing carried out using approved procedures and with calibrated equipment, and are personnel involved trained to determine what exactly constitutes a transgression against the law. Aside from this, trying to obtain the relevant Malaysian standard(s) for what constitutes an overly loud exhaust sound is an exhausting experience, needing reference to industry colleagues in the design and manufacturing side of things.

No doubt, overly loud pipes are a nuisance, both for four- and two-wheelers, but there doesn’t seem to be any action taken on the other side of the equation. So, why the furore and why this campaign which many feel is placing a necessary but over the top focus on two-wheelers?

Part of the reason is of course the movement control orders Malaysia has endured where traffic levels, especially in urban areas, has dropped dramatically. This means the ambient noise level to which city dwellers are accustomed is gone, and any sound will now be heard clearly.

Especially so in the case of motorcycles with loud exhausts where the length of exhaust piping and size of exhaust can is both shorter and smaller, allowing for more of the engine noise to escape into the environment. This then makes loud motorcycles an easy target, for it is easy to pinpoint the source of the noise and take immediate action, something that is more difficult to do when traffic is heavy.

But, what action is being taken by the police to enforce this source of noise pollution? Some cars are equally as responsible for this, not to mention buses and lorries.

Regular campaigns are conducted by police, JPJ and DOE on all road vehicles, of course. We usually see them on highways and major thoroughfares, a long line of vehicles parked by the side and being tested for noise and emissions.

For Malaysia, motor vehicle conformance to approved design and performance are governed by the Motor Vehicle (Construction and Use) Rules 1959, enforced by both police and JPJ. Many on the Malaysian internet have taken to saying the act is out of date and should not be enforced, or amended to reflect the current state of vehicle technology.

This is indeed the case, as the 1959 Rules were updated under a Federal Gazette dated 15 December 2011, filed by the Attorney General Chambers. Under the Road Transport Act 1987, which is the current Act being enforced, the amendments came into effect 1 January, 2012.

Under a long list of amendments covering miscellaneous items such as Isofix points, position of lights and other things necessary for the safe operation of four- and two-wheeled vehicles, item 12 states UN ECE Regulation 43 Uniform concerning the approval of motorcycles with regard to noise applies.

What this means is any motorcycle sold in Malaysia is governed by UN ECE Regulation 43 with regards to noise levels under the vehicle type approval (VTA) process. VTA is given by JPJ before any motor vehicle is approved for sale on local roads and we are given to understand by colleagues in the industry, the type approval process is strict but entirely according to regulation with any exceptions having to obtain approval in writing by the Director-General of JPJ.

So far, so good, we know the relevant regulation applying to motorcycles and noise emissions. This then beats the question, what about the testing process? How does an enforcement officer determine an accurate sound level for a motorcycle being tested.

This is where it starts becoming… complicated. The ECE regulation lays out a rigorous test methodology for both “ride by” and stationary testing. Variables such as ambient noise level, location of testing, engine speed and even ambient temperature and relative humidity is taken into account.

We know this because in the course of our research, the author read every single line of the Motor Vehicle (Construction and Use) Rules 1959, Road Transport Act 1987 and the UN ECE regulations. If any reader is interested, please send us an email and relevant links will be provided, but fair warning, the documentation is an instant cure for insomnia.

Returning to the matter at hand, roadside testing is now being carried out in various locations, with Malaysian social media filled with posts and videos of bikers being stopped, large and small machines alike. This raises the question of, is testing carried out properly?

Noise levels can be subjective, especially in an open environment, unless the exhaust is obnoxiously loud enough that there can be no doubt. This usually applies to motorcycles having aftermarket exhausts fitted, the riders wanting the look and style of a performance exhaust, but not wanting to pay the price for a properly made and tested item.

There are performance exhausts that conform to UN ECE Regulation 43, of course, but they are usually very expensive by local standards, having to incur the cost of research, development and testing. For most riders, the cost of buying such an exhaust is worth the price, because riding a motorcycle is as much an audiotory experience as anything else.

The growl of a well made performance exhaust is actually pleasant to the ear, and the scream of an inline-four, the howl of a triple or the rumble of an Italian V-twin is a joy for the senses. Not so much when the rider opts for a cheap knock-off of a known brand, with thinner metal skin and baffles untuned for proper noise attenuation (this is another issue in and of itself and could be the subject of a future article if enough interest is shown.)

Thus, the crackdown on noisy exhausts, for which no one is to be blamed except the riders themselves. There are posts asking why are authorities targeting bikers, and no action is being taken against the shops selling such non-compliant performance accessories.

First, it is a case of willing buyer, willing seller and a case can be made for a small but legitimate market for non-compliant pipes for off-road and track use, exhibitions and competitions. If there is no demand for loud pipes that look the part but impart zero performance benefit except making noise, then the author wouldn’t be writing this article and you, dear reader, would not be reading it.

But there it is, and here we are. A properly made performance exhaust, for both cars and bikes, will change the exhaust note to something more pleasant and perhaps with a very small power gain. For real performance to be realised from a modern vehicle’s exhaust system, it is not simply a case of changing the end can.

Photo courtesy of Half Light Photographic

A whole host of changes has to be made to the exhaust system, including headers, the intake system, the cam timing and the engine management. No, putting on the made in China cold air intake from the local accessory shop and welding on a tabung exhaust can is not going to give you much and in almost all cases from experience, you actually lose power from your engine, at best maybe power stays the same as before.

So, what is to be done? If you’re a motorcycle rider and want your steed to sound pleasantly exciting but remain inside the confines of the law, get an exhaust from a reputable supplier with the UN ECE 41 marking. Car drivers, you are not forgotten, the marking you should look for is UN ECE Regulation 51, and believe you me, the long arm of the law will be coming for you sooner or later.

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