CHICAGO — Chicago bikers had a few choice words for Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) after he proposed raising fines on noisy motorcycle mufflers to as much as $1,000: "ridiculous" and "exorbitant."
The alderman introduced an ordinance last week that would handle "noise pollution" by targeting altered mufflers — which Reilly calls "a major quality-of-life issue" in his River North and Downtown ward. If it passes, maximum fines will increase from $100 to $1,000.
"Oh, geeze," said attorney Erin Benson, who's been riding since 2009. "I think the fine is a little exorbitant and unnecessary. In the city, it almost seems like a moot issue with trains, buses, taxis [making noise all the time]. This is a 24-hour city. It's not like you're driving through Naperville."
"One-thousand dollars is quite ridiculous," added Lanny Oswalt, who teaches at Columbia College and started riding as a teen. "I'd love to know how this compares to a party next door. If people are too loud, would they also be subject to a fine of $1,000?
"That party is going to last four, five hours. [A motorcycle] is going to be loud," he said, "but you're around the bike for 30 seconds."
Ald. Reilly said the proposed ordinance won't target naturally loud motorcycles like Harley-Davidsons, but instead takes aim at those with altered mufflers.
Proponents argue the alterations are for show, while motorcyclists on Wednesday said they're a necessary safety addition.
Think of an ambulance, one rider said. Most drivers will hear its sirens long before they see its lights. Motorcycles often end up in drivers' blind spots and need similar protection.
"Even if [drivers] don't see you, they know you're getting closer," said Oswalt, who modified both his Hondas to make them slightly louder. "It helps other people to know that you're there."
Pete, who declined to his give his last name fearing the city crackdown, said he made his Harley-Davidson "about 30 percent louder" with muffler alterations.
"The mirrors [on cars and trucks] are not adjusted to see bikes. They're adjusted to see a big car," he said. "I mean, sure, it might wake somebody's kid up when I'm coming home at 1 a.m., but the lady in the minivan not looking in her blind spot? She will kill you."
A motorcycle shop employee who asked not to be named for fear of retribution said about 80 percent of the people who ask for louder mufflers do so for safety. It's often the first thing motorcyclists change on their bikes.
"They wouldn't spend that much money on something just to be pretty," he said.
Still, Ald. Reilly said he's received "hundreds of complaints" from residents who don't appreciate the noise. Many said they don't buy into safety arguments and think loud mufflers are all about appearance.
"I'm sure there are some motorcyclists that get a thrill — the louder, the better," Benson said. "But there are macho guys that drive cars and trucks, too. People modify the mufflers on their Hemi [engines]."
Benson has never modified a motorcycle, but often revs her engine if she thinks a car doesn't see her.
"It's something that most people who drive cars and trucks and have never been on a motorcycle don't even think about," Oswalt said.