Do loud pipes save lives?

This is a philosophical question.

The first point is that motorcycles differ radically from cars in their relationship to primary and secondary safety.

Primary safety is the capability to avoid hazards. For example, a vehicle with better brakes has better primary safety. Secondary safety is being able to survive accidents. For example, large heavy cars have better secondary safety than pedal cycles. Motorcycles naturally have better primary safety than cars: they can escape through smaller gaps; have better acceleration; have better control ergonomics give effectively faster reactions; have fewer blind spots; the higher head position gives a better view of traffic in all directions; they can move around more to exploit different views. But motorcycles naturally have worse secondary safety than cars.

Now for the philosophy. The attitude of drivers/riders towards safety ranges between two extremes. On the one extreme we have the active in-control person who trusts his wits and skill to avoid accidents. This kind of person wants the best possible primary safety to give the greatest possible scope to his wits and skill. On the other extreme we have the passive victim person who thinks that there is no way to avoid other idiots having accidents involving him, and so wants the best possible secondary safety in order to best survive the inevitable accidents.

The passive victim type will want to drive the largest heaviest most crash-proof car they can get their hands on. The active in-control type will want a vehicle with the best performance. In cars this is some kind of sports car. The extreme is a motorcycle.

Thus, comparing cars with motorcycles, bikes are naturally suited to the active in-control type who prefers primary safety, whereas cars are better suited to the passive victim type who can't avoid accidents.

So what about loud pipes? The argument in favor of loud pipes is that because you can't avoid all the idiots out there, you are better off making a loud noise to force them to notice you. This is the secondary safety view. The question of why YOU haven't noticed THEM does not occur to this kind of person. This philosophy contradicts the nature of motorcycles, which excel at primary safety at the expense of secondary. We would therefore expect these people (who advocate loud pipes) also to prefer their bikes to lean in other ways towards the secondary safety philosophy. For example, they will be likely to choose motorcycles with unusually low riding positions, motorcycles which are unusually heavily built, motorcycles with poor brakes, cornering, and acceleration.

Is this what we find in practice?
Yes -- the loud pipes brigade has an unusually large proportion of Harley owners.
These people are philosophically ill-suited to motorcycling. They would be much better off in motor cars. In fact, if you look at the riding position on a chopped Harley you will notice that it is the same position of body as a car driver -- feet forward, leaning back, hands up in front. And we also find that the Harley-owning loud pipes brigade rapidly stop riding their bikes as they get older, and take to driving around in pick-ups with the bike in the back.

My company offers philosophical therapy to these confused people at very reasonable rates. If you have a friend or neighbor who suffers from the loud-pipes syndrome, suggest he gets in touch with us. We can progress the patients through this distressing and dangerous phase of philosophical paradox and get them safely ensconced in large heavy cars where they naturally belong.

CALL TOLL-FREE 0800 1234567.
Chris Malcolm +44 (0)31 650 3085
Department of Artificial Intelligence,
Edinburgh University
5 Forrest Hill, Edinburgh, EH1 2QL, UK
DoD #205 "The mind reigns, but does not govern" -- Paul Valery
Copyright 1994