Hey! Muffle those Harleys!
July 3, 2005
If you’re reading this on the morning of July 4, you still have time to buy earplugs for the Aspen parade. If you value your hearing, I strongly advise it.The sirens and blaring horns of the fire trucks are bad enough, but the worst noise offenders in Aspen are the unmuffled Harleys. These big boy power toys provide the most heinous sensory affront in the Roaring Fork Valley.This is not a popular topic among many Harley riders who consider the raucous flaring of chrome pipes as their contribution to the local ambiance. But who needs an alpenhorn on steroids? Perhaps the ear-splitting blare would be more acceptable with a yodel or two, especially if the riders were dressed in lederhosen. Celebrating obscene noise has become de rigueur for any biker worth his Easy Rider patch and cool dude scowl. Bikers argue that their clamor represents person freedom, but that falls on deaf ears, literally.Some Harley aficionados vehemently disparage anyone who dares question the decibel level of their open pipes. People like me who appreciate peace and quiet are spoilsports, envious of the fun others are having straddling their two-wheeled fantasies.The only modestly rational argument Harley riders have for making all that noise is “safety.” They claim they need to be heard by car and truck traffic, and that open pipes make it safer for them to joy ride.But is it necessary to announce their presence a mile and a half across town?! Even hearing-impaired bikers have to admit that the roar blasting from some bikes is excessive. Not only can you hear it, you can feel each pulsing cylinder thrumming the mountain air from these throaty symbols of outlaw youth.The other day I was sitting on a friend’s porch near the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen. We were trying to enjoy a quiet conversation amid bird chatter and the gentle rush of the river, but every five minutes the air was rent with the cacophonous din of revving bikes doing laps to Difficult Campground.Aspen has a noise ordinance that has got to be the most broken law on the books. Stand on the Smuggler Mountain deck sometime and listen to the tumult in the streets below. What you hear is a veritable symphony of urban life: the piping of dump trucks in reverse, the tympany of trash bins, the horns of traffic jams and the staccato of nail guns. Over it all is the crescendo drum roll of straight-piped motorcycles.Last week, Brent Gardner-Smith wrote an opinion piece in which he decried the irony of Aspen’s global warming study in the midst of a daily “global warming parade” of single-passenger commuter and recreational vehicles.Aspen aligns itself with environmental sensitivity while Aspenites flaunt it with conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste. The cognitive dissonance in this community would be laughable if it weren’t so disheartening.Communitywide denial has become a bizarre psychosis manifest in fleets of Hummers and tiers of monster homes. The timber-clad mountains rise up around us as stunning reminders of beautiful, serene nature, but few take notice as attention is riveted on opulent palaces and noisy, polluting machines.Does anyone listen for the song of a bird, or are we so melded with our cell phones that even a trail walk requires pressing a receiver to our ears? Aspen is a mountain town with urban addictions, and it spawns a constant static buzz.Boisterous bikers are the worst offenders because their noise is an unnecessary personal luxury. Those bikes can be muffled, even if it means muting the image they gleefully broadcast over the mountains and valleys. Just as nonsmokers should not have to breathe second-hand smoke, nonbikers should not have to endure second-hand deafness.Paul Andersen appreciates the trill of a yellow warbler over the tinnitus caused by a full-dress hog. His column appears on Mondays.
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