You’re presenting in a Zoom meeting and suddenly hear a motorcycle roar from a distance. You immediately apologize to your coworkers, but the noise grows louder as the vehicle whizzes down your block. Or maybe you’re driving leisurely along a nearly empty road when someone revving up their motorcycle drives by you. You curse and honk as loud as you can—the only way to show your annoyance—but the rider just speeds up as if they own the place.
People who drive excessively loud vehicles are universally seen as obnoxious and downright annoying around the world. In Indonesia, noisy motorcycles are the bane of many people’s existence. It could get violent, like what happened to a motorcyclist in East Java who was beaten up for disturbing the peace in a neighborhood.
The Indonesian government regulates the proper use of exhaust systems through the Traffic and Road Transportation Law, which sanctions violators with a fine of up to 250,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($17.43) or even imprisonment. Authorities in some areas have even made owners of loud motorcycles, mostly young men, listen to their noisy vehicles as punishment. But most of the time, it’s something people just have to live with. Which begs the question, why do so many people want such loud vehicles anyway?
Adi Wira Bhre, a 29-year-old man in Semarang, Central Java, rode a Bajaj Pulsar 180 motorcycle for four years, from 2013 to 2017. He said he modified the exhaust system to improve his motorcycle’s performance. According to him, the standard exhaust system has a filter that affects the vehicle’s speed.
“At the time, I never thought of how loud and noisy it would be,” he said. Adi replaced the original exhaust pipe with a free flow muffler, which he said makes a more bassy but less deafening sound, at least to him.
Abdi Rabbani, 27, upgraded the exhaust system of his cars for the same reason. He explained that every car has a catalytic converter, which may reduce performance. Some people believe removing it can make cars run faster.
“To maximize [the performance], we usually replace it with a bigger muffler that has no bend. Unfortunately, this type makes the exhaust louder,” Abdi, who lives in Bekasi, a city in West Java, told VICE.
Andreas Krishnamurti, meanwhile, opted for a tailpipe design that fit his Honda GL100 motorcycle. He loved the thrill of revving up the engine when passing irresponsible drivers, such as those who don’t use a turn signal.
“It felt nice,” said Andreas, an entrepreneur who formerly used modified tailpipes. “Honking isn’t enough, while shouting at them is exhausting.”
He explained that how loud a motorcycle is, depends on how the rider drives their vehicle.
“Louder exhaust pipes are not always noisy. The roar of a Harley-Davidson or other 500cc bikes, for example, sounds appealing,” he said, but added that such bikes may produce disturbing noises when driven by people who want to show off.
Adi said that no one ever complained about his noisy tailpipe. He made sure to always keep the volume down and rode slowly every time he passed through residential areas.
Riders who are caught making noise in quiet neighborhoods are met with anger and, sometimes, violence.
Muhammad Ananda, 23, from South Tangerang, a city located about 30 kilometers from the capital city Jakarta, used to modify his motorcycle exhaust to make it really loud. He was still in high school back then, when he thought that riding a loud bike was a cool thing to do. He wanted a superbike, a high-performance motorcycle, but he knew that rolling the throttle of such bikes can tire his hands pretty easily. So he chose a Vespa S 150 and replaced the exhaust with something louder. He found it satisfying to hear the rumbles of the engine whenever he sped up the scooter.
One day, while visiting a friend staying in a boarding house, the owner yelled at him for being too noisy. He was aware of how loud his vehicle was, so he had turned the engine off and walked his motorcycle until he reached the place. But when he was about to leave, the man who owned the boarding house heard his blaring pipe and shouted at him, “You’re so noisy.”
Meanwhile, Rizky Harsya Andono was thrown a bucket of water while riding a Yamaha Xeon scooter with a cheap exhaust pipe. Another time, some people stared him down like he was a criminal when the modified exhaust broke down in the middle of the road.
Of all the men that VICE spoke with, Abdi and Rizky are the only ones still driving loud vehicles. Rizky has been modifying his car and motorcycle since 2015. He now prefers expensive mufflers worth thousands of dollars, which he said produce deeper sounds.
Abdi has no interest in downgrading his car’s exhaust system because he believes it could degrade the vehicle’s performance.
“I own a Toyota Innova [car], which had the entire engine and rear body modified. It does sound noisier than the standard version, but the performance has improved considerably,” he said. “It would be a waste of money if I go back to the standard exhaust system.”
Although they are, or used to be, proud of their loud vehicles, the men VICE spoke with admitted that they’re also annoyed by riders who rev their engines loudly.
In December 2019, Muhammad developed hearing problems because of a motorcycle with a super loud exhaust. He was enjoying his meal at a roadside stall when someone drove by at full speed, making a deafening sound.
It hurt his right ear, leaving a ringing sound. Although he had long since stopped riding a loud motorcycle, this experience made him realize how bad these pipes could be.
“I was diagnosed at risk of hearing loss because of that brief moment,” Muhammad said. Now he has to cover his ears every time a motorcycle with a blaring exhaust passes by.
Meanwhile, Rizky often thinks that never being able to escape loud vehicles is his karma for disturbing the peace with his noisy motorbike in the past. “Almost every night I curse at people who drive really loud in front of my house,” he said.
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