It all began with electric cars. When hybrids first came onto the market, people were stunned by how silent they were. Some loved it while others were skeptical. A lot of people miss the sound of the engine, but the real issue is how quiet they are when they are moving slowly. This makes them a bit dangerous for pedestrians, especially for the blind. The response was for governments to get involved and mandate that these vehicles have louder engine sounds, or simply some sound at all. Now companies are hiring sound designers, composers, and musicians to make their own unique sounds to stand out from the crowd. It is no surprise, then, that the motorcycle industry has also become interested in doing the same.
Motorcycles and their Sound
This idea isn’t welcomed by everyone, of course. People love the sound of Harley Davidsons and Japanese sport bikes. They can be loud, making you feel them in your guts. Bikes already have unique sound qualities, and a lot of people don’t want to change them or make them artificial. The noises are such a large part of a motorcycle’s personality. Electric bikes are becoming more and more popular, and as we transition into an electric vehicle-dominated world, we will need to decide how we want these bikes to sound.
So much of this has to do with regulation. While many riders wouldn’t choose a quiet bike, both the EU and the US are regulating hybrid and electric vehicles in general. They are mandating that they generate noise while traveling at low speeds. As of July, all new cars sold in the EU have to feature some sort of acoustic vehicle alert system. These are required to generate noise when traveling below 19 kph (12 mph) and when they’re reversing. The US law is quite similar, with the government requiring sounds under 18.6 mph (30 kph). Another difference is that the US law includes motorcycles.
According to the specialists at the site MoneyPug, which is often used to compare bike insurance, this law has been enacted to avoid accidents with pedestrians and other vehicles. Motorcycles already have the reputation for being more dangerous than cars, making insurance costs higher. These new sound regulations might help bring the cost down, and a lot of motorcycle companies are using this as a way to market their unique brand and entice customers with new sounds.
While safety was the impetus for these digital sounds, car and motorcycle companies are going beyond safety and making futuristic and composed sound for their vehicles. They are focusing on user experience (UX) and using audio designers and musicians to come up with the best sounds for their cars and motorcycles.
It first needs to be communicative with its user. The sounds should be intuitive and reminiscent of machinery. A lot of companies make to their sounds uniform, with auditory alerts and tones that sound like they are related to each other. Sound should enhance the experience.
Some companies are producing sounds simply to mimic the noise of engines because, after all, a lot of people really love the sound. Especially with motorcycles, people want to feel the power of the bike in the sound. Others are going the opposite direction and producing completely alternative sounds that can range from laser sounds to futuristic drones. When it comes to the sounds electric vehicles, the sky is the limit.
Whether you are into electric vehicles are not, it doesn’t matter. That’s where the future is heading and what the market will demand. Not everyone is excited about the way these vehicles sound, but car and motorcycle companies are currently working on engine sounds that will mimic the noise of a traditional petrol engine, and others are embracing the future and producing sounds that are completely beyond anything that we’ve had concerning vehicles before.
This is an exciting time for the whole industry, and as electric cars become the mainstay of the automobile industry, electric bikes will continue to grow in popularity. Stay tuned to see what the companies will have in store, it will surely be interesting whether you like it or not.
Ryan Beitler is a journalist, writer, and blogger who has written for Paste Magazine, The Slovenia Times, OC Weekly, Deadline News, New Noise Magazine, and numerous travel platforms.