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Hear them roar

As bike season starts, Plymouth police vow to keep noise in check

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / June 13, 2010

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PLYMOUTH — Every summer, bikers roar into Plymouth’s downtown and waterfront, straddling sleek, chromed-out variations of the classic Harley-Davidson. Garbed in leather jackets, fingerless gloves, chaps, and heavy boots, the bikers flock to Plymouth for the attractions of the coast and the camaraderie they find when large numbers of them gather in the same place. On a typical summer night, dozens of bikes line the sidewalks on Main Street and the waterfront.

But some residents and business owners say the community could do without the noise and commotion the bikers bring. They complain that it turns parts of the downtown into rumble strips, and drives away the visitors they most want: tourists who come to see Plymouth Rock, the Mayflower II, and other attractions in the quaint town center and harbor.

The noise also bothers guests at inns and guesthouses in the area.

“When we’re sitting on the porch with our guests, and they rev it up, you can’t even talk,’’ said B&B owner Brenda Silvieus last week. “To me, America’s Hometown is something you don’t connect with motorcycles. People have told us this is one of the most beautiful harbors they have seen. It should be peaceful, quiet, and charming.’’

Local police plan to curb the ear-splitting racket created by bikers who don’t obey the rules this summer. Police Chief Michael Botieri said his officers, now certified in the use of sound meters, will be on the waterfront and downtown, enforcing state noise limits far more than they have in the past. Botieri said he will also use the department’s bike patrol and motorcycle unit to monitor the situation.

The motorcycle season began early due to the warm spring weather, and riders started turning up weeks ago at their favorite haunts. More are expected as summer arrives.

Most business owners say they have no problem with the motorcycle crowd and they welcome the business.

“I’ve never had any complaints at all,’’ said Paul Barbato, a partner in the upscale East Bay Grille. “They come in and eat and maybe have a single drink or a soda because they’re getting back on their bikes.’’

They said the same at Carmen’s Café Nicole, Isaac’s Restaurant, the Cornerstone Café, and the Kiskadee Coffee Co., adjacent to T-Bones Roadhouse, a major biker hangout on Main Street.

“They’re friendly to all my employees, and they are gentlemen,’’ said Kiskadee owner Mark Anderson. “They like to ride around and have fun.’’

Anderson admits that the explosive sound of a modified exhaust system can make blood pressures soar.

“But that usually is a kid,’’ he said.

Still, there are complaints.

Resident Tom Bruce, who attended a recent meeting between the downtown neighborhood watch group and public safety leaders, said he believes the motorcycle presence in Plymouth is hurting tourism.

“I’ve seen families walking up Leyden Street, who turn around and walk right back down when they see all the motorcycles revving,’’ Bruce said.

Silvieus said the noise also disrupts entertainment aimed at making the town more attractive to tourists.

“I feel bad for performers at the waterfront concerts,’’ she said. “It’s like the motorcycle riders are saying, ‘Here I am’ as they go by, revving their engines. It’s very rude.’’

The owner of Pilgrim’s Corner, a clothing and souvenir shop on the waterfront, didn’t want to use his name but said some motorcycles are so loud they set off car alarms. “Fire engines go by and they don’t even do that,’’ he said.

Motorcycle riders say most obey the law and use mufflers designed to keep the noise in check.

One recent Sunday, Wareham resident Leo Dubreuil and Dennisport truck driver Michael Avila leaned against the wall of Ziggy’s, a small take-out joint on Water Street. Their Harley-Davidson Fat Boys were pulled up nearby. It was obvious the pair take pride in their rides. Avila had detailed his bike’s fenders with slashes of brilliant flames, and rawhide streamers trailed from the handle bars. Both bikes comply with federal standards for noise, the proud owners said.

“I ride every moment I get at this time of year,’’ Avila said. He said two things draw him to the spot: “I love to go on rides, and I love ice cream — although it’s not too good for my waistline.’’

Avila and Dubreuil frequently join the Sunday and Thursday road trips offered by the Manomet Mystery Riders, a family-oriented, recreational bike club in south Plymouth. The riders, they said, obey the rules of the road and state and local ordinances for noise.

“Some people don’t understand most motorcycle riders don’t fit that past image of going fast, being loud, and acting foolish,’’ Avila said.

“Our whole group is pretty straight,’’ added Dubreuil. “We have doctors and lawyers that ride, and we do a lot of charity stuff.’’

Further south on Main Street, Cathleen “Beanie’’ Canniff, an area phone company worker, frequently hangs out with her Kawasaki in front of Dunkin’ Donuts. That location draws a group of steady customers on motorcycles.

“This whole area is nice,’’ Canniff said. “You feel comfortable when you see other people on their bikes. We’re supporting local businesses and restaurants.’’

Canniff and others in the group said they are aware that heavy-noise monitoring by authorities is in the works, but said their motorcycles comply with the law.

Word of the crackdown is spreading beyond Plymouth, with a few bloggers warning the town was getting tough. Botieri said motorcycles will find that things have changed in the town: “We’re going to be out there more than before,’’ he said.

In Boston, a motorcycle owner can be fined $300 for modified exhaust pipes that don’t carry the Environmental Protection Agency’s seal of approval. But Plymouth relies on state noise limits for regulating motorcycle noise, rather than a local ordinance.

The state law says motorcycles cannot exceed 82 decibels when traveling 45 miles per hour or less, and 86 decibels at higher speeds. The $50 fines under the law aren’t nearly as stiff as Boston’s ordinance.

Plymouth authorities, meanwhile, have cracked down on motorcyclists in another problem area: parking.

The rules have been clarified to help with parking enforcement, officials said. Riders may park as many motorcycles — generally four — as they can fit within the confines of a parking space. But if the meter runs out, all motorcycles in the space are ticketed.

No matter the crackdown, Waltham businessman and motorcycle enthusiast Mark Collett said he plans to continue his frequent visits to Plymouth.

“It’s a great spot, and all the other bikes are here,’’ Collett said one recent Sunday. His current ride is a Wild West bike, a low-to-the-ground model with a modified chop and plenty of saber-sharp edges in its design. Since the bike was chosen more for its unique looks than for comfort, Collett and his friend, Natick resident Mark Quattrocchi, brought their machines in a trailer. After taking a run along the coast to White Horse Beach with their girlfriends on the back, the foursome stopped at Cabby Shack for refreshments.

Quattrocchi said people react well to the bikes, checking them out and asking questions.

“We get nothing but smiles,’’ he said.

Rick Gleason, legislative director of the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association, said his organization developed a program to do voluntary sound testing on motorcycles so riders can be assured the bikes comply with the law.

“We did it in Salem, and we’ll probably do the same thing in Plymouth,’’ Gleason said. “Most riders are very respectful.’’

Gleason said the high noise levels heard in town may be in part caused by motorcycle riders traveling in groups. Some bikes may have pipes that look different, he said, but that doesn’t mean they are designed to allow for more noise.

“We don’t modify the muffler systems to make them louder — it’s for aesthetics,’’ he said. “It’s against the law to take out the baffles.’’

Paul Cripps, who heads the area tourism group Destination Plymouth, said all tourists should feel free to visit, including those on motorcycles. “It’s America,’’ he said. “If you comply with the laws, you should be welcome.’’

East Bridgewater couple Bill and Sue Elwood, coming out of T-Bones on a recent Sunday, said they, too, plan to continue their weekly motorcycle trips to Plymouth.

“It’s a beautiful ride down Route 106,’’ he said. “We have a good group we ride with, and people are friendly.

“The old image of ‘biker’ is long gone.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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