While noise from motorbikes, and in particular from large groups or ones with modified exhausts, has been an issue in the Yorkshire Dales for decades, residents, cyclists and walkers said the wave of riders in recent weeks following months of peace had come as a shock.
A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Local Access Forum heard communities were being plagued by powerful bikes with illegal exhausts and several calls for action, including support for exploring car-free days.
Last month, a YouGov poll commissioned by climate charity Possible found 54 per cent of the British public supported the closure of town and city centres to non-essential vehicles once a week in order to open up space for pedestrians and cyclists.
A Possible spokesman said the poll results were “a timely reminder that local politicians should not be scared of being shouted at by Jeremy Clarkson and his friends over moves to cut traffic”.
Members were told while other national parks were beginning to trial car-free days, officers did not believe the immediate period after lockdown was the right time to launch the system in the Yorkshire Dales.
Swaledale Outdoor Club member Barbara Gravenor said: “This lockdown situation and the pandemic has brought it to the fore in that we did have some beautiful silence and then it came back with a vengeance with hundreds of motorbikes going round the Dales.
“As a cyclist and a walker it would be wonderful if we could have a once a month one Sunday closed roads system like some continental countries do in the summer.”
Referring to residents who lived in a popular motorcycling circuit between Devil’s Bridge and Hawes, Nick Cotton, who has served as the park authority’s recreation management champion, said some areas of the park faced greater volumes of motorcycle noise than others.
He said: “It has been a massive increase, I think even bigger numbers than there were before the pandemic. Of course what you are drawn to is the noise more than anything else. You can be two miles away, you can be up at the top of the valley and be aware of it. I’m not going to let it drop because I have had so much correspondence about it. I think we need to think creatively about this.”
The meeting heard noise levels were a police responsibility, but enforcement was reactive, relied on subjective judgement and that it was difficult for officers to single out a motorbike that was making too much noise.
Depending on engine size, a range of 82 to 86 decibels is the maximum legal noise level for a motorcycle, but most police forces use 90 decibels as the limit to take account for the effects of any wear and tear.
While North Yorkshire Police has staged motorcycle noise and speeding crackdowns in the Dales for decades, the government has recently trialled new cameras to measure the sound levels of passing vehicles alongside automated number plate recognition technology after finding noise pollution has serious health impacts.
Indeed, studies have found that exposure to noise is linked to heart attacks, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and stress.
The Department for Transport has also confirmed it is considering the introduction of new powers to “combat excessive noise” from motorbikes. It said that research had been commissioned into the problem with the aim of giving police and the highway authorities extra resources to tackle it.
Groups representing motorcyclists say they would welcome action, saying those riding noisy vehicles were tarnishing the reputation of the majority of riders.
A spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Association said illegal exhausts fitted by some riders “attract unwanted attention to the motorcycle community and do nothing to promote the many benefits motorcycles can offer”.