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#327 The Battle of Kaslo

Pretty as a postcard and blessed with sinewy roads, a sleepy village in BC’s Kootenay region also has an understandable beef with bikers.

The sleepy lakeside village of Kaslo nestles in the west bank of Kootenay Lake below Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park and is perhaps my favorite BC destination. I discovered its charms while I was a tour guide for Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Holidays a couple of decades ago, and I don’t think I’ve missed an annual visit since. Many’s the time I’ve parked up at the Rosewood Café and savoured one of their signature potpies before strolling Front Street to view the SS Moyie sternwheeler, now permanently moored below the town.
Originally a sawmill site, Kaslo came into its own in the 1890s. Silver ore from mines above the town was loaded onto the narrow-gauge Kaslo & Slocan Railroad. In Kaslo, the ore was transferred to sternwheelers like the Moyie and shipped to the railheads in Nelson and Creston. There it was sent south across the border for smelting. In the 20th century, with the mining boom over and the railroad in disrepair, Kaslo returned to its forestry roots, and its population dwindled. But the town had an ace up its sleeve.
Surrounded by densely forested mountains and perched next to perhaps BC’s most picturesque lake, Kaslo reinvented itself as a vacation destination. But before 1973, getting to Kaslo either meant driving Highway 3A and 31 north from Nelson, or risking the dirt road from Galena Bay, south of Revelstoke. In that year, a new paved road was laid from Kaslo over the Kokanee Range and down into the Slocan Valley. Highway 31A tracked the serpentine Kaslo River to its source, pirouetted around crystalline lakes and through winding valleys to the old mining town of Sandon, then tumbled down the eastern slopes to New Denver. Mountains make for the best riding roads, of course, and it wasn’t long before motorcyclists discovered 31A’s sublime contours.
In fact, a fast ride over 31A is so exhilarating that Destination Highways British Columbia ranked it the fifth best motorcycling road in the province. And that is perhaps where the trouble started. The number of riders choosing to include an excursion over 31A in their travel plans rapidly grew as the news about its sinuous curves and rugged scenery spread wider. Riding the “Kootenay Loop” between Creston and Nakusp became a rite of passage for BC bikers.
You might think that this was all good news for Kaslo. After all, both motorcycles and bikers need regular top-ups with fluids and consumables, so the extra visitors should have been a boon to local businesses. But many residents liked their sleepy town the way it was, and neither did they benefit directly from any extra trade. Kaslo’s topography also means that 31A climbs steeply away from the village through mostly residential streets before leaving the town behind, and that requires plenty of throttle. Sure, there were cars and trucks that also had to grind up the hill out of town; but the noise concerns eventually homed in on motorcycles—especially those with modified exhaust systems.
In October 2015, an organization called “Quiet in the Koots” raised a petition that was eventually signed by 4,300 Kootenay residents, including, they claimed, a number of motorcyclists. The petitioners acknowledged that, while many riders and their bikes complied with noise regulations, there were plenty that didn’t, asserting that many of the offenders modified their exhausts with the specific intention of increasing noise.
The petition didn’t request any new noise restrictions, but simply asked for existing regulations to be enforced. The campaign cited a 2012 report from the BC Association of Chiefs of Police to (then) BC Transport Minister Blair Lekstrom recommending the adoption of SAE standard J2825, which described a fast, easy and accurate methodology for measuring exhaust noise levels. The report noted that J2825 was already in use in Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick.
The Quiet in the Koots petition was presented to the BC Legislature by local MLA Katrine Conroy in January 2016 for the attention of Transport Minister Todd Stone. The petition also secured support from Kaslo’s local government, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary.
It’s no surprise that the petition provoked a backlash. Local motorcyclists responded, feeling they were being unfairly targeted; but they rather shot themselves in the metaphorical foot by trotting out the old “loud pipes save lives” cliché: loud pipes were precisely the issue!
The dispute spilled into print, with local residents describing the personal impacts of excessive motorcycle noise. Bikers ripping up Kaslo’s main street, with the apparent intention of making as much noise as possible, attracted particular vitriol. The experience was described as an “auditory nightmare,” and the noise as “simply shattering,” even from behind closed doors.
The Kaslo and Area Chamber of Commerce tried to mitigate negative sentiment from the motorcycling community by implying that the petition was about noise in general, and not necessarily focused on bikers with straight-through pipes or modified exhausts. But the street signs they deployed suggested otherwise: “Motorcyclists welcome to Kaslo, BC. Please ride quietly…”
With the end of the riding season in the Kootenays, the issue has fallen off the radar. Neither have I heard or seen any reports of extra enforcement in the Kootenays this last summer (Have you?). But it seems unlikely the issue will go away anytime soon, and will almost certainly reappear next spring. Is Kaslo the canary in the coal mine for future anti-motorcycle-noise campaigns? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, as this internecine tiff was playing out—and in an exquisite piece of irony—Kaslo was one of three BC towns nominated for the national title of Canada’s Most Rider Friendly Community! Whether the noise controversy was a factor in the voting or not, Kaslo didn’t win. When the ballots were counted, the title went to…Two Hills, Alberta.

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