Even when wearing a full face crash helmet, riding a motorcycle subjects our ears to noise levels that can in fact be damaging, so it’s surprising to know that there are still quite a number of motorcyclists that ride on the road and do bike track days that still feel the need not to wear some form of hearing protection.
Below I have outlined some of the key facts about the noise levels we experience during riding as well as some of the effects that noise can have on our hearing which I hope will convince you that motorcycle ear plugs are well worth the small price tag they come with. I’ll also cover some of the best motorcycle ear plugs as well as how they should be properly fitted.
It is not uncommon to think that the bulk of the noise that motorcycle riders experience comes from the sound that the bike makes, often believing that loud pipes are what causes the worst of the problem, but while loud pipes have a contributing effect it is in fact the ‘wind noise’ produced by the turbulent air around the helmet that is the major contributor. Let’s look at the numbers to give you a better idea of the levels we’re talking about.
Even at modest motorway speeds of 70mph the noise level a rider is subjected to can be as high as 105db(A), which as you’ll know from track day noise testing feels pretty loud even at this level. Moving up to 100mph you can expect to experience noise levels up to 110db(A) which is getting close to the painful levels which are around 112db(A). The fastest test for motorcycle helmet noise I could find went up to 120mph, from which the readings were as high as 115db(A)! Those are some pretty big numbers and I can’t imagine what the readings would be as you pop your head up at 150mph+ at the end of the long straight.
So those are the noise levels, but what is classed as safe and what can we be subjected to before the damage sets in? Even with noise levels at 105db(A) the safe exposure time is as little 1 hour and as we go up the scale to 110db(A) that exposure time is halved to 30 minutes. Remember that 115db(A) reading at 120mph? Well you can only be exposed to that for a maximum of 15 minutes before you start to damage your hearing if you aren’t using motorcycle ear plugs.
It has been said that riders who do a lot of road miles where the noise is a constant tend to be affected more, but track riders should be equally concerned because they are in fact being subjected to a lot louder noise levels than a road rider travelling at 70mph for a few hours.
It’s also worth a mention that hearing loss is cumulative and is compounded every time you reach the harmful levels of noise, which means every time you hop on your bike and go for a ride you are only increasing the chance of experiencing some hearing loss. It is also irreversible; once it’s gone, it’s gone.
The noise levels that we are subjected to will obviously differ depending on the type of bike we ride, what screen it has, as well as the brand and model of the helmet we use, but you can’t deny from the above that protecting our hearing with motorcycle ear plugs should be of paramount importance.
Disposables – By far the most popular form of ear plug, simply because of the cost and the fact they can be had for pennies a pair when you buy in bulk. There are a few different types of disposable ear plugs and you may find some work better than others, but as they cost so little it’s not an expense worth worrying about when looking for a comfortable pair that fit your ears nicely. Personally I use Moldex as I find they provide the best in terms of comfort and performance.
Custom fitted – Custom fitted earplugs are actually molded to your ear shape using special materials to ensure a perfect fit, which will in turn offer the best noise protection. You won’t be surprised to know they are quite a bit more expensive than disposables (particularly if you buy them from a reputable supplier) but they will last you years and years if you take care of them (my dad’s must be about 10 years old and are still going strong). You can get home kits online that allow you to make your own custom molded ear plugs, but I’ve read that it can quite difficult to get a good fitting if not done right and in some cases they aren’t even as effective as disposables.
If I was going to recommend custom fitted ear plugs I would say go to a reputable supplier and get them done in person. Alternatively you can almost always find one at one of the big motorcycle shows on throughout the year and get them done there.
1. Roll the ear plug up in your fingertips for a few seconds until they are compacted into a cylinder shape.
2. With your free hand, pull back on your ear before you insert the ear plug. This will straighten out your ear canal and allow you to more easily push the plug into your ear.
3. Push the plug into your ear until the plug sits almost flush inside (pictured right). You don’t need to push the plug in as deep as it will go and you may actually feel some discomfort if you try and do this.
Allow some time for the plug to expand, it will take a few seconds to fully expand and you should feel the ambient noise slowly silencing.
Once they are fitted you can check if they have a good seal by cupping your hands over your ears. If you notice a considerable change in ambient noise then you may not have the best seal and you should try refitting them.
When taking them out be careful not to pull them out too quickly. Ear plugs can create a small vacuum when removing them too quickly and you can put your ear drum under strain. Pulling them out slowly while twisting them is best practice.
When I first started riding I didn’t bother with ear plugs as I simply didn’t know the dangers and I didn’t know any different. It was only once I was made aware of what our ears are really subjected to that I decided to start wearing them, and when the odd occasion comes that I forget to put them in before a ride I am staggered at the level of noise I was putting up with before.
I’m sure you’ll agree your hearing is incredibly important to you, and once it’s lost it is lost forever, so by doing something as simple as wearing ear plugs you will not only save your hearing, but you will also make your rides more enjoyable and less fatiguing without the barrage of noise pounding your ear drum.
Photo by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner
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