Biking may be good for the mind, but it’s not that great for the hearing. Bikes themselves are wonderfully noisy things, but interestingly it’s not the roar from loud exhausts that’s the main culprit in damaging bikers’ hearing, it’s wind noise – that is at speeds over 40mph anyway. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends that workers should not be exposed to sound levels above 85 decibels in an eight-hour work day, and notes that noise levels of 100 decibels become damaging to the ear after just 15 minutes of exposure.
Testing done by researchers from the University of South Alabama and William Patterson University, using an acoustically engineered dummy head and microphones, found that at speeds above 40 kph (about 25 mph), wind noise surpassed any noise from the motorcycle. At the highest speed tested, 120 kph (about 74 mph), noise exceeded 100 decibels at all the frequencies they measured. Put those two facts together and you get this: If you ride your motorcycle at highway speeds for more than 15 minutes without ear protection, you're damaging your hearing. And who wants to ride for just 15 minutes?
If your hearing sounds muffled after you’ve been riding a bike, or if your ears ring, then you’re suffering temporary hearing damage – which, if repeated regularly, may become permanent hearing damage. The best protection against this is wearing earplugs under your helmet. Ear protection helps with concentration as the constant noise of wind blowing in your ears is tiring. Are earplugs legal? Consult your local authorities.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
There are three main types of earplugs favoured by bikers: disposable ones, multi-use generic plugs and custom-made moulded earplugs. Disposable earplugs are great for those who don’t use the bike so often and stick to lower speeds in city traffic. Generic multi-use earplugs are a step up from the foamies and can be very handy if they suit your ears. The top of the range protection is offered by custom-made earplugs. These are expensive compared to a pack of disposable ones, but for riders who get through several disposable earplugs every week, the cost over a few years may actually be lower than using disposable ones.
Generic disposable earplugs are cheap and readily available, which makes them handy. They are usually made from foam and come in a range of colours from the boring yellow to some rather psychedelic colour combinations.
Generic disposable earplugs are designed for single use, which means you need a new pair every time you’re exposed to noise. If you don’t change them often enough dirt will start to build up and their ability to expand/ contract reduces, so don’t be tempted to wear the same pair for long.
How well disposable earplugs work depends entirely on the fit, and as these are generic products the fit is not guaranteed. Most products reduce noise levels by around 30dB if they fit well, but the problem is that if you don’t get the fit, you don’t get the protection.
MULTI-USE GENERIC EARPLUGS
If you don’t like the idea of disposable foam earplugs, the next step is multi-use generic ones. These are usually made from a rubbery material that doesn’t have the same issues as foam in losing its shape, so they can be used multiple times without a problem.
These earplugs can also be cleaned, which is a real boon. Because of their rubbery texture and a specifically designed shape, these earplugs stay in the ear better than foam plugs. Some multi-use earplugs are designed to block the harmful wind noise but to let some noise in through precision noise filtration.
Just like the foam earplugs, these are generic products, so they have not been designed to fit an individual ear perfectly and the same issue with fit remains.
With custom earplugs the fit is perfect because the plugs are created by taking impressions of each ear. This creates a unique fit, so you can be sure that your hearing is protected while you’re out on the bike. It also adds to the comfort levels, as the plugs are exactly the shape you need them to be.
Most custom-made earplugs last for years even under heavy use, but because your ears never stop growing a new mould should be made every three years or so to ensure that the fit is still perfect.
Custom earplugs come in different guises: the basic ones are usually made from medical-grade silicone or a similar ‘squidgy’ material, and they are small, lightweight and fully cleanable. There are also ‘filtered’ options that let some non-harmful noise in. And if you want to plug into your music, communications systems or sat nav, there are options with built-in speakers.
Twist & Go magazine July-August 2016
Twist & Go magazine July-August 2016
Twist the throttle and enjoy the ride